How Do You Tell If A Palm Is Overwatered or Underwatered?

If your Palm Tree is drooping, has yellow or brown leaves and is showing signs of unhappiness, you might be very concerned and possibly confused about what might have happened. You might wonder if you gave your Palm Tree too much water or not enough. 

An overwatered Palm Tree and an underwatered Palm Tree tend to have symptoms that overlap, such as yellowing leaves, drooping stems, and leaves turning brown and dying off. The best way to know for certain if your Palm Tree is overwatered or underwatered is to check the soil moisture and check the roots for signs of root rot.  

When caught early, you can take steps to fix the problem to save your Palm Tree and do your best to prevent any future watering issues. 

How Do You Know If Your Palm is Underwatered?

There are thousands of different Palm Tree varieties (known as the Arecaceae family), along with several other varieties of houseplants that are considered Palm Trees despite belonging to different plant families. Symptoms of overwatering and underwatering are the same across all Palm varieties. 

If your Palm Tree is underwatered, you will notice that the leaves will gradually begin to turn yellow or brown. If the stem is fleshy, like an Areca Palm or Parlor Palm, it will also start to droop. It may also develop brown tips that eventually progress up the leaf toward the stem. The soil will also likely be very dry; if the underwatering is severe, the roots will begin to dry out and shrivel. 

How to Save an Underwatered Palm Tree

If your Palm Tree shows signs of underwatering and the soil is dry, the best way to revive it is by giving it a thorough drink. There are a few ways that you can accomplish this: 

Bottom Watering

Depending on the size of your Palm Tree, you can place its pot in a large container of water. The soil will absorb the water through the drainage holes until the soil at the top of the pot becomes moist. 

If your soil is particularly parched, this may take some time before the soil becomes moist so you can walk away from your plant while it soaks in water. Despite it taking a bit longer, this method is a great way to ensure that your plant has as much water as it needs. 

Top Watering

watering plants with garden hose
This method is more traditional for houseplant watering, but if you are hoping to rescue your underwatered Palm Tree, you will need to make some adjustments to ensure it is effective. 

Pour water evenly over the top of the soil for your Palm Tree until it begins to drain through the soil. It’s essential to ensure that you do not water your plant from one location and pour it all over the soil’s surface. This will help encourage strong, lateral root growth evenly. 

Since the soil is parched, you will want to repeat this process after a few minutes. When the soil is dry, water tends to drain through rather than become absorbed by the soil. 

Why Are Symptoms of Overwatering and Underwatering the Same?

Palm Trees that are overwatered tend to have similar symptoms to Palm Trees that are underwatered. This is because when a plant becomes overwatered, the roots will become deprived of oxygen and start to rot from the excessive moisture. 

Not only will this cause lesions to form on the plant, making it susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, but it will also prevent the roots from doing what they are supposed to do: absorb water. So in overwatering the plant, you are also starving it of moisture. This is often why it can be difficult to tell if a plant has been overwatered or underwatered until it is too late. 

What Is Overwatering?

Overwatering is often a misunderstood condition. Many new plant owners assume that overwatering means giving your Palm Tree too much water in one sitting. Overwatering occurs when the soil is watered too frequently, keeping the soil saturated and not allowing the roots any oxygen. 

This means that giving your Palm Tree a small amount of water daily will still cause overwatering. You should always water your Palm Tree’s soil thoroughly. Then monitor your Palm Tree’s soil to determine when to water it next. 

You should allow the soil to almost completely dry out between watering. If you have a Sago Palm, Ponytail Palm, or a Palm species with a thick trunk-like stem, you should wait even longer between waterings as their woody stumps will store excess water.

That’s because these varieties are not true Palm Trees, despite their name. They are more resembling Yucca Trees due to their thick trunks and their care needs are different from traditional Palm Trees. 

How Do You Know If Your Plant is Overwatered?

If your Palm Tree has been overwatered, you will likely notice leaf yellowing, drooping leaves or stems, and you might even notice the base of the plant becoming soft or mushy. The leaves themselves may also become more translucent and limp.

