Indoor palm plant care: Debunking all the myths!

Do you like the look of indoor palm plants but believe they are difficult to keep and need a lot of space? We debunk the myths about indoor palm plant care.

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indoor palm tree care

Do you like the look of indoor palm plants but believe they are difficult to keep and need a lot of space?

Just looking at a indoor palm plant can transport you to a tropical beach or jungle like no other plant can. Their long slender sweeping palm leaves embody peacefulness, relaxation and a time of self-reflection. 

The best indoor palm plants are a simple, yet elegant option for the indoor garden. Indoor palm trees are bold and bring a tropical feel into the home but also add depth, style and color to any interior. Whether they stand alone as statement plants, or together with a combination of other plants, indoor palm trees always look stunning.

Best of all, indoor palm plant care is not as demanding as you may think. That is a myth! 

Most palm trees thrive in the same conditions that we find comfortable – warm room temperatures, average humidity and moderate light – making them excellent indoor plants. Indoor palm trees do not require a green thumb qualification. With only a small amount of care they will reward you with cleaner air and elegant green foliage.

So, let’s debunk these myths and explore the best indoor palm plants and learn all about indoor palm plant care.

Basic Facts About Indoor Palm Trees

There are many, many different types of indoor palm plants, which is why finding the right palm tree to suit any indoor space is easy. Surprisingly, given that these plants are commonly referred to as palm trees, there is a shape and size suitable for almost any area in your home, including small spaces.

6 Best Indoor Palm Plants

Here is our pick of the 6 best indoor palm plants to add that tropical, relaxed feel to your indoor sanctuary.

Chinese Fan

indoor palm tree care - chinese fan palm
Kami Iseman@Flickr

The Chinese fan palm features fine, multi-pointed, star-shaped leaves and can range from small to taller almost tree heights. Chinese fan palms do well in bright light, but are slow growing. They need to be watered when the top of the soil feels dry. The Chinese fan palm needs a deep pot because its growth is supported by a deep tap root. You will need to feed this palm once a year in the spring with a slow-release fertilizer.

Majesty

indoor palm tree care - majesty palm

The Majesty palm is not for beginner gardeners but is a beautiful palm that holds a shape synonymous with traditional palms. It is a slow growing palm that can reach tree heights. The Majesty palm requires careful balancing of heat, light, and fertilization – a bright location but without direct sunlight, plenty of water but not sitting in water, and less fertilizer than other palms but a supplement of Epsom salts to provide adequate magnesium and stave off yellowing leaves.

Cascade

indoor palm tree care - cascade palm

The Cascade palm is a hardy and versatile clumping palm with dark green leaves that provide a dense foliage. This palm is a shade loving palm, so locations with less light are extremely suitable. It likes to be kept moist but not sitting in water. It is a great choice for beginner gardeners.

Parlor

indoor palm tree care - parlor palm
Photo by Vadim Kaipov on Unsplash

The Parlor palm is a very popular indoor palm tree. The Parlor palm has light-textured foliage, thin trunks and is good at purifying air. It has adapted to relatively low light, can handle cooler temperatures, and grows in attractive clumps. They prefer bright, filtered sunlight. All of these needs make it an excellent indoor palm plant choice.

Ponytail

indoor palm tree care - ponytail palm

The Ponytail palm is an excellent choice for a small but bright location. These types of indoor palm plants feature a short, bulging trunk which also serves as a water reservoir. Their leaves are long, arching and almost grass-like. They are very drought tolerant and can grow in shallow pots. However, the Ponytail palm does not like the cold. Interestingly, the Ponytail palm can also grow into a tree sized specimen under the right conditions.

Kentia

indoor palm tree care - kentia palm

The Kentia palm is another quintessential shaped palm, generally clumping in nature. They feature fairly traditional shaped leaves and medium green, shiny foliage. Kentia palm care needs to include indirect sunlight, good drainage, and fertilizing with a palm fertilizer. These palms grow slowly.

Benefits of indoor palm plants versus other indoor plants

Palms are an excellent choice for an indoor plant. Did you know palm trees:

• Bring a tropical look and feel into the home
• Are evergreen and do not drop leaves or flowers
• Tolerate neglect
• Enjoy indirect light
• Clean the air

With proper indoor palm plant care, most palm trees live for many years and can grow into large palm trees in pots.

5 tips to master indoor palm plant care

So, you are convinced that a palm plant is an excellent choice for your indoor garden sanctuary, you know the type of palm that suits you and your home, and you are keen to understand the best indoor palm tree care.

These are our top 5 tips for indoor palm plant care.

1. Pick the right pot: choosing the best pot for indoor palm plants

The pot is an important foundation for your indoor palm plant. It needs to provide the necessary depth for the roots of the palm tree but also width to allow your palm tree to grow. For clumping palm trees, a broad pot with space for the palm to grow new stalks and eventually trunks is essential. Only the Ponytail palm prefers a tight fit in its pot.

Your chosen pot also needs to be ascetically pleasing, so think about its size and shape and how it will look inside your home.

