A Quick and Dirty Bamboo Palm Guide
The genus Chamaedorea contains 107 known species of palm trees, all native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Of these, one species, Chamaedorea Costaricana (the Bamboo Palm) reigns supreme among gardeners and home decorating enthusiasts as the palm to get. This beautiful, slow-growing palm does well as a “border plant” when grown outdoors, and makes an excellent potted ornamentation when grown indoors. Experts note that this species is hardier than Areca Palms but easier to obtain and grow than Kentia Palms.
Facts About Bamboo Palms
As the binomial nomenclature would indicate, this variety of palm can indeed be found in Costa Rica, along with other tropical zones across the Americas. It is easily distinguished by its thin, green trunk that closely mimics the appearance of a bamboo stalk. Much larger than its popular sibling, the Chamaedorea Seifrizii, this Bamboo Palm can reach heights over 20 feet. In homes, however, these palms will typically stay a more manageable 10 feet in height.
The stalks are often clustered and reach about an inch in thickness. From the stalks, numerous palm fronds sprout, with a multitude of glossy, green pinnate (feathery) leaves. These leaves arch downwards and have ample spread, ranging from 4-15 feet. They will grow to 4 feet in length.
The Bamboo Palm irregularly produces seeds, which will germinate over a period of six months when planted. When mature, the Bamboo Palm will grow bright orange and bear a green fruit that turns black as it ripens. Don’t eat it, though; the fruit is packed with oxalates that will upset your stomach.
This plant likes moisture and shaded/filtered light. It will grow at a moderate rate in these conditions and requires little care outside of the standard upkeep that you would give to an indoor palm plant. This is also one of the most cold-tolerant of the Chamaedorea plants.
The Bamboo Palm will eventually grow too large for its pot, necessitating a transplant. This is a difficult procedure, though, as the root balls of the Bamboo Palm can become very large and complex. Handle with care.
Planting Bamboo Palms
Whether indoors or outdoors, you should plant your Bamboo Palm in a spot that will grant ample but indirect sunlight. Too much light will scorch your leaves, but too little light will cause the fronds to underdevelop. They might even fall off, leaving you with naught but a stick in the ground. Outdoors, this means a shady area, preferably shielded by other trees.
The soil should be average in its composition. Not too salty, not too acidic, and none too dry. You’ll have to keep the ground moist, but avoid watering too much to keep from damaging this palm. It should be lightly fertilized outdoors and may require no fertilizer at all in these conditions. Your plant has plenty of room to grow, so beyond that, you’ve not much to do.
Indoors, the strategy will be much of the same, but you’ll have to watch your plant positioning. A southeast window is ideal, but other windows are suitable as long as the light level is not too great. In the pot, you’ll have to do more to manage your water levels, as you can easily over dampen the soil. If it’s soggy, you’ve added too much water and exposed the palm to the possibility of root rot. Keep the pot well-drained and remove excess water from you collection area if it starts to build up.
You should watch your indoor temperature to promote ideal plant growth. This palm likes it best when you have the thermostat set between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, don’t go below 60 degrees. The exception to this rule is winter when the plant is not growing. During these months, you can set the temperature to 55-60 degrees with no ill effects.
You will have to fertilize this plant more often when it is indoors. You should use a slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer that you have cut to half strength. Only fertilize during active growth periods, about once per month. If you notice the leaves of the Bamboo Palm becoming discolored or damaged, cut back on fertilization even further.
Be delicate when moving your Bamboo Palm to a new pot. The root structures are dense, tangled, and can be damaged with sloppy handling. Choose a new pot about 2 inches larger (in diameter) than your old one, pack it with similar soil, and water after transplanting (but not too much). Once your palm has hit its stride, you can start implementing more advanced care techniques.
Caring For A Bamboo Palm
To keep your Bamboo Palm growing steadily, you’ll have to protect it from environmental hazards. Low humidity is one such danger, and you should try keeping the moisture in the air suitable by using a humidifier or spraying your plant down with water mist periodically. Showering your plant with lukewarm water also serves to remove excess fertilizer salt (which the Bamboo Palm is particularly susceptible to) and discourage the most common pests (thrips, scales, and mites) from targeting your plant.
The larger you palm grows, the more at risk it becomes for pests. It has a natural resistance, but the critters can still take root if you’re not careful. If your initial efforts at dissuading them fail, you might try using an insecticide to kill the infestation and prevent future ones.
You should also get in the habit of pruning your Bamboo Palm regularly. Check for dead and wilted leaves, and chop them off at the base with a pair of sanitized pruning shears. Using dirty shears can increase the possibility of different infections (like Pink Rot).
Following the above instructions should yield a healthy cluster of Bamboo Palm stalks with resplendent fronds. Take note of the following to keep your palm standing strong:
Bamboo Palms are highly temperature resistant, but you should aim for the ideal temperature range to keep the leaves looking healthy.
Keep the soil moist but not too wet and drain excess water regularly.
This palm has a low tolerance for salt. Watering and spraying down the plant will keep salt levels from building up to dangerous levels.