In addition, the soil will likely be saturated and compact. If the overwatering is severe, you may notice fungus gnats (small, flying insects that resemble fruit flies) around your plant since they love wet soil. 

The best way to determine if your Palm Tree is overwatered is to look at the roots. If it is severely overwatered, some or all of the roots will be darker, squishy and even mushy. 

How to Save Overwatered Palm Tree

If you catch your overwatered Palm Tree early, you can save it. First, remove your Palm Tree from the soil and inspect the roots. If the roots have some rotting, you should prune them with sterile scissors or pruning shears. If some of the roots are still salvageable, you can return your Palm Tree to its pot in fresh soil. 

Make sure that the new soil is well-draining and that the pot has adequate drainage holes. Wait until the new soil is dry before watering your Palm Tree again. 

If your Palm Tree has very few healthy roots remaining, you can encourage healthy root growth by placing your plant in water, as you would a new propagation. After that, you can repot it in fresh soil.

Do Palms Need a Lot of Water?

Palm Trees tend to be very thirsty plants because Palms love plenty of bright light. So if your Palm Tree is basking in the sunlight, chances are you will be watering it more frequently. Palm Trees need water more often because those delicate leaves cannot hold onto much water once the soil dries out. 

On the other hand, Palm Trees with very thick, trunk-like stems, such as Ponytail Palms or Sago Palms, require less frequent watering since they can store excess water in their stems. These plants are used to drought conditions in the wild and have adapted to store water in their trunks. 

How Often Should You Water Indoor Palms?

You should only water your indoor Palm Trees when the soil has dried out. Environmental factors, such as light, humidity, and even temperature, will influence how often you need to water your Palm Tree. Therefore, the best way to avoid overwatering your Palm Tree is to monitor the soil. 

A moisture meter is a great way to accurately assess how dry the soil is. If you’re using a moisture meter, you can water your more delicate Palm Tree varieties when the moisture meter reads a 1 or 2, but for your hardy Palm Trees with thick trunks, you can allow the soil to dry out completely before giving it more water. 

Do Palms Like to Be Misted?

While some Palm Tree varieties can be hardy to drier conditions, most Palm Trees love humid temperatures. While misting your plants by hand can temporarily raise humidity levels for your Palm Tree, adding a humidifier is much more effective and can minimize the chances of fungal infections. 

If you mist your Palm Trees frequently and water sits on the surface of the leaves for too long, they can form lesions, resulting in Helminthosporium leaf spot. This will appear as small reddish-brown spots on the leaves that might have yellow margins. 

Should I Spray My Palm With Water?

When it’s time to water your Palm, many people will take their Palm Trees into their shower (or sink if your Palm is small enough) and spray down the leaves with the faucet. This has several benefits: 

  • Spraying your Palm with water will give it a temporary boost in humidity.
  • It is a great way to clean any dust off your Palm’s leaves, which will help with photosynthesis.
  • It’s also great for pest prevention because it will blast away adult pests from the leaves. In addition, it will deter pests like spider mites that enjoy drier conditions. 

If you spray down your Palm Tree, make sure you are doing it when it is ready for a drink to avoid accidentally overwatering your plant. 

Should I Cut off Brown Palm Leaves?

If your Palm Tree has developed brown or yellow leaves from overwatering or underwatering, you can trim them. It’s best to trim a leaf if 50% or more is affected, but since these leaves will not heal, you can trim them at any point. 

Trimming brown leaves will allow your Palm Tree to focus on new leaf growth. It will also help to prevent pest problems, as pests are attracted to dying leaves. If you choose to cut off your Palm Tree’s brown leaves, use sterile scissors or pruning shears and keep the wound dry until it calluses over to avoid any infections. 


Deciphering whether your Palm Tree has been overwatered or underwatered can be challenging, as symptoms for both problems will often overlap. The symptoms include yellowing leaves, drooping stems, and leaves turning brown and dying off. Therefore, you will have to investigate a little further and look at your Palm Tree’s soil and roots to determine whether it has been overwatered or underwatered so you can fix the problem quickly. 

If you catch your Palm Tree’s over or underwatering problem early enough, you can still save your plant and take measures to ensure that the issue does not continue so your Palm will stay happy and healthy.