Common Palm Tree Problems

At One Two Tree, we understand our local landscape, especially our native and exotic palm trees.

Though thanks to naturally erratic weather, naturally occurring pests and poor tree care, palm trees on our property face many risks.

This guide will inform you on the list of problems that palm trees, native and exotic can face in this subtropical climate.

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– Heavy Winds
– Damaged/Fractured Fronds
– Cracked/Twisted Spears
Hurricanes are a major problem in Florida, especially hard hitting storms like Andrew
and Wilma. While long been forgotten by many people, the effects of the storm are still present or are now appearing on many larger palms.  It requires more than a year for many species of palms to re-cycle all of their fronds.  Thus, some of the current lower fronds were present at the top of these palms when Wilma rolled through South Florida. Twisted or cracked spears are now noticeable, as well as stress related fractures to fronds.  Penciling of the trunk, due to the reduced canopy, will now become visible and be noticeable for the life of the palm.

Lightning Strikes

– Multiple Hits
– Collapses Canopy
– Kills Trees Instantly
South Florida is the lightning capital of the world.  Many beautiful palms are struck and killed every year.  They are especially vulnerable because they are often tall and have only one growing point, which if damaged, usually leads to death.  Symptoms of a strike include a sudden, almost overnight browning and collapse of the canopy.  The spear most often remains upright. Splitting, bleeding and burns may also be present.

Lethal Yellowing

– Fatal to Palms
– Spreadable
– Antibiotic Treatable

This fatal disease affects many species of palms, though most notably coconut palms. This viral-like disease is spread by leaf hoppers, appearing with symptoms such as blackening of the inflorescence, pre-mature nut drop, yellowing and death of mature fronds from the bottom upwards. These symptoms may or may not take place rapidly, but can be treated with preventative antibiotics.  If symptoms are detected early, antibiotics can be effective in slowing or preventing the further development of the disease.

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

(Homaledra sabalella)

– Fibrous Excrement
– Caused by Caterpillars
– Destroys Vascular Tissue

A species of caterpillars of a small moth feed on the upper and lower leaf surfaces of many palms, producing large quantities of `frass’ (fibrous excrement) that is often the first conspicuous sign of this infestation. The tissue between the veins or ribs is usually their referred food, but they will also feed on the leaf stems, which damages/destroys the vascular tissue and causing the death of the entire leaf..


– Wilting
– Conch-like shaped leaves
– Fatal/incurable

An elusive, fatal palm disease that is incurable and unpreventable. The disease can only be identified by examining of the cross section of the trunk of the palm for a conch-like shape, the gradual process of wilting and a general decline in the appearance of the palm. It is not recommended to replace an infected palm with another palm.


– False Smut
– Dark Lesions
– Grayish-Black Fruiting Bodies

Graphiola leaf spot or false smut is a disease that commonly effects “date palms”, which are an arid species that is more susceptible to humidity and over-irrigation in subtropical environments. This disease can be characterized by round, dark lesions which produce grayish-black fruiting bodies that rupture through the leaf surface, especially on the lower fronds. Preventative methods include manganese based fungicides, which can be used as an effective control measure.


– Withered Fronds
– Excessive nutrients
– Lacks essential nutrients

“Frizzle Top” is a minor element that causes the death of many palms species, such as Queen and Pygmy Date Palms. Over time, new fronds appear smaller and chlorotic, as following sets appear withered, scorched or “frizzled” in appearance.  If left untreated, the palms die due to lack of nutrients such as: nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc. This deficiency can cause palms to have a poor appearance and cause death in several native palm species. Few of our native palms are planted in our landscapes as they only require little additional nutrients, but have diverse fertilization requirements.


– Over-waterting
– Causes Fungal Growth
– Mixing up irrigation zones

Our sub-tropic climate is naturally wet and humid, but we often have additional watering through irrigation systems.  Coupled with the mistake of planting palms that have vastly different water requirements together in a single irrigation zone, we also plant inexpensive water loving winter annuals next to arid loving palms.  This malpractice causes many palm tree deaths due to improper care and oversaturation of other plants.

Sooty Mold

Many homeowners call to complain about black, moldy patches on fronds or trunks of palms. This fungal disease is a symptom of a larger problem, though this black mold seldom hurts the palm.  This mold is growing due to the high sugar waste products of insects, which are often the true culprits of any the recurring palm tree health problems.


– Leafhopper
– Whitefly
– Aphids

Like all trees, palm trees are susceptible to insect infestations, though these attacks remain unnoticed due the height of their crown or fronds. Though obscured by their height, damage can be caused by a number of insect species: aphids, borers, caterpillars, mites, sand scales.  Insects can kill palms by weakening their health, which multiplies the effects of disease and nutritional problems.  While sprays can be used to treat smaller ornamental palms, tall palms cannot be sprayed due to their height, which requires the use of systemic insecticides to provide control.

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