Cycad Palm Leaves Turning Yellow? [Causes & Fixes]

Cycad palm leaves turning yellow is an early warning sign that something is wrong. It’s time to inspect your cycad palm leaves a little more closely than you usually do.

It can be difficult to diagnose the problem because yellow leaves can be a symptom of many problems. Some of these problems are fatal if left ignored, and others are relatively benign. Here are common reasons why your cycad palm in California is turning yellow.

The Cycad Palm Isn’t Getting Enough Water

For the most part, if your cycad palm leaves turn yellow, it’s a definitive sign that you’re underwatering it.

Cycad palm leaves need water to survive, and if they’re not getting enough of it, they’ll drop their leaves and turn a shade of yellow for survival.

An easy way to check if your cycad palm leaves need water is to insert your finger into the soil. This is an excellent way of telling if the soil is dry or moist.

Make sure not to damage the plant’s roots with this technique. If you accidentally touch the roots, try another area of the pot.

Another way to tell if your cycad plant needs watering is to lift the pots to determine their weight. If the cycad palm is dry, it will be lighter than usual because water contributes to its weight.

This is a quick and efficient method of determining the weight. For larger pots, try tilting them to get a feel for their weight.

For a more accurate test, use a moisture sensor to measure the humidity level of your pot. Insert the probe 3/4th of the way into the soil.

The moisture levels are indicated on a dial by color. Consult the manufacturer’s manual for more information.

The Cycad Palm in California is Under Moisture Stress

There is such a thing as too much moisture. This can drown out your cycad palm leaves by occupying all the spaces between soil particles.

The water leaves no space for pockets of air to exist. This restricts the oxygen supply, and the cycad palm plants are unable to ‘breathe’.

Moreover, the excess water results in pressure buildup in the plant cells. These cells are at risk of bursting and dying. When this happens, the leaves show blisters and areas that resemble lesions.

This also leads to the formation of wart-like growths that form in their place. You will also notice indentations that form directly over the changes on the upper layer of the leaves.

This is why you should check your cycad palm leaves regularly. Don’t be afraid of trying the above tests to check the moisture levels.

If you notice that the soil is too moist, you should reduce the frequency of watering. All things equal, cycad palms require moderate watering in their growing season.

The plants should be watered generously every week. Once the cycad palm is well established, it becomes more drought resistant and requires watering on rare occasions.

The Cycad Palm is Getting Too Much Light

Cycad palm leaves can turn yellow if they are exposed to harsh sunlight for prolonged periods of time.

Exposure to sunlight will cause the leaf to burn and turn a shade of yellow. The veins will look green, but the leaves will take on a yellow, or in worse cases, brown look.

Some gardeners mistake this for nitrogen deficiency. However, leaves that are deficient in nitrogen will simply fall off. Burned cycad palm leaves won’t fall off easily.

Most cycad palm leaves will benefit from spending their time outside in the garden, where indirect sunlight and air will promote the healthy growth of leaves.

It is recommended to move the cycad palm outside once the threat of frost has subsided. Cycads thrive in bright natural daylight, but you should avoid direct sunshine because it can burn the leaves.

Cycad palms should be placed in rooms where there is plenty of indirect sunlight and room for their fronds.

Sudden Change in Temperature Changes

The sudden change in temperature and moisture can disrupt the way your cycad palms photosynthesize and grow.

The plants are also sensitive to prolonged exposure to cold drafts from nearby windows and air conditioners that lead to stress.

Cycad palms exposed to quick changes in temperature or pressure will exhibit the same symptoms as an under-watered plant.

If you believe that your cycad palm is experiencing a temperature shock, move it away from air conditioners. You may also open or close any windows or doors to prevent air movement.

Going forward, try your best to keep the environment at a temperature between 15 to 110 degrees F and relative humidity above 50%.

Nutrient Deficiency in Cycad Palms

Nutrient deficiency is a primary reason why cycad palm leaves turn yellow. It also results in stunted growth.