You should position your pot on top of a saucer with pebbles in it – known as a pebble humidity tray <link>. This is best for two reasons. One, the pebble humidity tray ensures that any water provided to your palm drains adequately out of the pot (removing some of the risk of root rot). Two, the pebble humidity tray allows water in the tray to evaporate, creating a nice humid environment for your plant. Be careful, to ensure that your indoor palm tree does not sit in water at any time.

At some stage, you will need to repot your indoor palm tree. This is likely to be fairly infrequently because palm trees are generally slow growing.

These are some of our favourite pots for indoor palm trees:

2. Seek the right soil: choosing the best soil for your indoor palm plants

Let’s start by clearing up a common myth or point of confusion, potting mixes are not soil and vice versa. Potting mixes contain soil but also contain additional components such as shredded bark, organic material and fertilizer. The confusion stems from the fact that soil and potting mix are used interchangeably. The word ‘soil’ is also commonly used to describe what is in the pot – the growing medium.

The job of soil is to provide anchorage and support for the roots of the plant, as well as drainage, nutrition and aeration to encourage a plant to grow.

Most palms enjoy a moist but well drained soil. Therefore, a mix of loose, porous soil combined with organic matter such as peat moss, leaf mold and shredded bark is best. You can mix your own but cactus and palm soil mixes (which are specifically designed for this purpose) are a fantastic premixed option for indoor palm trees and assist with creating the required well-drained, sand-based soil.

Remember, an essential part of indoor palm tree care is ensuring that their roots are never sitting in water.

Thus, a good soil is an essential foundation for any plant.

Our favourite potting mix for indoor palm trees is:

3. Find the right fertilizer: fertilizing your indoor palm plants

Getting started with the right pot and soil is only half of the story. Your indoor palm plant will also need feeding to keep its foliage green and healthy. There is more detailed information on fertilizing indoor plants in our article ‘Best fertilizer for indoor plants’. Here are some general tips:

• Don’t fertilize your indoor palm plant immediately after purchase. Most garden centers regularly fertilize their plants and it is unlikely to need fertilizing straight away.

• Don’t add fertilizer to potting mixes unless the fertilizer product is formulated for this. Most potting mixes have fertilizer included and adding more could burn the roots of your palm tree.

• Don’t fertilize your indoor palm plants in winter or during (semi) dormant periods. Fertilizing at this time can result in poor growth and leave them susceptible to bugs and diseases.

• If your indoor palm plant is still actively growing throughout the cooler months, continue to fertilize it but reduce the amount of fertilizer and the frequency (by at least half).

• After winter, normally around February (in the northern hemisphere) and around August (in the southern hemisphere) begin fertilizing your indoor palm tree. This will help it prepare to grow foliage, flowers and fruit.

Slow release fertilizers are best for indoor palm tree care because palms are generally slow growing. I prefer to use organic fertilizers because they are gentler and less likely to burn the roots of your indoor palm tree or risk over fertilization.

This is my favourite fertilizer for indoor palm plants:

Fertilizers can build up in the soil. The best way to prevent this, is to essentially wash any remaining fertilizer from your pots two or three times per year. This is done by drenching your pots with a lot of water, allowing the water to flow gently through the pot. Then let the pot drain completely.

4. Look for the light: lighting for indoor palms

Place your indoor palm plant in an area that receives the type of light that your chosen palm tree prefers – generally bright but indirect sunlight. Most indoor palm plants do not like direct sunlight as this can scorch their leaves. If there isn’t a location with natural light, you can consider getting a grow light. However, it may be difficult to provide adequate light with grow lights if your indoor palm tree is indeed a tree and quite tall.

This grow light can be hung from the ceiling or positioned above larger plants or groups of indoor plants:

5. Have a holiday: helping my indoor palm plants thrive

Indoor palm trees love to have a shower. This can be done either:

• putting the indoor palm plant (in its pot but not on the saucer) in your shower and showering it with lukewarm water. This will also drench the pot and remove any fertilizer build up. If you live in a cold climate, do not use cold water because this will shock the plant. Do not use hot water because this will scold the leaves.

• Putting your indoor palm plant outside in the rain. Again, if you live in a cold climate, do not use this method because your indoor palm tree will go into shock.

Alternatively, you can mist the leaves of your palm tree and wipe them down with a soft damp cloth. This will remove any dust that has built up on the leaves and will ensure your palm can absorb the light effectively.

Palms also like to take a holiday outside (if possible), but remember, don’t put your indoor palm tree in the cold or into direct sunlight. Any dramatic changes in their environment will not be helpful to your palm.

Indoor palm plant care and maintenance

How to avoid some of the common indoor palm plant care mistakes?

No-one wants the death of a plant to happen and we don’t want your indoor palm tree dying, so let’s look at some of the common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Too much love

Unfortunately, many well meaning indoor gardeners create gardening problems through too much love – too much watering, too much fertilizing, and dramatic changes to their plant’s environment when things don’t go well. When it comes to indoor palm tree care less is more. Our plants are hardier than we think, so only water and fertilize when required, and less in the cooler months when plants are generally dormant.

