Growing Indoor Palms: How To Care For Palms Indoors

Indoor palm trees have been popular as houseplants for many centuries. They have continued to be popular because many species adapt very well to indoor life. 

In this article, we discuss the correct care of indoor palm trees and share recommendations for the types of palms that are sure to do well in your home.

Kentia palm at Disney Grand Floridian Hotel, Orlando Florida - 2021Pin

What’s the Difference Between Tabletop Palms and Floor Palms?

You may hear palm trees referred to as tabletop or floor varieties. This really has much more to do with size than type. As the verbiage implies:

  • A tabletop palm is one that will fit comfortably on a table or desk. 
  • A floor palm is one that needs its own floor space to accommodate its height and width. 

As you will see in our listing of popular palms below, most well-cared-for plants can be both tabletop and floor palms within their lifetimes. It just depends on the size of the plant when you get it and the amount it grows.

Exceptions to this might be several varieties of Chamaedorea, which typically do not grow taller than 3’ feet indoors. These could reasonably be considered tabletop palms throughout their lifetimes.

8 Popular Types Of Palm Houseplants

Howea Forsteriana – Kentia Palm 

This native of the South Pacific island, Lord Howe, is commonly called the Paradise Palm or the Sentry Palm. This palm has drooping, deep green, feathery fronds atop a graceful, slender trunk. 

Mature Kentia palm at Gaylord Palms Orlando, FloridaPin

This tree is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9-11, but it also makes a nice indoor plant. Outdoors, at mature size Kentias can reach a height of 40′ feet. Indoors, it usually tops out at 12′ feet.

Rhapis Excelsa – Lady Palm 

This very popular indoor palm is also known as Lady Palm. The plant is native to China and Vietnam and is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. The leaves of this palm are blunt tipped, thick, shiny and large. 

rhapis-excelsa-103114Pin

This is a multi-stemmed plant that is available in both solid green and variegated forms. Although the specific epithet of its botanical name, excelsa, refers to great height, the fact is, this adaptable palm grows to be only 15′ feet high outdoors and about 6′ feet high indoors.

Chamaedorea Sefritzii – Bamboo Palm 

This easygoing tree is also called Bamboo Palm. It grows in tall, smooth slender green clumps of stems bearing broad, short, curving individual leaflets. Unlike many other types of indoor palms, this plant can do quite well in a low light setting. 

Bamboo palm at Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FloridaPin

It also fits well in smaller spaces with a mature height of 4′ to 12′ feet and a spread of 3′ to 5′ feet. Bamboo Palm is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10-12.

Dypsis Lutescens – Areca Palm   

This pretty, popular plant makes a lovely, small tabletop or desktop decoration when it is young and a big, bold statement when it matures. 

Areca palm, Gaylord Palms Hotel, Orlando, FloridaPin

Areca Palms are very often found in home improvement nursery centers, department stores and the like as inexpensive, small houseplants less than a foot high. With good care, they can grow to be 6′-7′ feet high.

Chamaedorea Cataractarum – Cat Palm

This is an extremely easy palm to grow. It does well in light settings ranging from shade to very bright light and has a compact, rounded, bushy growth habit, so it is ideal for small settings.

Cat Palm - Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FloridaPin

The plant’s fronds are bright green and feathery. It is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9B-10 and will grow to be 6′-8′ feet high outdoors.

Chamaedorea Elegans – Neanthe Bella Palm 

This native of Guatemala and Southern Mexico is also known as Parlor Palm. It is one of the oldest of domesticated palms, and it does very well in low light settings (though it prefers bright, indirect light). 

Potted Neanthe Bella palm - Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FloridaPin

Parlor Palm is an excellent choice for small apartments or offices because they only grow to be about 2′ or 3′ feet high.

Chamaedorea Metallica – Dwarf Fishtail Palm

This small palm is also known as Miniature or Dwarf Fishtail Palm. As the common names imply, the plant does not grow to be very tall (topping out at about 3′ feet indoors) and its leaves look a bit like a fishtail. 

Chamaedorea Metallica - Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FloridaPin

This understory palm comes from the forests of Mexico and does well in a lower light setting. It is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zone 11 and can grow to be 5′-10′ feet high outdoors. 

Ravenea Rivularis – Majesty Palm 

This palm comes from Madagascar and likes a bit more moisture than most palms. If you live in a tropical setting, you can grow it outdoors alongside a stream or pond, and it can eventually grow to be 80′ feet high. 

