Palm tree care indoor

Indoors, the palm tree is a powerful ornamental asset thanks to its designer palm leaves. It also makes the house a greener place to be. Our advice on how to make it last.
Select a large container with a hole drilled in the bottom to settle your palm tree in. Provide a thick layer of clay pebbles or gravel, at least 20% of the pot’s total volume.
Palm trees abominate having to keep their roots constantly in water, and this drainage bed will help avoid typical root suffocation phenomenon. Prepare a blend of rich soil mix, garden soil, compost and river sand of an average grain size, and plop your palm tree in that.

Watering the palm tree

For your indoor palm tree to stay in great health, what you need to do is to give it moderate amounts of water.
Watering must be regular, however, you must check that the surface of the blend has time to dry off before watering the next time, and never let water stay in the collection saucer. Always water with room temperature water, as soon as the surface soil is dry. Never water with ice water, the palm tree shuns cold water.
After that, you must strive to maintain 50% water moisture in the surrounding air. To compensate the fact that the air indoors is usually very dry (usually around 20%), you can mist the palm leaves with soft water, and place under the pot a large saucer filled with clay pebbles and water.

Tips on how to care

For thick, lustrous leaves, remember to remove dust regularly with a damp sponge, it tends to accumulate.
But don’t also douse them with water too often, this could invite bacteria to colonize the plant. The leaves will thus be better able to perform their photosynthesis duty.

What should I do with my palm tree in summer?

Most palm trees don’t relish direct sunlight, but they’ll do great behind a lightly veiled window. For this reason, the best place to put it is near a West-facing window. Your indoor palm tree can travel from one room to the next, provided the surrounding temperature stays in a fork between 65°F (18°C) and 72°F (22°C).
In summer, you can give your plant some fresh air and bring it to the garden, in a spot that is partly shaded and sheltered from wind. It will dress up the landscape with a tropical touch, and taking a breath of fresh air will give it strength to face the canned air we breathe in winter.

8 secrets to a happy indoor palm

A palm in your home will inject personality, colour and style, and as a bonus, purify the air. Discover how to strike the right balance between moisture, feeding, light and warmth to keep your palm looking lush all year round.

1. Start with good soil. Give your palm a winning start with a quality potting mix. Use a mix that’s free draining but keeps the soil damp and fertile. If the soil mix frees too much water, you’ll have to water your palm more often and run the risk of drowning it. Don’t overfill your pot with soil. Leave at least an inch between the soil and the top of the pot.

2. Give your palm plenty of light. Find a well-lit spot near a window, glass door or beneath a skylight. Palms will also absorb artificial light that’s 40 to 50 centimetres above the foliage. A tell-tale sign your palm isn’t getting enough light are brown frond tips and leaf loss. Without enough light, your palms will also be more prone to disease.

3. Give your palm the right level of humidity. Although palms love heat, they don’t love rooms with heaters and air conditioners, which zap moisture from the air. A good general guide is to keep your palm in room temperature. In winter, you may want to move it to a room that’s warmer and if the room is being heated, to maintain humidity in the room, place a bowl of water near the palm. Brown tipping and leaf loss are also a sign of low humidity.

4. Water your palm often. As tropical plants, palms are designed to cope with heavy storms and torrential rain. That said, make sure they’re not drowning in water because they will rot. The soil should be moist but not wet. A good way to test the soil is to poke your finger into the top inch. If it’s dry, then water. Empty the drainage saucer under the pot every time the water is drained through, as palms hate wet feet. While your palm is growing in spring and summer, water often and less in autumn and winter. When the weather is dry and hot, mist spray the foliage several times a day. This will keep it cool and also help deter pests.

5. Keep your palm clean. Every couple of months, pop your palm in the shower. This will remove dust and help keep your palms fronds looking lush and green. To give the fronds a glossy finish, clean your palm with a mixture of milk and water.

6. Protect your palm. Mealy bugs, scale and spider mites are the most common pests attracted to indoor palms. Mealy bugs are found on the underside of the fronds and look like tiny cottony dots. Scale appears as light-coloured spots on top of the fronds and tiny speckles are signs of spider mite. To rid mealy bugs and spider mites, use natural neem oil. White oil can be used for scale. Small amounts of scale can be removed by hand. You can also try misting your palm with soapy water or scrubbing it with a toothbrush for more stubborn scale. Whenever applying pest controls to your palm, make sure to do it outdoors.

