Areca Palm Root Rot (3 Common Causes & Remedies)

Areca palm can bring an exotic touch to your home. It’s fairly easy to care for and looks stunning in any home. However, areca palm lovers frequently struggle with root rot. 

You can overcome these issues by knowing what causes root rot, and how to fix the problem. Root rot is usually caused by overwatered soil, but it can also relate to the type of soil that you use and how much drainage is present.

An areca palm with root rot can recover with the proper care, so keep reading to learn the common causes and what to do if your areca is affected by root rot.

What Causes Root Rot? 

Root rot occurs when a fungus attacks the roots of the plants. Too much moisture in the soil provides the perfect environment for this fungus to thrive. If the soil is consistently too moist, root rot is the inevitable result. 

Root rot can affect pretty much every houseplant, including calatheas and other palms such as the majesty palm.

3 Common Causes Of Areca Palm Root Rot

Let’s take a closer look at the factors that cause root rot in areca palms.

1. Overwatering

If you know anything about plants and root rot, over-watering is likely what comes to mind as the cause. It’s true that this is a major factor in most cases of root rot, but it’s far from the only issue.

2. The Soil 

In addition to overwatering, the soil you use can increase or decrease the chances of root rot occurring. If the soil is heavy or not well draining, this can also lead to root rot. 

When you pour water into the pot, it’s absorbed by the soil. Some of the water will inevitably drain out of the soil. How much depends on the type of soil you have. 

Light soils or potting mixes allow for better drainage. So, if you add a bit too much water, it will drain from the soil, preventing it from causing harm. 

Soils that don’t drain well trap more water inside, which increases the odds of your areca palm developing root rot.  

3. The Pot 

Lastly, the type of pot you use can significantly impact the odds of your palm getting root rot. 

Always use a pot with drainage holes for an areca palm. This will allow any excess water to drain out of the pot, instead of being trapped in the soil. 

Terra cotta pots can also be helpful. Because they are porous, they allow airflow and tend to dry the soil a bit faster than other types of pots. Both of these factors can reduce the risk of root rot. 

Lastly, a pot that is too big can lead to root rot. A pot needs to be large enough for the root system to function, but not too large. An oversized pot creates areas of soil the roots don’t reach. These areas will stay moist because the roots aren’t taking water from them. 

These wet areas can lead to root rot, even if everything else is done correctly. 

Signs and Symptoms of Root Rot 

Now that we know what causes root rot, let’s learn how to know if it’s affecting your areca palm. 

Because root rot damages the roots of the plant, they are no longer able to take in adequate nutrients. This leads to problems for the plant, which are clearly visible. 

Look to the Leaves

The leaves of your areca palm will show the first noticeable signs of root rot. The leaves may turn brown, particularly the lower leaves. They will appear mushy and water-logged as well. 

The leaves may also turn yellow. They will typically wilt as well. This looks different from underwatering because the leaves don’t look dry. 

You may also notice the leaf margins dying. Because they are farthest away from the stem, they are typically the first to be deprived of needed nutrition. 

Stunted Growth 

This sign may be difficult to spot in an areca palm because it is typically a slow-growing plant in the best of circumstances. However, root rot will stunt the plant’s growth. Over time, you may notice that your palm hasn’t grown. 

Check the Roots 

If you notice the above signs of root rot, it’s time to confirm the diagnosis. To do so, you’ll need a good look at your areca palm’s roots. 

This is where the real damage occurs. Healthy roots should be white and firm. If your palm has root rot, the roots will be brown and mushy.

An areca palm in a pot on a wooden desk

They will also feel limp and soft, instead of solid. They may be slimy as well. 

You’ll likely notice a bad smell as well. Root rot typically gives off a sulfur smell. It may also smell like a swamp or even sewage. 

You can determine the extent of root rot by looking at the roots. The more roots are damaged, the more severe the root rot is. Most of the time, the areca palm can survive root rot. However, if nearly the entire root system is damaged, the plant may not survive. 

