Palm Plant Care: How to Grow Indoor Palm Trees as Houseplants

caring for houseplant Palm Trees

Indoor palm plants are an excellent addition to add a touch of the tropics to any interior décor. Most indoor palm trees or small potted plants are easy to care for. Their two essential care requirements are plenty of bright, indirect light and moist soil. If you get these conditions right, palm plants can thrive indoors for many years.

Some of the most popular indoor palms are areca palm plant, majesty (majestic) palm, cat palm tree, and the colder hardy palms parlor and kentia.

How to care for indoor palm trees: Grow your palm plant in a pot containing well-draining fertile soil, water when the top part of the soil dries, and keep humidity high. Palms thrive indoors in bright, indirect sunlight with temperatures between 65°F and 85°F (18°C – 29°C). Fertilize your indoor palm tree monthly.

The botanical name for palms is Arecaceae, and they grow in many tropical and subtropical countries. There are over 2,600 species of palm trees, many of which are suitable for growing in pots indoors. Because palms are generally easy to look after, some species—the parlor palm and majestic palm—are some of the most popular houseplants in the world.

Palms are identified by their long—sometimes, arching—leaves called fronds. The feathered leaves produce eye-catching foliage that livens up a room, office, or entrance-way. Some types of palms, such as the bamboo palm, have a bushy appearance with slender stems. Other exotic palms, like the ponytail palm, have long thin leaves and thick woody stems.

This article contains a complete guide to caring for indoor tropical palm plants. At the end of the article, you will find the answers to many common issues when growing palm trees indoors.

Types of Indoor Palm Plants

Here are some of the best examples of indoor palm plants to grow at home:

Majesty palm tree—An impressive palm that starts as a medium-sized houseplant but grows to immense heights. Thankfully, this is a slow-grower palm plant. Give majesty palms plenty of humidity, moisture, and warmth to help them thrive. These tropical palms also grow well in shady areas of your room. Learn how to care for majesty palms indoors.

Parlor palm—The top palm tree when it comes to choosing a tropical plant for living spaces. Their name comes from their popularity in Victorian parlors. So, these are also palm houseplants that grow well in low-light conditions. This palm is also at the top of the list of the easiest palms to grow at home.

Areca palm—Also called the butterfly palm, this tropical house palm has feathery fronds and bamboo-like stems. Keep the palm in bright light away from direct sunlight. It’s worth noting that areca palms don’t mind some shade.

Bamboo palm—Bushy, feathery light-green foliage is the attractive feature of bamboo palms. They are also easy to care for indoors in pots as they’re tolerant of low humidity and low light.

Kentia palm—The long arching stems and large fronds make the kentia plant a popular household choice. The exotic look of these indoor potted palms can bring the tropics indoors. Keep in bright, indirect light, and don’t worry if the temperature drops as they are cold hardy to 23°F (-5°C). Their popularity as a houseplant is because they also tolerate low light and shade.

There are other types of indoor palm trees to grow as houseplants.

Brown or Yellow Tips on Indoor Palm Tree Leaves

What can you do about indoor palm plants that develop brown tips on leaves? The problem of brown or yellow tips is a common issue caused by over-feeding or lack of water. If you notice brown or yellow tips on palm leaves, check the soil for dryness or hold back on feeding. The only way to get rid of brown or yellow tips is to trim off the ends, however this may also cause the frond to die.

How to Care for Palm Plants Indoors

Even though palms are generally non-fussy houseplants, they have some specific care requirements to help them thrive. Of course, some species, such as the parlor palm and kentia palm, may be easier to care for than other species.

Ideal Location for Indoor Palms

Ideally, you should place your palm plant pot in a bright spot but away from direct sunlight. Species such as the parlor and butterfly palms may be more tolerating of shadier locations in a room or office. The pygmy date palm and fishtail palms need more light and will start to droop in the shade.

Most palm species don’t grow well in rooms with very little or no natural light. So, although bathrooms are generally humid rooms, palms may not be the ideal shower plants if you’ve got a windowless bathroom.

