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Palm Trees

Nothing reminds us of the tropics more than the sight of a palm tree against a blue sky. More than 2000 species of palm are spread around the world, especially near the equator. Those great plant collectors, the Victorians, discovered the beauty of potted palms as a decorative element in the home, and there are several species that make excellent houseplants.

Most palms prefer direct morning sun, or sun lightly filtered through sheers or by trees outside the window. Some will tolerate dry air, but most prefer higher humidity. Light mistings early in the day or pebble trays will increase the humidity immediately around the plant. They also need warmth, as most of the palms for use indoors are native to tropical rainforests.

Water thoroughly with day-old, room temperature water, providing good drainage so the roots never stand in water. Fertilize with a complete fertilizer (slightly less often than the label recommendation) with a high potassium formula such as Osmocote (19-6-12). Palms grown indoors need infrequent repotting, but when necessary, use a medium that contains some organic matter, and drains well. Palms do not have woody stabilizing roots like shade trees, so handle carefully to avoid breaking their grip at the soil line.

A few of our favorite palms for indoor use include the elegant Kentia palm (Howea) and the beautiful Lady palm (Rhapis), both widely used by interior decorators. Other palms that will tolerate indoor environments are Majesty palm, Bamboo palm, Parlor palm, King Maya palm, Cat palm, and Roebelini palm. If you are lucky enough to have a large sunroom or conservatory you might enjoy a Mexican Fan palm, Canary Date palm or a Chinese Fan palm. When selecting a palm, keep in mind that you cannot control the height to which it will grow. Palms are not as prunable as woody plants–you can only remove fronds. Cutting the main trunk will eliminate any new growth, so that as the older leaves die off, so goes the palm.

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