Growing Palm Plants & How to Care for Them

Last update: April 21, 2020

Although most are natives to either rainforest or desert areas, many palm plants are well suited to living life as a houseplant. From the petite neanthe bella palm to the larger and more majestic kenti and fan palms, palm plants come in a range of sizes and with a range of care requirements. A few can tolerate low levels of light, while others require ample amounts of indirect sunlight everyday. Most palms also need consistent food and water to continue to thrive.

Types of Palms

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Not all palm plants are suited for life indoors. The towering trees you see lining the streets of LA won’t be happy crammed into a container and placed inside a house. Fortunately, there are a number of palm tree and plant varieties that are well suited to indoor life.

Typically, palm plants that grow slowly are better suited to living in your home than fast growing palms. The plants that grow quickly are quite demanding, particularly when it comes to light. Most homes aren’t able to provide the bright lights fast-growing palms need.

Parlor Palms

One of the best varieties of palm plant for growing indoors is the neanthe bella parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans). It’s native to rainforests in North and Central America, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. The palm is a petite plant and a slow grower.

Depending on the size of the pot it is in, it can grow anywhere from two to six feet in height. Although the parlor palm needs a fair amount of humidity, it can generally handle lower amounts of light than other types of palm plant.

The cat palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum) is related to the neanthe bella palm. Like its cousin, it’s fairly easy to grow indoors. The big difference between it and the neanthe bella is the amount of light it needs. While neanthe bella will thrive in low light conditions, the cat palm requires bright light.

The cat palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum) is related to the neanthe bella palm. Like its cousin, it’s fairly easy to grow indoors. The big difference between it and the neanthe bella is the amount of light it needs. While neanthe bella will thrive in low light conditions, the cat palm requires bright light.

The bamboo palm (Chamaedorea erumpens) and the reed palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) are two more varieties of parlor palm. They have the same light requirements as the neanthe bella palm. But they can grow considerably taller than that palm. Both can reach up to 10 feet tall under the right conditions.

Lady Palms

Lady palms (Rapis excelsa) have a more shrub-like growth habit than other palm plants. They produce long, dark green leaves and have a stem that is covered in a rough woody coating. Typically, lady palms (also sometimes called lady finger palms) do best in indirect, medium light conditions. Putting them near a sunny window is ideal, just make sure that the sun won’t shine directly on them.

The palms are fairly slow growing, especially when planted indoors. Although the plants can grow up to three feet wide and more than eight feet high outdoors, inside varieties tend to stay much smaller.

Fan Palms

The leaves of fan palms are arranged in a way that resembles a folding paper fan, hence their name. There are two main varieties of fan palm, the Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensi) and the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis). Both varieties need a lot of light, and can be difficult for most people to grow indoors.

Kentia Palms

The kentia palm (Howea forsterana) is often the largest and most expensive palm grown as a houseplant. It’s a slow grower, so it can take years and years before the palm is ready to be sold at a garden center, driving it up its price

One of the key features of the kentia palm is the long, arched leaves it has. Its leaves will extend over an area and can look very elegant.

The kentia palm is also fairly easy to grow. It doesn’t need a lot of light and can tolerate colder temperatures than most other types of palm. The plant needs consistent moisture and water in the spring and summer. Less frequent water is a must in the winter.

The video above from Kansas State University Extension gives you an idea of what each type of palm looks like and the benefits of growing it at home. It also mentions a palm that isn’t really suited for life indoors. Although you might the areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) for sale as a houseplant, it needs so much light that it is likely to turn yellow and die quickly when grown indoors.

What Palm Plants Need

Two things all palm plants need are light and water. Even varieties that can survive in low light conditions need some indirect light each day to continue to grow and thrive. According to the University of Missouri Extension, even low-light tolerate palms need some light or else they will lose their fronds and will look sparse and unhealthy.

Palm plants need fairly consistent moisture levels to survive. If you aren’t giving your plants enough water, they will let you know. Usually, the leaves will turn brown when the plant isn’t getting enough water. Dry air indoors can also cause the leaves to brown.

One way to make sure your palms are getting enough water is to thoroughly saturate their soil each time you water them. Pour water into the pot until it runs out of the drainage hole. If excess water collects in a saucer under the pot, make sure to dump it out.

You want the soil to be moist, but not soggy. Your palms will rot if their soil is too wet.

During the winter, you’ll want to cut back on water. The plant’s soil can get a bit dry during the winter months, since it’s not actively growing then. If the air in your home is very dry in winter, misting the palm with a bit of water will help it out.

One way to make sure your palms are getting enough water and moisture and to keep them clean at the same time is to occasionally give them a shower. Putting the palm under running water will not only give it a drink, it will also rinse away any dust that’s built up.

Certain palms are more susceptible to spider mites than other varieties, according to Clemson University Extension. Mites tend to be attracted to dusty palms, so keeping yours clean and tidy will help reduce the risk for an infestation.

When you’re growing palms indoors, you should aim to use a container mix designed for palm plants. Container mix that’s created for palms drains well and has a fair amount of organic, nutritious matter it in, to provide the plan with some food.

Along with using the right type of container mix, it’s also important to fertilize your palms regularly, usually from spring until fall. Err on the side of under-feeding your palms, though. If your plants look hungry, you can always give them more food. But an overfed palm plant is likely to develop browned leaves and spots on the leaves.

Everything You Need to Know About Palm Plants

Looking for more detailed or specific information about palm plants? Or, are you growing a specific type of palm and want more information on it? We’ve got a lot more articles for you. Take a look at the sidebar to find all you ever wanted to know about growing palms.

Photo by Pixabay licensed under CC0

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