The starvation of both micro and macronutrients can be diagnosed easily. You have to keep a frequent eye on your plants for signs of nutrient deficiency.

Look for circling, dotting, and yellowing. If the nutrition deficiency is not rectified right away, your cycad palm may experience necrosis.      

The primary chemical elements that your cycad palm needs are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium,, alongside magnesium, sulfur, and calcium.

These chemicals provide support to its growth needs. By far the most important nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium

It isn’t unknown that cycad palms do not absorb the required chemicals even if the soils are rich in nutrients.          

This mostly happens due to poor drainage and improper pH levels. Nutrient transportation can also be impaired due to damaged roots, insufficient water, and poor drainage.

Another essential aspect to consider is the cycad palm’s need for specific chemicals. In general, cycads are hardy plants so any general-purpose soil with good drainage should do the trick.

The best solution is to provide the plant with sandy soil rich in organic matter and predisposed to a slightly acidic (or neutral) pH value.

It is recommended to fertilize the plant monthly during the growth season (spring to fall months) using a liquid fertilizer in an 18-18-18 ratio (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).

Some slow-release fertilizers like Osmocote would also provide a good nutrient base for your cycad palms to thrive.

Here’s what your cycad palm would look like if it is deficient in the following nutrients.

Nutrient DeficiencySymptoms
PhosphorousStarved plants will show brown dots and may experience necrosis.
PotassiumLack of this nutrient makes the plant susceptible to diseases. It results in rotting, curling, crinkling, and even necrosis.
SulfurA lack of sulfur turns the plant from green to a dark yellow color.
CalciumCalcium allows the formation of new cells. Lack of calcium will lead to malformation of newly grown foliage and tip burns.
NitrogenNitrogen is responsible for the plant’s green foliage, thanks to the presence of the chlorophyll pigment. A nitrogen deficiency leads to a V-shaped yellowing that worsens if not treated.
MagnesiumPlants need magnesium for chlorophyll. A lack of Mg will affect crop coloration, leading to yellowish sections (that turn necrotic). The leaves eventually fall off if the undersupply of magnesium is not course-corrected.
ZincCycad palms used zinc for a vegetation boost. Yellow leaves with discolored foliage may indicate the presence of zinc.
BoronBoron is used by plants for cell duplication, absorbing water, and moving sugars around the plant. The deformation of leaves is a recognizable sign of a boron deficiency.

Exposure to Pests

Cycad palm leaves are hardy plants and not very susceptible to pests or disease. However, they are vulnerable to spider mites and scale.

Look out for damaged foliage or yellow leaves, as well as tiny scales on the fronds. Never use chemical pesticides to take out the bugs.

Try using a more organic or natural solution to treat your plants. Pour some neem oil into a spray bottle and sprinkle it the solution over the leaves until the pests die.

You may also use beneficial predator bugs to clear out the pest colonies. Natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings help take care of the pest problem.

Should I Prune Yellow Cycad Palm in California?

Never prune cycad palm leaves if they are yellow. They may look unsightly, but they are still capable of absorbing nutrients.

In fact, pruning yellow leaves will lead to more discoloration and affect the plant’s health. Only prune the leaves when they have turned completely brown.

If you must prune the leaves, the safest way is to cut along the bottom circumference of the leaves. Make sure to use sterilized shears and cut them close to the trunk.

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Wrapping Up

Now that you have this information, you should be able to prevent and identify common problems with cycad palms.

You may use our recommended solutions when a problem arises. Diagnosing some cases of yellowing will require a bit of guessing, but it certainly makes your life easier if you know what you’re looking for.

Test your soil frequently, place the plants in a  well-lit room (without direct sunlight), never overwater your plants, and keep your eyes peeled for pests.

If you notice any problems, act quickly. Have you ever owned cycad palm leaves? If so, share your experiences and tips with us and we might update this space with more information!

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