Why Does My Parlor Palm Have Brown Tips?

The parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) has been a favorite houseplant since the time of Queen Victoria. So, it’s fair to say that the popularity of the parlor palm has outlasted the popularity of the parlor itself!

Parlor palms are easy to grow, but they have one supremely frustrating feature: 

Parlor palms are prone to brown tips on their leaves.

In this article, we will explain why your parlor palm has brown tips on its elegant leaves and how to restore them to their full natural beauty.

Why Do the Tips of the Leaves of Parlor Palms Turn Brown?

Water stress is the single most common reason for brown tips on parlor palms. Water stress can result from too much water or too little light. Both conditions interfere with the normal flow of fluids through the plant.

Parlor Palm
Photo by Tangopaso, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Palms don’t pump water from their roots to the tips of their lovely, long leaves. They rely on a phenomenon called passive diffusion.

In passive diffusion, water flows from “watery” parts of the plant to “salty” parts of the plant.

The parlor palm concentrates potassium in the tips of its fronds. Water flows to the potassium to dilute it.

When a parlor palm gets too much water, the tips of the leaves don’t stay relatively salty. Fluid and the minerals dissolved in it do not flow to them.

The tips are starved of water and nutrients and turn brown. Something similar happens when a parlor palm does not get enough light.

Light powers photosynthesis. In turn, photosynthesis creates sugars. These sugars accumulate in the leaves and make them “sugary.” This also draws water and nutrients into the leaf.

When the leaf does not get enough light for robust photosynthesis, its leaves do not make as many sugars. Water and nutrients don’t flow into the stems, so the leaves turn brown.

Don’t Panic If Your Parlor Palm Develops a Few Brown Tips

Fronds don’t last forever.

If you keep a parlor palm long enough to grow to its full indoor height, about 6 feet or 2 meters, it will surely lose a leaf or two along the way.

The leaves at the base of the trunk turn brown first.

If the leaves at the base of your parlor palm don’t look good, trim them off!

If longer leaves higher on the plant have brown tips, cut a notch to hide the damage.

But treat brown leaf tips as a cue to give your parlor palm better care. Parlor palms are not fussy plants.

Once you figure out what they need that they don’t have, they will produce vibrant, green foliage for many years.

Let’s consider the most important things for you to do to avoid ever having to deal with brown leaf tips in the first place.

Watering Issues with Parlor Palms

The secret to success with parlor palms is giving them just enough water to keep the soil around their roots slightly moist.

Parlor palms should never be allowed to dry out completely, but they should never stand in water, either, 

Don’t water your parlor palm on a fixed schedule. Instead, check the soil around the base of your parlor palm every two to three days.

When the top half-inch of the soil in your parlor palm’s pot feels dry, drench the soil around the palm with enough water to flow out of the holes in the bottom of the pot.

Then, don’t water your parlor palm again until the topsoil is dry once again.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for watering parlor palms.

  • Do use warm water—not hot or cold, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 degrees Celcius—to rehydrate your plant. Either cold or hot water can shock the plant.
  •  Don’t use heavily mineralized water. Excess minerals in water (especially iron) accumulate in the leaves and change their color. Heavy chlorination is a problem, too. If you can smell the chlorine in your tap water, let it stand overnight in an open container to allow the chemicals to dissipate.
  •  Do use an unglazed pot to hold your parlor palm. Unglazed pottery breathes better and encourages air exchange with the soil.
  •  Don’t put a big palm in a small pot. The roots will be concentrated in the center of the pot and dry out.

Every parlor palm needs good drainage. Pebbles or gravel on the bottom of the pot are not enough.

There must be drainage holes in the base of your parlor palm’s pot. Place the pot in a dish to catch draining water.

Maintaining the Right Humidity for Your Parlor Palm

Parlor palms are not especially fussy about humidity.

Nineteenth-century palm fanciers had fireplaces in their parlors, after all. However, placing parlor palms where they will not dry out excessively is essential.

A parlor palm should not be placed immediately next to a heating vent.

They don’t like drafts from AC, either. Parlor palms prefer temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 to 22 degrees Celcius and up to 29 degrees Celcius in the afternoon. They dry out in a sunny window or a home heated with a forced-air furnace in the winter.

Light for Your Parlor Palm

There is an easy way to tell if your parlor palm is getting too much light.

If you can see your palm’s shadow, it is getting too much light.

Parlor palms thrive in bright, indirect light.

Finally, Fertilizer for Your Parlor Palm

The secret to success for fertilizing your parlor palm is to use organic fertilizer, not chemical formulas you get at a garden center or hardware store.

Parlor palms thrive when they are given high-nitrogen fertilizer in warm weather. Giving them any fertilizer at all during the winter can cause brown tips.

Related: Common Parlor Palm Problems, Why Does My Parlor Palm Have Yellow Leaves?