7. Feed your palm, but not too much. One of the most common mistakes people make when feeding palms is burning the roots because they’ve used too much fertiliser. When a palm is outdoors it needs more fertiliser. But when its roots are bound and it’s exposed to less heat and light, it needs far less. Choose a water-soluble fertiliser or slow or controlled-release pellets and feed your palm three to four times a year.

8. Give your palm a holiday. Palms love being taken outside. Like us, palms benefit from a month-long holiday once a year. It helps prevent pests and diseases as well as encourage good photosynthesis.

Pictured: Livistona chinensis, Chinese fan palm

A Guide to Growing Majesty Palms Indoors

By Debra Cespedes
Decorate your home with gorgeous majesty palm. Bearing long green, regal fronds, this plant is perfect for gracing any indoor space. A common houseplant, majesty palm grows slowly, becoming larger and more elegant with time and care. Happily, it’s super easy to grow if you give it the right amount of light, water, humidity, and fertilizer. Grow it like a pro indoors with our tips.
Get the Light Right
Majesty palms like a lot of light, so much so that they will be happiest near a sunny window. To thrive indoors, your majesty palm loves six to eight hours of bright light per day.
Water Well
One key to growing majesty palm indoors is to never let the soil dry completely; this palm (endangered in the wild!) comes from spots along streams and rivers. Be sure you have a pot with drainage holes so excess water can escape, otherwise the palm’s roots can drown and rot. Not sure if your palm is getting too much or too little water? Here’s an easy way to tell. If the fronds begin drying out at the tips and it moves down the leaf, causing the leaves to brown, the palm is too dry. If the leaves turn yellow, the soil may be too wet.
Give it A Breath of Fresh Air
Because majesty palm is a tropical plant, it likes moisture in the air. If the air is too dry for yours, you might find that just the leaf tips turn brown and dry. Boost humidity indoors for your majesty palm by keeping it in a room with a humidifier. It’s also helpful to protect your palm from cold, dry air. Majesty palms damaged by cold may recover fairly quickly if injured, but must be tended to right away. Warm wet air is best.
Don’t have a humidifier handy? You can also see success with a humidity tray. Choose a wide, shallow container and fill it with gravel or sand and water. Set your majesty palm pot on top of the gravel or sand (so the bottom of the pot stays above the water line). As the moisture in the tray evaporates, it goes into the air right around your majesty palm fronds. Just refresh the tray with water periodically.
The Need to Feed Majesty Palms
When growing majesty palm indoors, use a general houseplant fertilizer every two to three months in spring and summer. Give the plant a chance to rest in the cooler, dimmer months of winter; you don’t need to fertilize at all.
Repotting Right: When It’s Time for New Digs
Your majesty palm needs space to thrive. To avoid overcrowding of your palm, be sure to repot regularly (every other year or so). Repotting shouldn’t be a big affair; increase the pot size by 2 inches each time. How do you know when it’s time to repot? Do it once you start seeing the root appear out of the top of the soil.
Prune Majesty Palm Like a Pro
Pruning your majesty palm indoors is a cinch! Just cut off any fronds as they turn yellow or brown. Doing so improves the look of your plants and creates a clean space for more fronds to grow.
Watch for Pests
Protect your majesty palm from pests, such as spider mites, by regularly fertilizing and keeping an eye out for signs of an attack. Good humidity can help keep spider mites at bay, as can misting with water regularly. Wipe the undersides of the leaves with a moist rag also helps keep spider mites from being a problem.
Proper Palm Placement
Wondering where the best place to grow majesty palms indoors is? One of the choicest spots to keep this tropical beauty is a corner of your bathroom if it has a large window. Your palm will love the bright light and abundant moisture.
If your bathroom isn’t big enough for a majesty palm, go with a bright corner in your office, living room, dining room, or bedroom. Use majesty palm to purify the air and remove toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. Its style and grace ensures you will enliven your living space and provide the freshest feel of a perfect tropical escape by growing majesty palm indoors.
Have Questions About Your Majesty Palm?
Check out our Help Center for answers to common questions. And if you don’t find a helpful answer, you can just email us for more.
Buy Majesty Palm
Looking for a majesty palm? Look for it at your local retailers — either in store or online. Here’s a list of some of our larger retailer partners across North America.
Get more majesty palm care tips.
Discover five things to know about majesty palms.