Pruning

Traditionally, indoor plants are pruned to encourage growth and shape the plant. Palms do not need pruning in this sense, but indoor gardeners should remove any old or yellow leaves. Leaves that have become entirely yellow or brown with age can be trimmed as close to the main stem as possible. This keeps the indoor palm looking spectacular and ensures that pests do not attack the tree in areas of old growth.

These pruning shears are perfect for trimming your indoor palms – strong and comfortable in the hand:

Fiskars Bypass Pruning Shears
$9.98


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Dust

Over a period of time, dust will build up on indoor palm leaves making them look dull. This inhibits the palm leaves from absorbing the light. Give you plant a shower or wipe down its leaves with a damp cloth to remove any build up.

Repotting

Make sure you repot the plant as soon as it grows too big for the current pot. Overgrown or root bound plants cannot grow well because they have nowhere to spread their roots and they often run out of nutrients. Palms are slow growing, so this will not be required frequently. The Ponytail palm is an exception and enjoys a tighter pot.

These repotting mats are perfect for indoor gardeners, allowing you to repot indoors or on your balcony and keep the mess contained:

Plant Repotting Mat Waterproof
$6.95


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Humidity

Getting the humidity right for indoor palm trees is sometimes a challenge. The air indoors is generally drier than outside, and there are air conditioners, heaters and fireplaces to contend with. Heating or cooling your home dries out the air. Keep your indoor palm trees away from drafts and the direct path of heaters and air conditioners.

Misting the leaves of your indoor palm tree daily, using a pebble humidity tray under your plant or using a room humidifier to create humidity are all simple solutions.

Making a pebble humidity tray is really easy and can be used with other indoor plants as well. Here is how to make a pebble humidity tray:

• Choose a small tray that is wider in diameter than your pot.
• Place a layer of pebbles about 1” (2.5 cm) deep in the tray.
• 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 pebble humidity tray evaporates and helps to keep the palm leaves moist.

What to see how this is done? This cool YouTube video Creating a Pebble Humidity Tray by Dutch Saskatoon shows you how.

Common pests and how to deal with them

Mealy bugs

Mokkie / CC BY-SA

Mealy bugs are tiny, white, cottony looking insects that are found in moist, warm habitats. They usually feed on the plant juices of tropical or subtropical plants, such as the indoor palm tree. They can also act as a carrier for other plant diseases. To resolve, apply rubbing alcohol (with a 70% or less solution of isopropyl) directly on mealy bugs using cotton swabs or buds.

Scale insects

Indoor plant bugs - Scale insect
Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium / CC BY-SA

Scale insects are light brown pests that are small and oval in shape. They are called scale bugs because they have a shell-like covering. They generally prey on the leaves and leaf joints of indoor plants. Scale insects grow in dry, warm environments. To resolve, cover the pot and soil with a plastic sheet then scrub or pick the scale insects off the plant. If the infestation is limited to one of two leaves, you can simply remove these leaves. Insecticides, such as neem oil, are also effective.

Spider mites

Toby Young / CC BY-SA

Spider mites are characterized by their brown, reddish color. These insects are oval-shaped, and are very small. They live in colonies, usually towards the base or underneath the leaves of an indoor plant. To resolve, prune the affected leaves. If that does not work, insecticidal soaps or botanical insecticides are effective. Follow the directions for each product.

Palm leaf skeletonizers

Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA/CC

These pests are silver and light brown in color, with black spots around their wings. They are moths that prey on palms. They feed on the leaves of palm trees permanently damaging the leaves and leaving them looking unsightly. To resolve, prune the affected leaves.

Aphids

Carlos Delgado; CC-BY-SA

Aphids are small, orange-colored insects that like feeding on the sap of certain plants. They usually grow in colonies on the bottom of leaves. If a leaf turns yellow, or wilts, aphids may be the cause. To resolve, spray the aphids with cold water. If that does not work, mix household soap, water and cayenne pepper and spray on the plant to deter their growth.

Other factors to consider

Space and aesthetics

Indoor palm plants can grow large and tall, but they all start small. Reading plant labels and understanding the potential size and shape of your indoor palm tree choice is important. You will need to think about whether its shape and size will ultimately fit your home. Recommended indoor palm trees for smaller spaces could include the Cascade, Parlor or Ponytail palms. While those for larger spaces could include the Ponytail or Chinese Fan Palm. Some palms will remain small if the pot size is constrained.

Toxicity

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

 

Conclusion

 

Most of the time we do not give much thought to how we live indoors, nor do we see any need to improve our home interiors. But what happens when we want to create a peaceful, quiet and aesthetically pleasing home, or a sanctuary that reminds us of a tropical, peaceful world?

An indoor palm plant is an excellent choice to create that tropical feel. We have outlined the best types of indoor palm plants for indoors, the common mistakes and bugs, and how to master indoor palm plant care.

As with any indoor plant, there are specific requirements, but indoor palm plant care is not difficult. We have dispelled that myth!

Don’t forget to get to know your palms and their needs. A little time invested in reading about your palms can be fun, relaxing and bring great results. Your palms will return your love and care by contributing to the health and wellbeing of your indoor space and providing oxygen.

Make sure you hang around and check out our other indoor gardening blog posts.

Remember, life is better with indoor plants!

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