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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 can also adjust well to low light, which offers even more flexibility when considering where to display one in your home.
- Botanical Name: Chamaedorea elegans
- Common Name: Parlor palm, Neanthe bella
- Plant Type: 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
- Toxicity: Non-toxic
As unfussy as parlor palms tend to be, they’re heavy feeders and need quite a bit of water to thrive, especially during the spring and summer growing seasons, so keep them evenly moist. During this time, fertilize your parlor palm monthly with a houseplant fertilizer. You can cut back on watering in the colder months, making sure only the top layer of soil remains moist. In fall and winter, don't fertilize. Otherwise, plan to water your parlor palm once or twice per week, and allow the soil to dry before watering again.
Best Growing Conditions for Parlor Palm
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 very warm, very dry space will affect your palm’s growth.
Plant your palm in a tall container with well-drained 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—only on warm days—during the summertime 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 to encourage the same effect.
Starting in its second or third year, your parlor palm may begin to produce tiny beadlike yellow flowers in the spring. These may develop into pea-sized, berry-like fruits.
Parlor palms don't need to be pruned—in fact, pruning could damage your plant. Only cut back leaves that have died naturally.
How to Propagate Parlor Palms
Growing parlor palms from seed are 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.
It’s also hard to know whether seeds saved from your existing plant will sprout because the flowers may need to have been cross-pollinated with another plant to be viable. 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.
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.
How to Propagate Parlor Palms by Division
While it's possible to propagate your parlor palm by dividing one of the clumps of stems in your existing plant, 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. Start with a parlor palm that has several healthy stems growing in its container.
Step 1: Choose a pot that’s an appropriate size to hold a single stem from the mother plant. 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 by soil. Put the mother plant back into its original container, filling it in with fresh soil. Water 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 Growing Problems
Overwatering parlor palms is a common problem. Keep soil moist—but not wet—and ensure your plant is in a pot with good drainage. Another common issue is placing your parlor palm in direct light, which can burn the plant. Do give your palm indirect sun exposure, and know that it's fine to place your palm in a low-light area. And, like most houseplants, parlor palms may attract mealybugs, spider mites, and other insects that may damage the growth of your plant. Treat infected plants by dabbing their leaves with rubbing alcohol or insecticidal soap.
Potting and Repotting 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. You should only repot 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 tall pot.
Chamaedorea Elegans. North Carolina State University Extension.
Toxicity of Common Houseplants. University of Nebraska—Lincoln Extension.
Chamaedorea Elegans. Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Chamaedorea Palm Production Guide. University of Florida.
Houseplant Problems. University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources. August 2020