Indoor Palm Trees: Types + How To Grow Them

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Let’s face it: Plants were not meant to be grown indoors without natural sunshine.

By replicating natural habitats, we have managed to decorate our homes and offices with gorgeous greenery, but when it comes to indoor palm trees there are three species that do particularly well inside that don’t cost a bundle.

We’ll tell you what species of palm tree to buy and how to grow them.

Palm Tree Size Considerations

Think about height restrictions when choosing a palm tree as some tend to stay short while others strive to become tall trees.

You can’t top-trim a palm tree as it grows (it will die), so if you prefer the type that grows taller than your space allows, enjoy it while it lasts and know you’ll need to replace it.

To keep the tree from growing quickly, don’t re-pot it into a larger pot until absolutely necessary.

Selecting an Indoor Palm Tree

Buy the healthiest palm that you can find by eliminating palms with brown leaves, funny smells, or off-looking soil.

Check the back of the leaves for mealy bugs (little white spots) and other pests or diseases.

See if the container is cracked to determine if it needs to be re-potted — this isn’t a bad thing, but you’ll need to factor this in if working on a budget.

Indoor Care

This video gives a nice overview of caring for palm trees inside the house.

Most palm trees like bright light though some will thrive in low-light situations so place palms near windows or skylights though even artificial light helps in office buildings or similar.

And, much like in its natural habitat, palms prefer humidity which is absent from most indoor spaces. Watch re-circulated air as heat or air conditioning can dry out leaflets though no circulation can provide a breeding ground for insects and prohibit photosynthesis.

Don’t let the palm tree’s soil completely dry out before watering again. Test the top inch and if it’s dry, then it’s time for more water. Do make sure the pot has good drainage otherwise the roots will rot.

Also, tap water contains salt which over time will build up in the pot so it’s recommended to leach the palm tree soil by watering the salt out. A few times a year, use a hose to flush the salt thoroughly out of the soil (roughly the equivalent of 10 waterings) outside and let it dry.

Palm trees do need regular applications of fertilizer to keep them healthy. However, since they grow slower than outdoor palms, their fertilizer needs are less than outdoor equivalents. Potassium deficiency is common in palms (the leaves will brown or yellow) so use a palm tree fertilizer that contains potassium and manganese.

Don’t over prune the palm tree as they draw nutrients from their leaves. Just remove fully brown leaves and make sure it has plenty remaining.

For palms that prefer humidity, fill a spray bottle with water to occasionally mist the leaves. You’ll also want to do this in the winter if you’re running the heat.

  • PRO-Tip: Some experts recommend watering palms by placing them in the shower in order to replicate a tropical storm though this might not be practical to do with larger palms.

Palm Trees that Grow Very Well Indoors

Kentia palms (Howea forsteriana) —

This easy-to-care-for palm is native to Australia and can even do well in low-light situations.

It is usually sold in pots that contain 2-3 plants of varying heights, though it often looks like just one plant.

Restricting the pot size helps keep this palm slow-growing as it could reach 15-20 feet indoors if allowed.

This palm is also popular because it has the typical tropical look of arching palm fronds and can survive if the soil dries out between watering (though this isn’t ideal), but it will thrive in situations with light, air flow and good watering habits.

Sentry palm (howea belmoreana) —

This palm isn’t as robust as the Kentia palm, however, it will do well indoors if given the right attention.

The difference in look is that the Sentry palm’s leaflets grow more upright and the little leaves have a curl to them.

These palms need a regular watering schedule otherwise they’ll weaken.

Lady palms (rhapis excelsa) —

This gorgeous palm does well indoors and outdoors in shade though they do not like direct sunlight in either case.

The fronds have a finger-like, deep green fan and it does come in rarer variegated varieties.

Lady palms tend to need pruning at the bottom to maintain a more upright versus a bushy appearance, because new stems sucker or clump at the bottom.

Because they don’t grow quickly, these palms are usually more expensive than others.