Treating Root Rot 

So, your areca palm unfortunately has root rot. Now what?

Follow the steps below to treat root rot and revive your palm. 

Remove From the Pot

The first step to treating root rot is to remove the areca palm from the pot. First, water the soil until it’s moist, but not soggy. Allow it to sit for about an hour. This will allow the palm to come out easier by softening the soil.  

Remove the plant carefully. Remember, the roots are weak. You’ll also need to remove any clumps of dirt from the roots. 

Remove Dead Roots

Now, you’ll need to prune the plant’s roots. Start by washing the roots in cool water to remove any remaining dirt. Next, sterilize scissors in alcohol. Now, cut away any discolored or mushy roots, cutting at least one inch above the damage.

This helps prevent root rot from remaining in the roots. Dip the remaining roots in a fungicide to reduce the risk of remaining fungus. 


Now, you are ready to repot your areca palm. If you choose to use the same pot, you’ll need to sterilize it with bleach first. If using a  new pot, be sure that it is well draining. You should also be sure that it is neither too big nor too small. 

Use fresh soil to repot your areca palm. You’ll also need to use the right type of soil to ensure that it is well draining. 

One soil mix that does well with the plant is 3 parts peat and 1 part sand. You can also use 3 parts peat, 3 parts pine bark, and 1 part sand. These mixtures will provide the well-draining soil your areca palm needs to avoid root rot. 

Consider Pruning

If your palm has lost a lot of its root system, it’s wise to prune away some of the leaves. The best way to do this is to consider the amount of root loss. If the plant lost 1/3 to 1/2 of its root system, prune away at least 1/3 of the leaves. 

This allows the plant to focus on regrowing roots because fewer leaves require fewer resources. 

Avoiding Reoccuring Root Rot

You’ve taken the steps mentioned above. Now how do you keep root rot from reoccurring? Assume that your plant is in the correct pot and has the correct soil mix, the key is to water it properly. 

Watering Your Areca Palm

The areca palm is originally from Madagascar, which is a tropical location. It generally prefers the soil to be moist, but not waterlogged. During the plant’s growing season, it will likely need to be watered twice a week. 

When the soil becomes a bit dry, water your palm. You can also mist the leaves once or twice a week. areca palms enjoy humidity. 

In the fall and winter, the plant enters a dormant period. Growth slows. Because their growth slows during this period, they don’t require as much water. 

You should only water your palm when the soil is completely dry during this time of year.  

Other Areca Palm Root Problems

In addition to root rot, the areca palm can suffer root damage from fluoride or over-fertilization. 

Fluoride Toxicity

Fluoride is added to drinking water for teeth health. Unfortunately, it’s toxic to the areca palm and several other houseplants. You should use either rain or filtered water for your plant. 

You can also purchase distilled or purified bottled water. Just be sure that it is fluoride free. 

Lastly, you can allow plain tap water to sit for at least 24 hours. This can remove much of the fluoride. 

You should also avoid superphosphate fertilizer, which is listed as 0:20:0. It’s also high in fluoride. 

Over Fertilization 

To avoid over-fertilization, you’ll need to leach the soil occasionally to remove build-up. To do this, water the plant until water begins coming out of the pot. Allow it to sit for a few hours, and repeat the process. 

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for fertilizer use, and avoid fertilizer completely during the dormant period. 

Summing It Up

The areca palm is very prone to root rot. However, with proper care, it can be avoided or treated. Keep your palm moist in the spring and summer, and allow the soil to dry in the winter. 

Be sure you have the right type of soil and pot for the areca palm. If you notice signs of root rot, including brown or yellow leaves and wilting, take action quickly.  

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About Me

Hi, I'm Joe! I'm the head of SEO and content management at Bloom and Bumble. I'm a huge plant lover and over the years my home has become more like an indoor rainforest. It has taken a lot of trial and error to keep my plants healthy and so I'm here to share my knowledge to the rest of the world.

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