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When you think of plants that create a lush, tropical vibe, which ones come to mind? Most likely trailing pothos, glossy rubber trees, and the most recognizable tropical of them all: the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans), part of the Chamaedorea family.
With vivid green coloring and elegant, feathery leaves, this slow-growing dwarf palm ranges from two to six feet tall in an indoor environment, making it a manageable large-sized houseplant. Parlor palms are non-toxic to people and pets, and can even adjust to low light, which offers more flexibility when considering where to display one in your home.
- Botanical Name: Chamaedorea elegans
- Common Name: Parlor palm, Neanthe bella palm
- Plant Type: Perennial palm
- Mature Size: 2–6 feet high
- Sun Exposure: Low to bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Well-drained cactus, palm, or potting mix
- Soil pH: 5.1–7.5
As unfussy as parlor palms tend to be, they’re heavy feeders and need quite a bit of water to thrive, especially over the spring and summer growing seasons, so keep the soil evenly moist but not soaked. During this time, fertilize your parlor palm monthly with a houseplant fertilizer. In fall and winter, you can cut back on watering and hold off on fertilizing altogether. Otherwise, plan to water your parlor palm once or twice per week, and allow the top inch or two of soil to dry before watering again.
Best Growing Conditions for Parlor Palms
Choose a spot in your home that receives bright, indirect light to display your parlor palm. Indoor palms can also tolerate dimmer, shadier spaces, but they prefer brighter light when possible. While their native habitat is warm and humid, palms adapt well to typical indoor temperatures. Since they prefer humidity over dry conditions, a parlor palm is a great option to add a lush look to a bathroom with a north- or east-facing window. A drafty or very dry space will affect your palm’s growth.
Plant your palm in a tall container with well-drained cactus, palm, or potting soil. If you have some on hand, mix in a little extra sand to help with drainage.
If you have access to a shady outdoor space that’s protected from the wind, relocate your parlor palm to this spot during summertime. Since these plants receive dim light indoors, it’s important not to shock them with exposure to bright, direct sunlight outside. Windy conditions in hot, dry weather can dry out your palm. Spraying your outdoor palm with a garden hose on especially warm summer days will encourage leaf growth. If you keep your palm indoors and your space gets warm during the summer, mist it on hot days with room-temperature water for a similar effect.
Parlor palms don't need to be pruned—in fact, pruning could damage your plant. Only cut back leaves that have died naturally.
Starting in its second or third year, an especially thriving parlor palm may begin to produce tiny bead-like yellow flowers in the spring. These may develop into pea-sized, berry-like fruits.
How to Propagate Parlor Palms
Propagating parlor palms from seed is typically only done by commercial growers. The seeds have a very low germination rate and need very specific conditions—lots of humidity and high soil temperatures—to sprout successfully. You may have the best results by simply buying a second parlor palm. If you do want to try it at home, division—while not foolproof—is a simpler option for turning one parlor palm into two.
This involves propagating your palm by dividing one of the clumps of stems in your existing plant, though you may see some die-back of foliage on both the new plant and the mother plant, which can be cut away from the healthy leaves. Here's how:
If you're unsure about propagating your parlor palm, don't forget that your local nursery can be a convenient, excellent source of plant-parenting information as well as a place to buy plants.
Step 1: Start with a parlor palm that has several healthy stems growing in its container. Choose a pot that’s an appropriate size to hold a single stem from the mother plant with good drainage. Fill it with a soilless mix of equal parts peat moss and either vermiculite or perlite.
Step 2: Gently remove the mother plant from its container. Loosen the soil around the root ball to expose its bare roots.
Step 3: Look for a healthy-looking, established stem with its own root system. Carefully cut away any roots connecting it to the main plant with a clean, sharp blade.
Step 4: Plant your new stem in the pot with the soilless mix, ensuring the roots and stem are covered. Put the mother plant back into its original container, filling it in with fresh soil. Water both so that the soil is moist. Keep both the mother plant and the new plant in a warm, shady spot to recover, and then care for them as usual.
Common Problems With Parlor Palms
Parlor palms are one of the most easygoing palms out there and are beginner-friendly, but they're not entirely foolproof. They require a little more effort than some other nearly indestructible houseplants.
Leaves Turning Yellow
Overwatering is a common cause of yellowing leaves. You want to keep the soil moist but not wet and ensure your plant is in a pot with good drainage. Once you've addressed the issue, you can trim off yellow leaves with a pair of clean, sharp scissors.
Browning Leaf Tips or Drooping Plant
Dry, brown leaf tips or a plant that is drooping altogether indicates underwatering. Give your plant a healthy drink and adjust your watering schedule appropriately. You can trim off brown tips with a pair of clean, sharp scissors.
Brown Spots on Leaves
This is usually the result of placing your parlor palm in direct sunlight—plants can get sunburns too! Move your palm to somewhere with indirect sun exposure, and know that it's fine to place your palm in a low-light area. Trim off burnt leaves with a pair of clean, sharp scissors.
Like most houseplants, parlor palms may attract mealybugs, spider mites, and other insects that can damage the growth of your plant. Treat infected plants by dabbing their leaves with rubbing alcohol or insecticidal soap.
Potting and Repotting Your Parlor Palm
Parlor palms can thrive for years crowded in the same container without repotting. In fact, the older your parlor palm gets, the less frequently you should repot—do so only once the roots have filled the container completely. Once your plant is in an eight-inch pot, it’s a good idea to simply top-dress (gently remove the top inch or two of soil and then add fresh soil) rather than repot. If you do want to repot your palm, do so in the spring, and replant into a taller pot.
Are parlor palms easy to care for?
While they're not quite as infallible as, say, pothos or snake plants, parlor palms still make an excellent beginner plant. The key elements to monitor are light and water.
How fast do parlor palms grow?
These plants are very slow, leisurely growers. You may not notice much difference from season to season aside from the occasional new leaf (also called a frond). Take a picture for comparison a couple of times a year to really notice growth.
How long can parlor palms live?
With the right care, indoor parlor palms can live for decades. Outdoor parlor palms can live even longer.