Parlor palm (chamaedorea elegans) —

The parlor palm (shown in top photo) can tolerate low levels of light though it would prefer indirect sunlight while indoors.

In a pot, it will stay at about 5-6 feet tall, usually, making it a great indoor palm and like the Kentia palm, it’s sold in a grouping of up to 20 plants in a pot.

Consider misting the palm for some extra humidity.

Fishtail palm (caryota mitis) —

The fishtail palm earns its name from the leaves that are shaped like — you guessed it — fish tails.

It’s actually a sensitive plant to grow indoors that will require occasional misting, however, if you monitor for bugs and keep it well-watered and fertilized, this Asian beauty will earn plenty of compliments.

The fishtail palm can get up to 10 feet tall in a pot, but expect to see them at heights of 60 feet in their natural environment.

Pygmy date palm (phoenix roebelenii) —

The pygmy date palms are also commonly purchased and grown as several seedlings in a pot and love very bright light, including direct sunlight.

Be aware that pygmy date palms have very sharp spines so unless they are out of the way of traffic or you intend to prune the spines, they may not make a great indoor palm choice.

It’s the only date palm suitable for growing indoors and the palm fronds can be kept green by adding magnesium sulfate as a fertilizer.

Your Turn…

This is by no means a complete list of indoor palms, but rather ones that are commonly found in nurseries that are easy to grow. Do you have any tips or ideas to share regarding indoor palms?

Garden Palm Trees: Complete Guide

Do you feel like adding a tropical theme to your garden? Consider going with some palm trees around your property. Palms add a sense of style, elegance, and wealth to your real estate, and they’re the perfect addition to a coastal home or estate in the tropics.

Palm trees are a species for intermediate gardeners, as these trees can be somewhat sensitive to transplanting and weather conditions. Depending on the variety you plant in your garden, your palm trees may require regular maintenance to ensure they remain strong and healthy.

This guide gives you everything you need to know for growing and maintaining palms trees.

Some Popular Types of Palms

  • Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta)
  • Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis
  • California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)
  • Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
  • Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera)

Palm Tree Sunlight Requirements

Finding the proper site in your yard to plant your palm trees is a tricky situation. Species vary in light preferences, and if you plant in the wrong location, your palm may die off.

Some palms love the shade, and if you plant them in the direct sunlight, they’ll turn brown, wither and die. If you plant a palm that enjoys the sunshine in a shaded area, it will struggle to develop roots and turn out thin with minimum foliage.

Research your specific palm tree species on Google, or ask the nursery where you bought it about the best lighting conditions for optimal growth.

Palm Tree Temperature Requirements

Most palm tree varieties come from tropical zones that have warm summers and mild winters. Ideal temperatures for the majority of palm species is between 95F during the day, with lows of 78F at night. Some palms can cope with temperatures exceeding 110F.

However, there are a few varieties of palm s that can live in colder climates, with even lows reaching the 50s and 40s. Some subspecies can tolerate light snowfall on occasion as well.

Palm trees also prefer humid climates, which is why they’re such a common tree around coastal areas and tropical regions. However, some hardier species can survive in dryer conditions as well. Make sure you research the best varieties for your climate conditions.

Palm Tree Soil Requirements

Palm trees require a soil that drains well. If the roots continually have “wet feet,” it results in the onset of root rot. Most palm varieties are happy in either acidic or alkaline soil, and they don’t need the addition of any nutrients.

Planting Your Palm Tree

Palms make excellent trees along the border of the property. If you live in an area around Florida, the Keys, or the gulf coast, palms are an excellent choice for your garden. However, these areas are also a hurricane risk, and palms don’t have a deep root system.

Therefore, there a chance your palm falls over in high wind speed conditions. Don’t plant any large palm tree species near your home, as storm winds may knock them over and damage your property. After siting your tree, you’ll need to dig a hole that’s twice the size of the diameter of the root ball, and deep enough to cover the top of the roots.

Plant during the mid-spring after you’re sure the coldest weather is over. When planting, make sure you don’t damage the heart of the tree where the leaves originate. Damaging the heart of the tree will stunt growth and distort leaf growth.

Remove the palm from the pot, and place it in the hole. Backfill the hole to ensure that the bottom of the trunk is flush with the gardens surface, then fill in the rest. Don’t press down too hard when filling the hole, as this may compact the soil, affecting the root growth and soil drainage.

