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Palm Tree Pests

palm tree leaf damage by insects

Palm tree pests mainly consist of insects. If you have a tree damaged by bugs, or maybe looks like it is being eaten you'll want to know what kind it is and how to get rid of it.

They will damage your palm in different ways, leaving behind some tell tale signs for you to see.

Here I’ll go through each one with naming the pest, what the bug & symptoms of infestation look like plus how to treat your tree once diagnosed.

Photo by: Sebastian Crump

Sucking Insects

Mealy bugs, aphids and scale insects are all examples of sucking insects that are likely to attack palm trees.

NOTE: Ants farm both aphids and mealy bugs.

This can create some very large colonies of each.

If you do a decent job controlling the ant population there will be a reduced risk of you having to treat for these two palm tree pests.

Treatment options for sucking insects below or click here to go straight there.

Mealy Bugs and Palm Aphids

There are many different types of mealy bugs.  There are a few that will infect the roots of your tree. You won’t necessarily see them unless you disturb the dirt.

Most types are generally found colonizing the new growth of the palm or palm bud area. This also goes for palm aphids.

Both of these sucking insects leave behind (excreted) a sticky matter called honeydew. The appearance of a white sort of fluffy looking coating on the stems and leaves indicates infestation of mealy bugs.

Mealy Bugs      

Life on the wattle (3124181875)

         Ants Farming Aphids       

Palm aphid colonies leave blackish/brown spots on the leaves that have a white waxy looking ring around the spot.

That’s bad enough on its own but the honeydew is the feeding material of a fungus called sooty mold. If there’s lots of honeydew from the sucking insects then sooty mold is likely to set in turning areas of the leaf black with a powdery coating. 

The coating easily washes off, and the mold is not actually attacking your palm just consuming the honeydew but is quite unsightly. Control or elimination of the sucking insects will prevent the sooty mold as well.

Ants farmin aphids on Chinese banana palm tree

Photo by Scott Nelson on Flicker

Scale Insects

Again there are many different kinds of scale insects. Palms are susceptible to Florida red scale, magnolia white, cottony cushion and soft brown scale.  They are generally visible to the naked eye so they can be easier to spot.

Look for colored bump that appears almost like a little shell or dome. They are usually found in the new growth area of the palm.

These domes are the adult bugs, but also house the immature scale insects and the eggs.

To ensure termination of all you will have to treat a couple of times. If you treat every week for about 3 consecutive weeks you should eliminate all the adults, eggs and immature insects.

Scale insects up close

Scale insects up close on banana leaf

Photo by Scott Nelson on Flicker

Palm leaf infested with scale insects

Palm leaf infested with scale insects

Photo by Scott Nelson on Flicker

Treatment for Sucking Insects

You can treat all these palm tree pests with the same kind of products. Generally look for an insecticide containing acephate or dimethoate. An insecticidal soap or horticulture oil will also do the trick.

Treat by misting all the infected areas. Don’t forget to repeat a couple of times especially for scale insects. Follow manufactures directions for the best results.


The most common caterpillar palm tree pests are the saddleback caterpillar and the palm leaf skeletonizer.

saddleback catterpiller

The saddleback caterpillar feeds on the underside of the palm leaf. It will leave large holes in the leaves. They generally look like something has been eating them.

This bug is brown to beige in color with a green patch that runs down its back making it almost look like it is wearing a saddle.

They have small spines that sting if we touch them with bare hands. It will irritate the skin in that area leaving us with a burning sensation similar to being stung by a bee. If removing these it’s best to wear gloves.

The best treatment for this caterpillar is an insecticide containing Btk.

Palm leaf skeletonizer is a small caterpillar that is usually found in large colonies. It can be found on any part of the palm leaf.

They excrete a lot of a brownish/black fiber like material.

Look for these masses as the sign of a problem with these insects.  

Use an an insecticide containing Sevin or Btk to treat these colonies.

Follow manufactures application instructions for the best results.

palm leaf skeletonizer
By Viren Vaz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Palmetto Weevil

The palmetto weevil and red palm weevil are super palm tree pests. They are known to do great damage to many of the large palm trees. The Canary Island and Cabbage palms can be easily infested.

To minimize the chance of an infestation of these large beetles, don’t stress your palms.

Transplanting and over pruning cause the largest amount of stress on the tree

The palmetto weevil and red palm weevil both hunt for stressed trees.

When they find one they lay eggs where the leaf bases attach to the tree.

Once the larvae hatch they start eating in toward the inside of the tree.

They burrow right to the center, then the palm heart and feed there. It doesn’t take long for there to be large numbers of the larvae eating away at the palm heart.

Palmetto Weevil


Red Palm Weevil Larvae

Larvae of the red palm weevil

Infected with Palm Weevil

Palm tree infected with palm weevil
Your Ultimate Palm Tree Handbook

Eventually they will kill the tree and you may not even realize it was under attach until the top literally falls off.

There are some ways to help control or deter these large palm tree pests like traps and an insecticidal spray.

The spray application is timed so it sprays itself at certain intervals killing any potential beetles and therefore stopping the laying of eggs. 

Contact a palm tree specialist for assistance in what is best way to treat for your particular area and type of tree you have.

There's a new way to help with these beetles. It's called a light trap. Date farmers with large numbers of trees are using them for their orchards.

If you are positive of an infestation then the best control could be destruction of the tree before the larvae become adults.

They will ALL then look for other nearby trees to infest and before you know it many trees in a wide area are infested.

Spider Mites-Palm Tree Pests

Spider mites on palm leaf

Spider mites can be a particular problem for palms and lots of other plants kept indoors.

They also thrive in dry areas.

These palm tree pests feed on any part of the leaf.

They will leave behind a very fine thin webbing usually running between the fronds on the underside.

You may even be able to see the tiny dots busily moving around on the foliage.

Look for your leaves to spot with yellow or even stipple. The whole leaf may even look like it is paler than normal in color.

Banana leaf damage from spider mites

Treatment of spider mites includes a wash- not just mist- with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

There are also products called miticides that are specially formulated to combat these pests.

If you have a severe infestation then the miticides may prove the better product to gain a handle on them.

Then the others can be used once a month in a preventative manner -like a wash or mist bath.

I hope you have a better knowledge and understanding of what to look for as well as how to treat the most common palm tree pests.

Follow the arrows to the next section on palm tree care.

NOTE :  About Buying Palms

If you are looking to buy palm trees of any kind then I would highly recommend purchasing through the Real Palm Tree Store.

They are a huge nursery based in Florida with connections to many quality growers.

Whether you are ordering from inside the United States, Canada or another part of the world-- ordering one tree for your landscape or many for a commercial project-- I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

Their customer service is second to none; all products are high quality and backed by a money back 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Make sure to visit real palm trees, ask questions and read the reviews before buying anywhere else.

Palm Tree Store

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