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Palm Tree Root Rot

palm image by Dagmara Czechowska from

Though palm trees can withstand strong winds and some harsh conditions that would kill other trees, root rot can a big concern. Palm trees have a very delicate root system that can be easily susceptible to disease, especially when moisture levels and certain types of fungus are present. Fortunately, if you own palms, you can take a number of preventative measures to ensure this often deadly condition does not affect your trees.


Various types of fungus can attack the root system of a palm tree, causing it to eventually die. One of the most common types of root rot in palms is called butt rot. This fungus can also easily spread to other trees, so once one tree has it, the normal course of action is to remove the tree completely. This should be done as soon as you have a diagnosis of the problem.


Root rot symptoms include drooping fronds, especially on the older fronds. Though some droop is common, if you notice it becoming excessive you may have a larger problem. Newer fronds may also tend to be yellowish in color, thus indicating the possibility of palm tree root rot. If these symptoms persist, you should contact your local extension office for further directions on how to get a proper evaluation.


The most common cause of root rot is fungi, but these organisms can only exist where there is excessive moisture. If you use various garden tools on a tree, remember to thoroughly clean all the tools. The fungus can remain on the tools for long periods of time and using those tools to prune or take care of other palm trees can inadvertently spread the disease to other trees. It is best to use a disinfectant to make sure the cleaning completely removes the fungus.


Once root rot begins, there is generally no way to stop its progression and it will eventually cause the tree to die. Therefore, the most important thing you can do is cut the tree down as soon as you understand what the problem is. Delaying will only give the infection a chance to spread, as there is little to no hope the tree can recover.


The best ways to prevent an infection, other than removing already-infected trees, is to simply watch your soil conditions. Do not plant palm trees too deep and make sure the soil is well drained and mixed with sand. If you have a clay-type soil that holds moisture, you may need to add sand and completely rework the soil, or choose a different type of tree.

For potted palms, remember that a sand/soil mixture of at least 50 percent sand is one of the requirements. Also providing an appropriate fertilizer will help ensure the tree stays healthy.

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