Best Potting Soil for Indoor Palm Plants

All types of palms—Chinese fan palms, cat palms, ponytail palms—need to grow in well-draining, light soil. The best kind of potting mix for palms should be a mixture of soil, peat moss, and perlite or shredded bark. Organic-rich material, such as peat moss, holds moisture and also provides plenty of nutrients. The addition of perlite or bark pieces help to aerate the soil and allow water to drain quickly.

Checking the moisture content of the potting mix is crucial if you want your indoor palms to thrive. Palm plant pot soil needs to be kept moist, without ever becoming soggy, overly damp, or waterlogged. When watering your plants, the water should quickly drain out the pot’s drainage holes.

Watering Indoor Palm Plants

Proper watering is essential to keep all varieties of palms thriving indoors. The best tip to care for a thriving indoor palm is to water when the top 1” or 2” (2.5 – 5 cm) of soil had dried out. Pour enough water in the pot until it drains out the bottom and wait until all the excess water has gone. This watering method makes sure that the roots get nourished with enough moisture.

Palms should never be left to sit in water. Too much moisture is damaging to the plant’s roots and it will eventually die. But remember that the palm potting soil should always have some moisture. So, avoid allowing the soil to become completely dry. You will notice that brown tips start to develop on the leaves.

Here is one care tip for watering tropical indoor palm plants: flush the soil every three to four months.

Tap water and fertilizer contain salts that can eventually affect your palm’s health. Here are instructions on how to flush excess salts from your palm’s potting mix:

  • Put your potted palm in the bath and gently run plenty of tepid water through the soil.
  • Continue flushing the soil for two or three minutes.
  • Allow all water to drain from the soil.
  • Place your palm back in its bright location.

Indoor Temperature Requirements for Palms

Although palms love heat, they will grow just fine in indoor environments. Average room temperatures are perfect for growing many tropical plants, including parlor palms, majesty palms, and ponytail palms. Some species of palms are intolerant of the cold, whereas other palms trees such as the kentia palm can withstand a slight frost.

In their natural environment, types of palm trees grow outdoors in hot countries. For most types of palms to grow well indoors, keep room temperatures between 65°F and 75°F (16°C – 24°C). However, palms are types of houseplants that adapt well to various conditions. If your room lacks heat and has a lot of shade, then choose a parlor palm which grows in most conditions.

Humidity for Indoor Palms

The biggest challenge of caring for house palm plants is to get humidity right. Indoor household air is notoriously drier than outside. Also, the lack of airflow can also cause problems with humidity. You should aim for room humidity of between 40 and 60%. To keep palms thriving, you may have to mist the leaves daily, use a humidifying tray, or have a room humidifier.

The challenges of palm plant care when it comes to humidity is when the heating or air conditioning is switched on. Heating or cooling a home dries out the air. So, make sure and give your indoor palm plants extra humidity in summer and winter.

It’s easy to make a pebble humidity tray to keep your palm trees thriving indoors. Here is how to make a humidity tray:

  • Choose a small tray or plate that is wider in diameter than your pot.
  • Place a layer of pebbles about 1” (2.5 cm) deep in the tray or plate.
  • Fill with water until it’s almost at the top of the pebbles.
  • Place your palm plant pot on the pebbles, making sure the water doesn’t come into contact with the container.

The water from the humidifier tray evaporates and helps to keep the palm leaves moist.

Fertilizer Need for House Plant Palms

One of the tricky aspects of caring for indoor palm plants is getting the fertilizer right. Palms growing in pots are susceptible to a mineral salt buildup. Over time, the excess minerals can cause brown tips or burn the plant’s roots. Also, indoor tropical palms grow slower due to dry air, less heat, and cramped roots. So, their nutrient needs are fewer than with outdoor palm trees.

Choose a palm plant fertilizer that is rich in potassium and magnesium. Try to choose an organic houseplant or palm fertilizer as they don’t contain chemicals. Only fertilize plants during the growing season—spring and summer—and don’t feed them in winter.

Here are some top tips to care for your palm and make sure it gets balanced nutrients:

  • Use a slow-release fertilizer for palm plants.
  • Fertilize palm plants one to three times a year.
  • Use granules, pellets, or spikes instead of water-soluble fertilizer.
  • Remember that over-fertilizing is worse than not feeding palms at all.

