How to Care for Your Indoor Palm Tree

palm tree growing in living room with gray couch, white carpet and wicker furniture

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To bring a lush, tropical look to your space, you really can’t go wrong with an indoor palm tree. These easy-growing, attractive plants come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and growth habits that can liven up any interior without being high maintenance. 

One of the most common types is the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans), which is also one of the best palms to grow in low-light spaces, but there are many other varieties available. These palms offer foliage from fan-shaped fronds to colorful spikes. Though they come from several different plant families, they require similar care to thrive. 

Indoor palm trees are include dwarf varieties such as the miniature date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) and the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) in addition to smaller specimens of varieties that will grow tall at maturity in nature, such as the Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii), or fan-leaved types like the banana palm (Musa acuminata) or fountain palm (Livistona chinensis), that need lots of room for their large leaves to spread out. 

Still others, like lady palms (Rhapis excelsa) and parlor palms, can grow well in dimmer indoor spaces, while specimens like the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) and butterfly palm (Dypsis lutescens) are well-suited to indoor growth because of their smaller size.

Others bring colorful features: the lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda), which does well with lots of bright light, has bright red stems terminating in feathery fronds, while the new leaflets of the flame thrower palm (Chambeyronia macrocarpa) emerge bright red before turning green. 

Best Growing Conditions for Your Indoor Palm Tree

Keep your palm in a spot where temperatures don’t drop below 50 degrees at night. While some varieties, like parlor palms, kentia palms, and lady palms, can survive in lower-light spaces, indoor palms overall do best with good bright, indirect light.

A spot near a west-facing or south-facing window is a good option. 

However, because they live indoors, it’s best to avoid exposing them to direct sunlight except for in the winter months, so keep this in mind when you decide where to put your plant (and in choosing which size palm you want, as you may decide to move it for this reason as the seasons change). Another option is a steamy bathroom with good light, since palms do best in humid rather than dry environments. 

bare root parlor palm plant
The Sill Parlor Palm Plant $15

How to Care for Your Indoor Palm Tree

In general, indoor palms are relatively easy to care for. The main thing to remember is that they do best with lots of food and water. Check the soil frequently when you first bring yours home and be sure to keep the soil consistently moist, especially in the spring and summer growing season.

During this time, fertilize them once a month with houseplant fertilizer. Skip fertilizing during the winter months. 

Keep an eye out for pests such as spider mites, which tend to target indoor palms. Keep an eye out for spotted, curling, or dropping leaves, then check for their telltale webbing on stems and on the undersides of leaves. Treat spider mites quickly by pruning off infested limbs, bagging them, and putting them in the trash to keep the infestation from spreading. 

Kill the remaining leaves and stems with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Spray tops and undersides of leaves with a mixture of 1 ½ tablespoons neem oil to a quart of warm water every three to five days to keep pests from returning. 

Though they may be overcrowded, indoor palm trees can typically grow well in the same container for several years, and frequent repotting is unnecessary.

When you do repot your indoor palm tree, it’s best to do it at the beginning of the growing season in early spring. 

In terms of a growing medium, they do best in a well-drained potting soil. You can make your own with a mix of equal parts peat moss and perlite or purchase ready-made potting mix specifically designed for growing palms and cacti.

How to Propagate Your Indoor Palm Tree

Propagating indoor palm trees from seed is best left to professional growers, but there are a few different ways you can grow a new palm. Depending on the variety you have, you may be able to propagate your indoor palm by removing pups, or baby plants, that the mother plant will produce. You may also be able to divide clumping varieties of indoor palm into multiple new specimens. 

How to Divide Your Indoor Palm Tree

Clumping varieties of palm trees with several healthy stems can be propagated by division. 

Step 1: Gather a few pots that are an appropriate size to hold a stem from the mother plant. Fill the pots with a soilless mix of equal parts peat moss and either vermiculite or perlite and moisten with water. 

Step 2: Gently remove the mother plant from its container. Loosen the soil around the root ball with your fingers to expose its bare roots. 

Step 3: Look for healthy-looking, established stem clumps with their own root system. Using a clean, sharp blade, cut any roots connecting the clumps, taking care to leave each clump’s root system intact. 

Step 4: Plant each clump in its own pot. Keep the soil moist and put your new plants in a warm, shady spot to recover, then care for them as usual. 

How to Propagate Indoor Palm Tree Suckers

Some types of indoor palms such as lipstick palms send suckers, or new stems, straight out of their roots. The plant doesn’t typically have to be removed from its container to remove these. 

Step 1: Identify the sucker or suckers you would like to remove. Prepare appropriate containers with potting mix, then water it to moisten. 

Step 2: Gently loosen the soil around the base of the sucker. Carefully pull up on the sucker and identify its roots. 

Step 3: Using a clean, sharp blade, cut away the sucker, keeping as much of its root system intact as possible. Take care to avoid damaging the mother plant. 

Step 4: Plant the sucker in the prepared container. Put the new plant in a shady, warm spot to recover and keep the soil moist. 

How to Propagate Indoor Palm Tree Pups

Varieties of indoor palm trees such as miniature date palms, sago palms, and ponytail palms will grow pups or baby plants from the mother plant. It’s best to allow the pup to grow attached to the mother for a few years before trying to remove it so that it can develop its own root system. 

Step 1: Check to see if the pup is ready to be removed by carefully removing some of the soil around the pup’s base to look for several healthy roots. 

Step 2: Gather a cutting tool, fresh potting mix, and an appropriately sized container to hold the new plant. Fill the container and water the soil well to moisten it. 

Step 3: Gently remove the soil around the pup, leaving at least some soil around the delicate roots to protect them if possible. Using a clean, sharp blade, cut the pup away from its mother, taking care to ensure that it has several intact roots. 

Step 4: Carefully plant the pup in the prepared container, adding soil until the lowest leaves are growing just above the top of the soil. Place a clear plastic bag over the plant to help hold in humidity, using chopsticks or pencils stuck into the soil to prop up the bag and keep it from touching the leaves. 

Step 5: Keep the pup in a place with good bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist. When you see new leaves growing from the pup, you can remove the plastic bag and care for it as usual. 

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