When you think of the kinds of plants that create a lush, tropical vibe, which ones come to mind? Trailing pothos, glossy rubber trees, and the most recognizable tropical of them all: the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans).
With vivid green coloring and elegant, featherlike leaves, this slow-growing dwarf palm only reaches heights of three or four feet indoors, making it a very manageable large-sized houseplant at maturity. Parlor palms can also adjust well to low light, giving you even more flexibility when considering where to display one in your home.
Best Growing Conditions for Parlor Palms
Choose a spot in your home that receives bright, indirect light to display your parlor palm. These plants 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 a well-drained potting soil. If you have some on hand, it’s a good idea to mix in a little extra sand to help with drainage.
How to Care for Your Parlor Palm
As unfussy as parlor palms are to care for, they’re heavy feeders and need quite a bit of water to thrive, especially during the spring and summer growing seasons. During this time, fertilize your parlor palm monthly with houseplant fertilizer. Make sure to keep the soil evenly moist during the growing season, too.
You can also cut back on watering in the colder months, making sure that only the top layer of soil remains moist. In fall and winter, do not fertilize.
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 your parlor palm’s roots have filled its container completely, and once your plant is in an eight-inch pot, it’s a better idea to simply top-dress (gently remove the top inch or two of soil and then add fresh soil), rather than repotting. If you do want to repot your parlor palm, do so in the spring, and replant into a tall pot.
Parlor palms don't need to be pruned—in fact, pruning could damage your plant. Only cut back leaves that have died naturally.
If you have access to a shady outdoor space that’s protected from the wind, it’s a great idea to relocate your parlor palm to this spot during summertime. Since parlor palms 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 parlor palm indoors and your space gets warm during the summer, you can mist it on hot days to encourage the same effect.
Starting in its second or third year, your parlor palm may begin to produce tiny, beadlike yellow flowers in late winter. These may develop into pea-sized, berry-like fruits.
How to Propagate Your Parlor Palm
Growing parlor palm 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, high soil temperatures—to sprout successfully.
It’s also hard to know whether seeds saved from your existing plant will sprout, as 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 plants.
How to Propagate Your Parlor Palm by Division
While it is 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 and 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 that the roots are covered and the stem by the soil. Put the mother plant back into its original container, filling it out 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, then care for them as usual.