Pruning Potted Palms

Old palm fronds become yellow and die off as they age, and so regular pruning can help keep your plant looking its best. Fronds that have become entirely yellow or brown with age can be trimmed at the main stem. If the plant only has brown tips, there is no need to prune the whole frond.

Is it okay to prune brown leaf tips from palm leaves? Some websites recommend not pruning brown palm tips. However, if there are many brown spots, the elegant, majestic palm may become unsightly. So, you could snip off the brown ends to help improve the palm’s appearance.

Repotting Palms at Home

Because palms are slow-growing indoor houseplants, they rarely need repotting. The shallow root system of palms means that they don’t appreciate being disturbed. So, only transfer to a new pot when they are entirely rootbound.

With some species of palms such as majesty palms, kentia palms, areca palms, and parlor palms, keeping them in small pots stops them from growing into large trees. So, only repot every two or three years and keep the container relatively small.

When choosing the right kind of pot for palms, remember that over-potting—planting in a pot that’s too big—can cause soil moisture problems.

To repot a palm, gently remove the root ball from the existing pot. Try not to disturb the root system. You can place the plant in a new, slightly larger container. There is no need to shake off excess soil as this can stress the roots too much and the palm could wilt or die in the new pot.

Propagating Tropical Palm Plants

Palms are notoriously difficult to propagate from cuttings or by root division. The best way to propagate a palm is by growing from seeds. Because indoor palm plants rarely—if ever—flower, you should buy seeds online or from your local garden center. The best palm seeds for propagation are new seeds.

How to grow palms indoors from seed:

  • Put a few palm seeds in a small pot under a very thin layer of soil.
  • Cover the pot with plastic to lock in moisture and place in a warm, humid environment.
  • It may take up two months or longer for palm seeds to germinate.
  • When palms have sprouted, move the pots to a bright, humid, warm spot that is at least 75°F (23°C).
  • When the palm starts to grow two or three leaves, transfer to a larger container.

Are Indoor Palms Toxic?

Palm trees are safe to have around the home because they are not toxic to dogs, cats, rabbits, or other pets.

Indoor Palm Care: Disease and Pests

Household palms such has cat palms, parlor palms, and majesty palms are quite hardy indoor plants. Because of this, they are relatively resistant to pests and diseases. The most common pests that can infest indoor palms are scale, spider mites, and mealybugs. Here are ways to keep your palms healthy and free from bugs:

  • Spider mites—You can spot these tiny insects as tiny speckles on palm fronds. Maintaining high humidity levels usually gets rid of spider mites.
  • Mealybugs—These infesting bugs appear as bits of tiny white fluff on palms. Use an organic neem oil solution to rid your palm of mealybugs.
  • Palm diseases—Too much moisture in the soil is to blame for most plant fungal and bacterial diseases in palms. Withering or drooping fronds are signs of palm disease. In many cases, it’s unlikely you can save a diseased plant. But you could try letting the soil partly dry before watering.

Common Indoor Palm Plant Problems: Brown Tips

When looking after palms indoors, the most common issue is unsightly brown tips appearing on the leaves. The three leading causes of brown palm tips are as follows:

  • Under-watering causes the soil to become too dry.
  • Over-feeding or too much fertilizer causes a buildup of mineral salts.
  • Direct sunlight results in leaf scorching.

Once tips of palm leaves have turned brown, there is no way to save them. So, trim off the brown tips to keep your palm looking healthy. In the future, make sure you water your palm correctly and only feed it occasionally.

Other Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Palms Indoors

Here are answers to some more questions about growing indoor palm plants:

How to trim a potted palm houseplant?

Pinch off any dead fronds that appear yellow or brown. You can also prune away any new growth at the base of the stems to improve the aesthetic appearance of your palm tree.

Do indoor palms flower?

Even though palms are a flowering type of tropical plant, they never flower indoors. Only in exceptional circumstances will a parlor palm tree flower indoors.

How can I prevent mites and pests from infesting my tropical palm plant?

Keeping humidity levels high is the best way to prevent spider mites from taking over your plant. Also, when growing plants indoors—including tropical palms—make sure there is plenty of air circulation. Stagnant air results in weak plant growth. During summer, move your plant outdoors to a bright location away from direct sunlight. The warm, humid air and plenty of air circulating will help care for your palm plant.

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