Secrets to Palm Tree Care

Dramatic palm trees prove perfect for indoor pots—here's how to help your container plant thrive.
Fronds of Tropical Foliage Lightens Dark Corner

Fronds of Tropical Foliage Lightens Dark Corner

Parlor palm, Chamaedora elegans, is a relatively easy houseplant to grow and well suited to indoor life. It is an upright plant that rarely reaches over 4 feet. The compact growth and easy care makes it ideal houseplant for filtered light.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Parlor palm, Chamaedora elegans, is a relatively easy houseplant to grow and well suited to indoor life. It is an upright plant that rarely reaches over 4 feet. The compact growth and easy care makes it ideal houseplant for filtered light.

Elegant, happy in low light, and easy to look after, tropical palms make great specimens for clean, simple containers that show off their architectural forms. Use them as focal plants or as the backdrop for a group of indoor pots. Palms also make a good foil for exotic blooms and most are happy to spend the summer outside lending a hint of the tropics to a warm, sheltered patio. 

Popular in homes since Victorian times, and known by a number of common names, including parlor and table-top palm, this bushy plant is still widely grown for its exotic appearance and long fronds of shiny green leaves. Small specimens can be used to brighten up shelves or gaps in bookcases, while larger plants are ideal for livening up a shady corner or as focal points where their attractive fronds are on show. Plants are fairly slow growing, so buy a plant of a size that matches your space.

Caring for Parlor Palms 

One of this plant’s charms is that it is relatively undemanding. Water it regularly while in growth, keeping the compost on the moist side, but allow it to dry out between each watering in the winter. Feed your parlor palm every month during the spring and summer with a balanced liquid feed to keep the foliage lush and healthy. It will also enjoy a vacation outside on the patio in the summer and makes a great foil for colorful bedding and tropical blooms.

Keeping Fronds Healthy

If the tips of fronds turn brown, you probably need to raise the humidity around the palm. Spray plants regularly with a mister or sponge the leaves — the latter also helps to remove any dirt. Conversely, this type of damage can be caused by root rot due to overwatering, so check that the bottom of the container is not filled with water. Brown leaves are sometimes the result of scorching; keep parlor palms in a cool, shady spot away from the midday sun.

Sago Palm

Sago Palm

You’ll be growing living history when you add sago palm to your home. The leathery leaves have a delicate, fern-like appearance that disguises the plant’s rugged personality. This beauty is a living fossil, a leftover from dinosaur times. You’ll see best growth in bright light, but it survives in low light. The easiest way to kill it is overwatering.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Sago Palm

Despite its ferny appearance, this slow-growing palm has tough fronds with spine-tipped leaves and is best placed where you will not accidentally snag your clothes as you brush past. It likes bright light but not direct sun, making it ideal for a partially shaded area in a sun room. Young plants have a bushy appearance, but over time the sago palm forms a distinctive trunk, giving it a passing resemblance to a tree fern. 

Watering and Aftercare 

Although these palms like moist compost, be careful not to overwater them or the leaves may turn an unsightly yellow. Also, reduce watering in the winter when temperatures fall. Avoid changing the position of sago palms when new growth appears in spring; as the fronds unfurl they follow the sun, so moving plants around at this time can result in palms with crooked stems and an unbalanced shape.

Fan Palm

Dramatic fans of glossy leaves carried on upright stems make this clump-forming palm a real eye-catcher. It hails from subtropical East Asia and looks stunning in an ornate, Asian-style container. Really easy to grow, fan palms thrive in the shade of a north-facing room and enjoy some time outdoors in the summer, as long as they are brought in again long before the first frost. Keep plants well watered during the growing season, but reduce moisture levels in the winter. Also, mist the foliage every week to increase humidity.

Fan Palm Options

There are dozens of cultivars of Rhapis excelsa that are highly prized by collectors. Many are attractively variegated, including ‘Taiheinishiki,’ which has boldly striped yellow and green leaves, and ‘Variegata’ with white-striped foliage. For a smaller form, try ‘Zuikonishiki,’ which grows to just 24 inches (60cm) in height and has yellow variegated leaves.

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