Since before the days of ancient Rome, the Palm tree has been a symbol of triumph. Today, in addition to this victorious connotation, its appearance may suggest the sway of coconut palms or the swish of bamboo in trade winds.
The fan palms bring to mind Egyptian sculptures and thus recall exciting civilizations of times past.
There are over 3,000 thousand different palms found around the world. Most of these would probably not be pleasing for a house or greenhouse culture.
However, there are palms representing all of the classical growth habits and shapes that may be grown as indoor palm plants in climates too cold for them to be outdoors.
Some palms, by nature, are small enough that they seldom outgrow the bounds of usefulness as indoor plants. Others are container-grown while young.
The slow growth may render these palm trees valuable house, patio, or sunroom decorations for two or more decades.
Some Popular Palm Plants Grown Indoors
Caryota Mitis, Caryota Urens – Fish-Tail Palms
Outstanding container culture while young. Provide constant moisture, warmth (60°-80° degree Fahrenheit), bright light, some sun.
Chamaedorea elegans, Chamaedorea elegans ‘belle’ – Miniature Palms
They are known by the names Neanthe belle and Collinia elegans. These are some of the best-known palms of this genera. All of the Chamaedoreas are excellent for home, patio, and greenhouse. They need warmth (60°-80° degree Fahrenheit) and shade. They like to be moist but are more tolerant to drought than most palms. Chamaedorea elegans belle remains diminutive for an indefinite time.
Chamaedorea Cataractarum – Cat Palm
Dwarf, showy for indoors. Grows from a single trunk. Plants are male or female; females bear attractive scarlet fruits.
Forms cluster of bamboo-like canes bearing elegant, graceful fronds – same culture as Chamaedorea elegans.
Bold foliage creates a striking effect. It forms a cluster of stems – the same culture as Chamaedorea elegans.
The bamboo palm. Dwarf. Sends up basal shoots even while young – same culture as Chamaedorea elegans.
They are seldom seen in the North. It forms a single trunk. Dwarf. The distribution of the clustered leaflets in the fronds is unusual – the same culture as Chamaedorea elegans.
Chamaedorea Seifrizii – Bamboo Palm
Bears clusters of small, slender cane stems. It has an overall lacy appearance.
Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens – Areca Palm – Butterfly Palm
- Has willowy, furrowed, yellowish canes in a clump.
- Temperature range of 60°-80° degrees Fahrenheit.
- Likes moisture, some sun, or bright daylight.
Tropical and cannot stand frost. Forms many clumps, sometimes more than a dozen in one pot, and thus it serves as a showy container-grown plant.
Howeia Fosteriana – Kentia Palm
Interiorscapers use the Kentia palm. Likes a temperature range of 50°-70° degrees Fahrenheit shade to partial sunlight, moist soil. They tolerate some frost when grown outside. Outdoors they grow up to 50′ or more feet tall. Indoors they are slow-growing and showy in containers.
The segments of the fan-shaped leaves of this palm are plaited, terminating as if they had been cut squarely with pinking shears. Forms clump. Excellent for indoors but needs space.
Reinhardtia Gracilis – Window Pane Palm
Unusual and should be grown more in pots. Shade-loving, likes warmth, humidity, and moist soil.
Chamaerops Humilis – Dwarf Fan Palm
Thrives in a temperature range of 50°-70° degrees Fahrenheit, likes sunlight, some fresh air, and moist to wet soil. Especially useful on a sun porch that gets cool at night.
Livistona Rotundifolia and Livistona chinensis – Fan Palms
Individual leaves are sometimes more than five feet wide. Single-stemmed. Container-grown while young. Striking. Good on a sun porch.
Phoenix Roebelenii – Dwarf Date Palm
Thrives under a wide temperature range. Likes some fresh air; grows in partial sunlight to shade. Keep moist at all times. Older plants in the open will stand 18° degrees Fahrenheit. One of the showiest, most graceful palms to grow in house or greenhouse.
Rhapis Excelsa and Rhapis Humilis
Outstanding container culture. Bamboo-like canes and fan-shaped leaves. Temperature range of 50°- 70° degrees Fahrenheit. Partial sunlight to shade. Moist soil. Older plants will stand 18° degrees Fahrenheit.
One Rhapis excelsa variety is sometimes known as Rhapis flabelliformis. A miniature Japanese Rhapis, as yet unidentified, matures at 18″ inches tall.
The Culture of Palms Indoors
How To Start
Palms are slow-growing, particularly as potted plants. If you start with a young and small one, it may be years before it attains any size. However, you will have the pleasure of seeing it grow into a showy palm, and your initial investment will be small.
If you desire a larger palm for an immediate decorative effect, age, size, and species will determine its price. The older the palm, the more its grower will have invested in it.
Some palms prefer a location that receives bright light but no direct sun. Others need full sunlight. Specific requirements for individual species are given in the accompanying text.
Whether sun- or shade-loving, turn a palm from time to time so that each side receives the stronger light. This helps it to be symmetrical and straight in stature.
Heat and Cold
Palms are tolerant of a wide range of cold and heat. Specific preferences are given in the accompanying descriptions. The closer you can come to meeting the ideal for a species, the better it will grow.
Soil and Potting
When a palm is potted, firm the soil well around its roots. If you repot one with roots wound around the old root ball, loosen them and surround them with new potting soil. Replant in a container not much larger than the original.
Use a porous soil mixture that is rich in humus. It should be light enough to allow water to drain quickly. Repot in the spring or summer.
Keep the soil moist at all times. The frequency of watering is determined by the season, size of palm and pot, temperatures, and the moisture content of the air. Palms will tolerate drouth, but it kills the small feeder roots and thus delays new growth.
If you use a soil mixture of equal parts garden loam, peat moss, and leaf mold or compost, drainage should be rapid enough.
Because palms grow slowly, they require fertilizer infrequently. A general rule for feeding them is to fertilize when the season is sunny, temperatures warm, and humidity high. When the weather is sunless and cool, don’t. Any well-balanced liquid house plant fertilizer is satisfactory.
In hot, dry conditions, red spider mites may cause a palm to have a dull appearance, including yellowish mottling of the foliage and tiny, tell-tale webs. In warm weather, a good control measure is to spray the leaves above and below with a forceful stream of water from the garden hose.
During the winter, it may be necessary to apply a miticide. (If it is oil-based, use at half strength.) Mealybugs and brown scale sometimes infest palms. To destroy, use a house plant push-button can of spray, following container directions.
Keep palms sparkling clean by sponging off leaves of larger plants: showering those that can be moved to a sink or tub. When old leaves turn yellow, cut (do not pull) them from the trunk.
During warm weather, enjoy container-grown palms in your garden and on your patio or porch, but take into consideration the light preference of each species.