How to Brace Your Palm Trees

Open-grown palms have smaller root balls than container-grown trees. Therefore, you’ll need to brace your tree for the first year to 18-months to ensure the roots take into the ground to provide the necessary support.

Without bracing, the top-heavy palm tree will fall over in wind gusts. We recommend bracing over staking your palm trees. The ties you use in staking methods will slip down the smooth trunk of most palms.

Take three 2×4-inch lumber braces and space them equally around your palm tree. The braces need to provide adequate support in high winds, so ensure they are far enough from the base of the tree. Use burlap to secure the bracing to the tree, and protect the trunk from scrapes and scratches.

Use smaller pieces of wood to form a bridge between the braces, and nail the structure together to provide strength. Stake the bases of the supports into the ground and nail the supports to the stakes.

Caring for Your Palms

Palms can live without fertilizer, but you can dramatically increase the growth of your trees if you feed them four times a year. After four weeks, when your palm tree starts establishing its root system, you can begin feeding your tree.

Use a fertilizer with one-part phosphorous, one-part magnesium, two-parts nitrogen, and three-parts potassium. Water your tree at least three to four times a week, and if the weather gets hot, water five to six times a week. The best strategy is to form a dam around the planting area and apply the water directly to the soil around the root ball.

When transplanting your open-grown tree, make sure you provide it with plenty of water in the initial weeks to reduce transplant shock. Some desert varieties of palm trees may only require watering every 10-days after they establish roots.

The most crucial part about watering your palm trees is the drainage. If you have a well-draining soil mix, then make sure that you apply mulch around the base of the tree during the summer to retain moisture. As the mulch decomposing, it feeds the palm tree with a steady flow of nutrients.

If you notice pests or weeds growing around your palm trees, try to remove them by hand. Palm trees are sensitive to herbicides and pesticides, and using these products may result in brow foliage, brown leaf spots, growth deformities, and possible death of the tree.

Pruning Your Palms

Your palm trees will require regular pruning and maintenance to keep them as healthy as possible. Start with removing the old fruit stems and dead leaves (fronds). After the fronds turn brown and fall toward the trunk of the palm, it’s safe to prune them.

The key to successful pruning is to ensure that there is no green visible on the frond. For large palm trees, you need a pruning saw to remove the fronds. A sharp pair of pruning shears is sufficient for pruning smaller palm trees.

If you’re pruning different species of palms, make sure you treat the blade of the pruning tool with hydrogen peroxide between pruning session. This strategy helps to mitigate the risk of spreading disease between palms.

When pruning your fronds, make sure that you cut as close to the trunk of the tree as possible. The base of the leaf will eventually fall off as the tree grows, but it may take years for this to occur. If you make the mistake of tearing it off of the trunk, it may result in scarring.

Pruning your palm tree isn’t necessary, but it helps inspire new growth. If you have a tall palm, and you can’t get to the top to prune the fronds without using a crane, then leave them. Eventually, the fronds will fall off by themselves.

However, dead fronds hanging from your palm look unattractive. If the sight of the dead leaves is annoying you, hire a tree felling service to prune the tree.

Wrapping Up – Overwintering Your Palm Trees

As previously mentioned, palms trees are hardy and suit a wide range of climate conditions, but they do better in warmer tropical regions of the US. However, if you live in middle America, it’s possible to grow palm trees, and some species survive further north as well.

If you live in one of the colder areas of the United States, then you’ll need to overwinter your palm trees at the start of the season before the weather starts to reach temperatures of below 45F. Overwintering your palm trees is a simple process. When you plant, make sure you provide the tree with a windbreak, like a perimeter wall. The windbreak protects the tree from wind chill, which may kill the tree.

If you’re growing your palms in pots, consider taking them inside before the cold weather starts. Leave the palms in a well-lit area of your home that’s close to the window. If the potted palm is too heavy to move, or its growing outdoors, cover the top of the tree with burlap and secure it to the trunk with ties.

Avoid watering your palms in the late afternoon during the wintertime. The soil will remain cold throughout the night, potentially damaging the roots of the tree. Avoid getting water on the trunk and foliage in cold weather as well. If the water freezes, it may cause scarring on the trunk and withering or brown spots on the leaves.