Majesty Palm, Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FloridaPin

If you keep it indoors, keep it well watered. In the fullness of time, it will outgrow your house; however, it’s a slow grower and this will take quite a while.

Palms For An Indoor Patio

How To Care For Indoor Palm Plants

There are many different varieties of indoor palms to choose from. In fact, there are 2600 palm species worldwide. For this reason, it’s a good idea to research palm trees a bit before you buy one for your home. 

Although their needs are fairly similar, there are small differences that will make it easier for some types to adapt to your setting than others.

The vast majority of palm trees do quite well indoors if you can give them:

  • Protection from Cold or Hot Drafts
  • Bright Indirect Sunlight
  • Slightly Moist Soil
  • Ample Humidity

If you can provide for these simple requirements, your palm tree will survive and thrive for many years.

Temperature and Lighting for Palm Trees Indoors

Bright, indirect lighting is essential, even though, the types of palm trees that make the best houseplants can be found in shady environments in the wild, a shaded forest or jungle setting is actually quite bright, so these plants generally like to be placed in a setting that provides plenty of bright light all day but no direct sunlight.

Do Indoor Palm Plants Need Sunlight?

Even though some types of palms can do well in low lighting, you should not keep your palm tree in a dark room. Like all plants, palms need some sunlight for photosynthesis and survival. If you do not have a setting that provides natural bright, indirect sunlight, you must highlight your plant with a grow light.

Potted Bamboo Palm - Chamaedorea - Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FloridaPin

How Much Light Does An Indoor Palm Need?

One of the best settings for your palm tree is a foot or two away from a bright, sunny western or southern window. This will allow it to get plenty of light without direct rays from the sun and plenty of warm air without cold chills or excessive summer heat.

What’s The Best Temperature For Your Indoor Palm Plants?

Remember that these tropical plants like to have a consistently warm temperature free from drafts. You must keep your palm tree protected from extremes of heat and cold. It’s best to keep their environment between 65 and 75°F during the day. At night, the temperature can drop to 55°F.

Watering Schedule For Indoor Palm Plants

Just as with all plants, it’s always better to underwater than to overwater. Take great care not to overwater your palm as the roots need oxygen and a moist cool environment can cause root rot. 

To protect your plant against root rot and chlorosis (yellowing leaves) you should use the soak-and-dry watering method. 

Wait until the top couple of inches of soil are dry and then water your plant thoroughly allowing the water to run through the soil and into the catchment saucer.

Is Sub-Irrigation Good For Indoor Palms?

Generally speaking, it is best not to water from below. In fact, you should empty the saucer under your palm’s container promptly after watering to prevent having your plant stand in water as this will cause root rot.

How Often Should You Water Palm Plants?

When watering your palm tree only water when the top inch or so of soil is dry. Keep the atmosphere humid by misting frequently with a spray bottle. 

You may also wish to run a humidifier in the room.

How Do I Know If I Am Over Or Under Watering?

  • If the tips of your palm tree’s leaves are dry, it may mean that your plant is thirsty.
  • If the leaves turn yellow, your plant may be over watered.

More Signs Your Indoor Palm Plant Is in Trouble

If you notice that your palm’s fronds are turning brown or gray and look scorched or brown leaf tips, this can be a sign of excessive sun or excessive fertilizer. 

You may be able to remedy this problem by giving your plant a very deep watering with distilled water to wash any collected salts out of the soil. Pour the water through freely until it runs clear through the drainage holes.

Additionally, moving your plant out of bright sunlight to a shadier location may help remedy the problem of graying or browning leaves.

If the fronds are yellow and drooping, your plant may be wanting more sun.

Soil For Indoor Palm Plants

While any really good commercial potting or container mix will do, you can expect your palm tree to thrive if you’re able to locate an especially prepared palm soil.

The best soil for indoor palm trees is a porous, loose, potting or container mix that allows good air flow and drainage.

A combination of vermiculite, peat moss and perlite provides a porous substrate for your plant that allows air and water to flow through freely.

Feeding Indoor Palm Plants

Just as with soil, your palm tree will be happiest with a fertilizer product that is prepared especially for palm trees. These provide precise amounts of potassium and micronutrients that are needed to help your indoor plant thrive.

Fertilize or feed your indoor palm tree sparingly. When you fertilize, dilute liquid fertilizer to half strength. Remember that your tree will only need feeding during its growing season, spring through summer. In the wintertime, give it a break and let it rest.

Avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers as many palm trees are sensitive to the excessive amounts of salt they deliver. Instead, choose an organic fertilizer, and/or amend the surface of the soil with organic mulch or worm castings.

Take care not to use too much fertilizer. This causes leaf scorch and/or fertilizer burn. This type of leaf damage can also be an indication that your plant has been exposed to excessively hot or excessively cold drafts. Remember to protect your plant against extremes of temperature.

Rhapis Lady Palm - Winnie Palmer Hospital, Orlando FloridaPin

Pruning, Grooming and Maintenance

Unlike many types of plants, pruning does not encourage faster growth in palm trees. Instead, it causes stress and may even kill the plant. This is because palm trees draw nutrients from the leaves. For this reason, you should avoid ever pruning away green, healthy fronds.

Keep in mind that palm trees grow from the center, so you must take care when pruning and, you must place your palm tree in a setting where it will not be knocked about too much.

When pruning, only remove unhealthy looking fronds. Avoid damaging the trunk of the plant when you trim away completely dead fronds.

Should I Cut Off Brown Palm Leaves?

Generally speaking, you should only prune off fronds that have died back. If the foliage occasionally turns yellows or brown, you can cut it off. Remember not to trim the top fronds as this is new growth. Pruning this back could kill your tree. 

When a frond has become completely brown, cut it back to about an inch away from the central trunk. Be careful not to damage the trunk. 

Can Brown Palm Leaves Turn Green Again?

Generally speaking, when any plant leaf turns brown, it’s a goner. Go ahead and cut it off. 

Sometimes, yellow leaves can regain color if the cause of the yellowing is lack of nutrients and that problem is addressed. More often than not, though, when a leaf begins to discolor, it’s best to remove it.

Pests and Diseases Attacking Your Indoor Palm Plants

Plants that are over-watered, don’t receive enough sunlight or are otherwise stressed are subject to infestation by common pest insects, such as spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects.

Prevention is the best cure for pest insects. Keep your palm tree properly watered and keep the humidity surrounding the tree high to discourage pests such as spider mites. 

Examine your palm trees frequently so that you will notice any pest infestation before it has a chance to take hold. Treat promptly.

Remember that palm trees are rather sensitive to chemicals, so avoid the use of chemical pesticides. Instead, choose organic products such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oils (e.g. neem oil) to deal with pest insects on your palm tree.

If you set your palm tree outdoors in the summertime, be sure to inspect it carefully before bringing it back indoors in the fall. Palm trees kept indoors may be a little bit safer from pest infestation than those kept outdoors. 

You want to be certain your palm tree doesn’t bring any uninvited guests like mealy bugs into your home in the fall.

Repotting Indoor Palms – Should You?

One of the great things about keeping palm trees as house plants is that they do not need to be repotted often. They have very shallow root systems, so they are actually quite sensitive to frequent repotting. 

Generally speaking, you do not need to repot your palm tree more than every three or four years. If you repot too frequently, your plant will suffer.

On the other hand, a successful transition to a new pot can cause a growth spurt. If you have limited space for your palm tree, you will want to delay repotting as long as possible.

Potted Fishtail palm (Caryota) - Disney Grand Floridian, Orlando, FloridaPin

What’s The Best Container For An Indoor Palm? 

Choose your plant’s container with great care because it will be living in it for several years. You must make certain that the pot is heavy enough to prevent the plant from toppling over. It must have ample drainage holes to help prevent root rot.

How Can You Avoid Transplant Shock?

When repotting palms, be very gentle. Treat the plant carefully for some time following repotting. Protect them from direct sunlight, and don’t fertilize for several weeks. Immediately after repotting, water thoroughly and then wait until the top inch or so of soil is dry before watering again.

What Should You Do With Your Palm Tree In Summer?

In the summertime, you can choose a sheltered outdoor space for your tree that provides high shade. Just as when indoors, protect your plant from extremes in light and temperature. If inclement weather is predicted, bring it indoors. 

How To Care For Palms In Winter

During the winter, do not fertilize and reduce watering. No regular watering during winter. Never allow the palms soil to dry out completely, but you can allow the soil to become nearly dry to a depth of 2″-3″ inches in winter and then water thoroughly.

JOIN Our FREE Plant Care Newsletter 

By entering your email address you agree to receive a daily email newsletter from Plant Care Today. We'll respect your privacy and unsubscribe at any time.