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Mineral Deficiency in Palms

Do your trees look healthy? A common mineral deficiency in palms could be the cause of an unhealthy looking tree.

Some kind of yellowing is an indication of shortage. Where and how that yellow appears is a determining factor for which mineral it is.

Here you’ll find a list of the more common minerals, pictures of trees lacking in them and how to correct the problem.


You can usually diagnose a palm lacking in potassium when orange/yellow spots develop on the oldest leaves.

If the problem isn’t corrected in a timely manner then the newer leaves will also start to show spotting.

To correct, be sure to apply a slow release potassium product that also contains magnesium.

All too often when you add more potassium it will trigger a magnesium deficiency.

So add a product containing both so you don’t have that to deal with that next. A popular fix is potash.

Just so you know what to expect, the leaves that had the spotting will not all of a sudden start looking better. You’ll need to look at the new growth which should look green, and healthy. 

The old leaves will look that way until the tree sheds them or they are pruned off. Don’t prune them early though; the tree needs them for collecting nutrients, moisture and sunshine. Prune only when you normally would.

European Fan Palm Leaf showing Potassium Deficiency
spindle palm with potassium deficiency

Photos by: Tim Broschat, University of Florida, creative commons license


Iron is the next mineral deficiency in palm trees we’ll look at.

A palm lacking in iron also shows some tell tale yellowing. The yellow will appear in the new growth leaves first and the veins of those leaves will show up green.

The most common cause of this deficiency is the palm is sitting in soggy soil or its roots could be planted too deep.

Correct the initial problem first.

Plant so there’s no soil, or mulch anywhere on the trunk.

Another thing to consider is not to let the turf/ grass or other plants to grow too close to the trunk.

Dig out a ring of a foot or two, minimum; if you do fill with mulch don’t let any touch the trunk.

 Make sure the soil is well drained and the roots aren’t sitting in water.

Queen palm leaflets with iron deficiency next to 2 healthy leaflets

Photos by: Tim Broschat, University of Florida, creative commons license

Iron deficient lady palms on left, healthy palms on the right

Next apply a chelated iron product according to the manufactures instructions. Chelated means the metallic iron is combined with compounds that are non-metallic making the mineral absorbent for the tree.

Espoma Organic

Potassium Spikes

Magnesium Spike

Manganese Spike



Quite often a mineral deficiency in palm trees is magnesium. This time it is the tips of the leaves that will turn a brighter yellow. The older leaves will show signs first then the newer ones will start if the problem is not corrected.

Some recommend dissolving a tablespoon or so of Epsom salts in the water you use to give your trees a drink. Others are dead against this procedure.

Pygmy date palm with a magnesium deficiency
leaf of fountain or footstool palm showing magnesium deficiency

Photos by: Tim Broschat, University of Florida, creative commons license

If you aren’t familiar with this practice, then the best things you can use is slow release magnesium designed for your palms. Following the proper instructions will be sure to correct the issue and not do any further damage to your tropical beauty.

Manganese Mineral Deficiency in Palms

If the mineral manganese is missing in your palm diet, then you’ll know it by the tell tale signs of the new growth appearing small, dried out and frizzy when it emerges.

It won’t look healthy or normal and may be yellowish or have brown dead spots.

A product containing manganese in sulfate form is the best cure.

It can be applied to the soil or even as a spray to be applied to the leaves.

Young coconut palm with a maganese deficiency commonly called frizzle top

The biggest cause of this mineral deficiency in palms is the soil.

Usually it’s because you’ve planted an acid soil loving palm in alkaline soil. Be sure when you first get a new tree, that you check the soil it prefers and provide it. The article on growing palms explains the soil pH.

There are also soil testers and pH products you can add, to help you with this so that you never have this problem to deal with.

Photo by: Tim Broschat, University of Florida, cc license


Date palm with boron deficiency

The boron mineral deficiency in palm trees can be just as common as the others.

It usually occurs in places that have a lot of rainfall thus removing the available boron from the soil so the tree doesn’t have enough to absorb.

Once the rain stops the boron problem will normally resolve itself and only be temporary.

If you use a good quality fertilizer for palms then it will already contain boron. If heavy rains have hit your area since you last fertilized then you may want to apply your next round a bit earlier.

 Photo by: Tim Broschat, University of Florida, cc licence

It also can occur in soils with a very high pH level.

It’s important to have your soil tested in a lab before treating. 

If you have a confirmed diagnoses of a boron deficiency in your soil then get professional advice on treating.

Nitrogen Deficiency

Areca or butterfly palm showing nitrogen deficiency

Nitrogen is not a mineral deficiency in palms but a nutrient. It is the most common thing lacking in any plant’s diet.

The symptoms are overall yellowing of the trees leaves. It appears more uniformly than the other types of yellowing we have discussed.

Quite often this occurs in landscape and potted palms that aren’t fertilized regularly or with a slow release water soluble product.

It’s important to use the correct fertilizer on your palms you can learn all about what to look for, how much and where to apply by clicking here.

Photo by:Tim Broschat, University of Florida, creative commons license

A mineral deficiency in palm trees ensures they are neither happy nor healthy.

Look for the signs, treat properly and your reward will be a lush green tropical paradise to enjoy.

Follow the arrows for the next sections on palm tree care.

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Helpful landscaping articles include:

Growing palms for the plant hardiness zone maps, soil pH types, and definitions of common gardening terminology.

Planting palms shows you what are the best practices for getting your next tropical beauty off to a great start.

Best indoor palms includes all the ones that will thrive in your home or office all year round.

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