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Palm, Houseplant

While there’s a wide range of houseplant palms available, most have similar growing needs: a bright spot (the brightest spot you can give them in most cases) and a watering when the top inch or two of the potting soil starts to dry out.
As with any indoor plants, grow houseplant palms in containers that have drainage holes so excess water can escape. Most palms don’t like wet feet and can suffer from root rot if too much water builds up at the bottom of the pot.
One relatively common problem palms can have is brown leaf tips. This browning may occur from a number of factors, including:

  • Dry air. Remedy brown leaf tips by supplying your houseplant palm with more humidity.
  • Too much fertilizer. Giving your palm too much fertilizer at one time or over the course of time can make the leaf tips go brown.
  • Being kept too dry. If palms suffer from dry soil too long, they’ll start to lose the tips of their leaves.

As houseplants, most palms don’t need much fertilizer to survive. You can fertilize palms twice a year or so (at the minimum). If you wish to feed it more for faster growth, you can. Use a product labeled for use on indoor plants and follow the directions on the product packaging.
Note: Houseplant palms are not intended to be eaten by humans or animals.

Perhaps no other type of plant epitomizes the tropics like palms do, so it’s natural that many people are interested in decorating with indoor palm trees. Sadly though, the vast majority of all palm species are very ill-suited to indoor culture, and most of the large and seemingly inexpensive palms that are commonly offered at large nursery chain stores in the indoor section have virtually no chance at thriving in the average home. Thus, when it comes to buying indoor palm trees, you must do your homework.

Our Pick: The Best 3 Indoor Palm Trees

There are way too many palm species to discuss here that could be grown indoors or may have good potential for indoor culture. And there is not much point in discussing indoor palm trees that may be suitable for homes that have a large atrium, sun room or attached greenhouse, since those are conditions most people cannot replicate.

That’s why I decided to discuss only 3 palm species, which are arguably the absolute best for indoor culture. Unlike most palms, each of these has a demonstrated ability to tolerate low light, low humidity and low temperatures better than the rest. In short, if you don’t have experience growing palms indoors, these are the most likely to survive and thrive in your care.

Kentia palm enjoying light indoors.

Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)

There’s little debate that the kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is the best overall choice for an indoor palm tree. That’s why it was the subject of our recent article, All About the Kentia Palm. In case you don’t have the time to look that over, rest assured that the kentia palm is exceptional in its ability to deal with dim light, low humidity and stale air.

Give this palm strong indirect light, such as that coming from an east or west-facing window, and it should thrive for you. A south-facing window is also acceptable, so long as the light is very well filtered. The big challenge with the kentia palm is giving it as much bright indirect light as possible without burning it with direct sun. This species comes from Lord Howe island, where the temperatures are consistently cool year-round. The heat generated around a south-facing window and the direct rays of the sun will therefore quickly singe this plant.

Besides giving it strong, cool light, simply follow some general palm care guidelines. For example, all indoor palms love humidity, so mist the kentia palm frequently. This not only makes it a bit more resistant to pests but also reduces the rate at which water is lost, and can therefore help minimize leaf-tip burning, a common occurrence in palms (especially indoors) that we’ll discuss more later. In addition, resist the temptation to quickly repot the kentia. It’s usually best to leave your kentia in the pot it arrived in, at least for the current growing season. These palms, and palms in general, tend to enjoy being cramped in pots. This is in large part because pots with a high proportion of roots to soil tend to drain better and hold more oxygen. Only palms that have roots coming out of the drainage holes, or specimens that are beginning to split their pot, are in dire need of transplanting. And even when you do transplant, chose a pot that’s at most 20-30% larger than the original.

Kentia palms can and will be plagued by pests, especially if kept in dim conditions and in dry air. Thorough treatment with neem oil or horticultural oil will usually control most light to moderate infestations. However, if this plant is grown in very marginal conditions, it may be a losing battle. Also remember that kentia palms can grow large and very wide indoors, even in small pots. Make sure they have room to spread and, if space is an issue, push off repotting as long as possible to keep them from growing too big and tall.

Densely-planted parlor palm for sale.

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

The genus Chamaedorea is huge and consists of many species that have good potential as indoor palms. However, the most battle-tested among them to date is clearly Chamaedorea elegans, the “parlor palm.” This is easily my first pick for anyone just dipping their feet in palm culture.

This palm hails from the steamy forest understory along southern Mexico and into Guatemala, and is an unusually low-light tolerant palm. That’s why it is the only palm species on my list of 14 Truly Low Light Plants. Indeed, it is very likely this capacity for tolerating dim lighting that has made this species the most popular in homes around the world.

C. elegans can reach 3 meters high outdoors in the wild, but in the home usually remains quite small, typically well under a meter. Moreover, growth is very slow, so getting a bigger specimen to start is a good idea. This palm normally grows in its native habitat as a single-stemmed plant, but is normally sold in tightly planted composed of many small palms.

There are very few things you can do wrong with the parlor palm. Give it good indirect light (no direct light) by putting close to an east or west-facing window. A northern exposure my work if that’s all you’ve got – but put the palm right up against the window, since light levels drop off very quickly even a couple feet away. Water as you would any other houseplant, letting the surface soils dry slightly between waterings. However, it is worthwhile catering to C. elegans‘ thirst for humidity by frequently misting the leaves and the very surface of the soil. Putting the whole pot on a tray of pebbles and water is also a good idea in dry conditions. Whatever you do, do not keep the soil constantly wet or you will kill this plant from root rot.

Pests are not a common problem with vigorous plants, but weakened palms, especially those grown in dark corners and in dry conditions, can be particularly susceptible to spider mites. Spider mites are bad news for any plant, but can really tear through a parlor palm’s relatively delicate leaves. If you’ve got an infestation, try horticultural oil in concert with an improvement in growing conditions (i.e., brighter light and increased humidity).

R. excelsa – a graceful indoor palm.

Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

The lady palm is another great indoor palm tree that’s also used as a landscape palm outdoors. Rhapis excelsa has an interesting upright growth habit and beautiful, open fan-like fronds that give it an understated elegance and allow it to fit into narrower spaces compared to a kentia palm.

This species is believed to have originated somewhere in southern China and Taiwan, although this is not clear since the lady palm only exists today in cultivation, with no actual wild population. Regardless of where it came from, however, it is clear the lady palm is here to stay. R. excelsa is known for being tolerant of low humidity, relatively pest resistant, and is likewise comfortable at common room temperatures. It is also very sensitive to direct sunlight, which should be avoided indoors at all costs.

Ironically, while it burns very quickly in direct sunshine, it requires fairly bright indirect light, especially compared to the parlor palm and kentia palm. Therefore, if considering the lady palm make sure that you have a good east or west-facing window; or perhaps a shady location close to a south-facing exposure.

This species enjoys soil moisture but is sensitive to overwatering, especially if in a large pot. Follow the general rule of letting the surface soils dry slightly between waterings. Humidity cannot be too high, on the other hand, but the lady palm is quick to adapt to drier air, within reason. Mist R. excelsa daily to keep it happy and help combat a potential spider mite infestation.

Rhapis excelsa can grow up to 4 meters outdoors, but will generally get only half as large indoors, and with a young plant this will take lots of time. This is a slow-growing species and should not be fertilized aggressively. Even in good indoor conditions, it’s wise to err on the conservative side, giving this palm only 1/2 the manufacturer’s recommended fertilizer dose. For the same reason, there is no need to rush to repot. As with most palms, try to repot infrequently, only when the roots have filled the pot. When you do repot, use a high quality potting soil rich in organic matter that drains quickly.

Indoor Palm Trees, Leaf Tip Burn & Water Purity

Assuming you can provide good indirect light and follow the suggestions above, you should succeed with any or all of the indoor palm trees above. However, there are some issues common to indoor palms and many houseplants that is worth understanding.

Japanese maple showing mild leaf tip burn.

Leaf tip burn is a common problem with a variety of plants, indoors and out. There many things that can cause this phenomena (whereby the tips of leaves will discolor and die back), but in most cases it’s usually due to underwatering, very low humidity and/or the presence (or accumulation) of dissolved solids, such as salts and hard water minerals, in tap water (or fertilizer). This in turn raises a biger issue of water quality and soil chemistry. I apologize in advance for the digression, but it’s important to understand for palms and plants in general.

All plants transpire or lose water water through microscopic pores called stomata. However, transpiration rates vary across the leaf (just like perspiration rates vary across the human body), with the highest rates occurring along the tips or margins of leaves. When water vapor is lost from a leaf, only pure water is released and everything else is left behind. It’s the reason why your glass and stemware may have white-ish residue left on them after air-drying.When water is lost at the leaves, more water is drawn up by the plant through capillary action to replace it. However, as just discussed, the salts and minerals naturally present in the water cannot turn into vapor and are deposited in the plant’s tissues. The result is a gradual accumulation and concentration of dissolved solids at the leaf tips. At some point, the concentration of these solutes reaches a point where they cause local toxicity and tissue necrosis – aka tip burn.

Humidity is a factor in tip burning because a plant’s rate of transpiration is somewhat dependent on humidity. All other things being equal, low humidity will result in a relatively high rate of transpiration. Consequently, both a high concentration of dissolved solids in tap water (or fertilizer residue in soil) and/or low humidity can exacerbate leaf tip burn. And both together can eventually cause the death of the entire plant.

If the palm is otherwise healthy, minor leaf tip burning is not a big deal, just gently clip the ends of the fronds if it bother you and increase humidity around the plant to slow water loss. However, if the entire plant is suffering from it and the palm is also growing poorly, with pale, stunted or discolored leaves, then it demands greater attention.

Machines like this sell “RO” water.

The easiest way to deal with tip burn accompanied by poor growth is by watering the palm with very pure water. Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about using typical home-filtered water, like that produced by your refrigerator filter or some Britta unit. I’m talking about distilled or reverse osmosis water (“RO” water is commonly available in the large purified water machines outside most grocery stores). Unlike tap water or most so-called home “filtered water”, which can have total dissolved solids ranging from 50 to 300 parts per million, RO and distilled water have virtually nothing in them. Distilled water should read “0” ppm with a hand-held tester; whereas RO water can be anywhere from 0 to 10 ppm and still be effectively pure. Most common household tap water filters simply don’t actually extract dissolved solids, and usually pick out much larger particulates or volatile compounds like chlorine. It may make your water taste better, but it’s not any different as far as the plant is concerned.

Distilled or RO water helps palms and other affected plants in two ways. First, when a plant sheds this type of water, there’s nothing to leave behind in the leaves, and hence nothing to accumulate in the leaf tips (besides fertilizer residue or other soil additives already present). This cuts down burn dramatically. Secondly, and more importantly (but not as obvious), is how this water helps restore pH balance and promotes vigor.

A sweetgum leaf with classic signs of iron chlorosis.

Most tap water (especially in the southwestand other arid/semi-arid regions of the US) tends to be alkaline and will eventually make soil alkaline too. If curious do a quick test with an aquarium pH test kit. This is a problem because most plants prefer soils that are neutral to slightly acidic (<pH 7.0). Why? Because nutrients and trace elements in the soil, even if in abundant supply, can be “locked up” at even moderately high pH values. The first thing that often gives away alkaline soils is that plants will go anemic and begin to yellow, despite fertilizing. This is one cause of iron chlorosis. In this case, it occurs because iron is locked up in these soils, and iron is the most important metal needed for chloroplast formation and function. Moreover, it’s not only iron that can be bound up in alkaline soils, various other trace elements can be rendered unavailable too. Using RO/distilled water, which is normally neutral, helps bring down soil pH. Further, because it is hyposmotic compared to the soil, it also leaches salts and hard water minerals out of the soil as it’s being watered through (water until it drains from the pot, then discard it). This both drops pH and helps keep it within a useful range for the plant. Consequently, the benefits from using this type of water go far beyond helping to minimize leaf tip burn.

“Palm leaf two” by Fil.AI under CC BY 2.0

“kentia” by Eduardo Millo under CC BY 2.0

“Chamaedorea elegans” by Forest & Kim Starr under CC BY 2.0

“Rhapis excelsa” by somone10x under CC BY 2.0

“brown leaf tips” by Jessie Hirsch under CC BY 2.0

“NOT an ATM” by Allan Ferguson under CC BY 2.0

A sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaf showing the signs of interveinal chlorosis.” by Jim Conrad , via Wikimedia Commons

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