How to Care for Potted Indoor Palm Trees


Indoor potted palm tree care

Indoor palm trees are some of the most elegant houseplants you can grow, and they are exceptionally easy to care for once you know their preferred conditions. The key is to mimic some of the conditions of the palm trees’ native environment, which I promise is much easier than it sounds!

Here is a quick summary of how to care for indoor palms:

Growing Requirements:Indoor Plam Tree Care:
Light:Bright indirect light is best.
Watering:Water when the top inch of soil is dry, which is usually once every 7 days in Spring and Summer and once every 2 weeks in Winter.
Humidity:Prefers humidity of around 40%. Mist the leaves every other day.
Temperature:The optimal daytime temperature is 65-80°F (18-27°C), with 10F cooler at night. Do not let the temperature go below 55°F (13°C) in Winter.
Fertilizer:Apply a palm tree-specific fertilizer in the Spring and Summer.
Potting soil:use a mix of 80% potting soil and 20% perlite.
Pots:Clay and terracotta pots are best as they are porous and dry out more evenly.
Repotting:Repot every 3 or 4 years. Repotting less frequently is a good way to control growth.
Pruning:No pruning is necessary. Prune any brown crispy fronds back to healthy growth.
Winter Care:Water every 2 or 3 weeks, mist the leaves more often to counteract dry air and move the pot to a brighter location.
Toxic to Cats and Dogs:All palms are safe apart from the Sago Palm which is toxic to both cats and dogs.

About Indoor Potted Palm Trees

Indoor potted palm trees all belong to the family Arecaceae family, and whilst palm trees grow in a diversity of conditions in the natural world, popular palm trees that are cultivated as houseplants all have very similar care needs with bright indirect light, high humidity, and good drainage being the most critical care requirements.

I have cared for all the most popular varieties of indoor palm trees, and I can personally recommend Kentia palms as the best palm for beginners as it is by far the most hardy, whereas majesty palms are far more sensitive, being particularly susceptible to turning brown due to fluctuations in temperature.

The most popular types of potted palm trees are:

  • Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)
  • Majesty Plam (Ravenea rivularis)
  • Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
  • Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
  • Areca Palm (Areca Lutescens)
  • Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)
  • Cat Palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum)
  • Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

However this is by no means an exhaustive list as there are literally thousands of palm trees, but you can be assured that each variety of palm enjoys broadly the same care.

Did you know that indoor palm trees (Areca palms specifically) are capable of filtering the air indoors of pollutants?

How Much Sunlight Does My Palm Tree Need?

Whilst indoor palm trees can tolerate low light, they grow best in bright, indirect light in Spring and Summer. Locate your indoor palms in your brightest room during Winter. Turn your indoor palm tree around by 45 degrees when you water it to ensure even growth, preventing it from leaning to one side.

My personal indoor palm grows best when in a room with a south-facing window with lots of bright light yet set back from any direct sunlight, which can cause the leaves to turn brown.

I find my palm tree (and all houseplants), in general, grow better when the room is painted white to reflect as much light as possible, although they can thrive in any color scheme as long as the light is nice and bright!

If you are looking for a palm that copes well in lower light, then the Parlour Palm and Kentia Palm are by far the best options because they are adapted to grow in the shade of a tree canopy.

How Often Should You Water Indoor Palms?

Generally, indoor palm trees should be watered every 7 days during Spring and Summer and once every 2 weeks in the Fall and Winter. Allow the top inch of the soil to dry between bouts of watering.

If you are unsure whether your palm needs watering, then I personally find the best method is to feel the top inch of the soil with your finger to detect when the top inch has dried, which would indicate that it is the perfect time to water.

I personally much prefer this method as, in my experience, it is much more accurate than moisture meters which I find unreliable.

If the top inch of soil still feels dry to the touch, then delay your watering until it feels dry.

Humidity

The air indoors is usually too dry for palm trees which can cause the leaves to turn brown and crispy. Palms prefer humidity of around 40%, so mist the leaves every day to counteract dry air.

why are my indoor palm tree leaves turning brown
This is my friend’s Indoor palm tree. The leaves turn brown due to a lack of humidity.

You can also group all your humidity-loving houseplants close together to create a more humid microclimate or prop your pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water, ensuring the pot is above the water line. The constant evaporation increases local humidity replicating the hmid conditions of a tropical environment in your home!

Indoor potted palm tree
I group my Indoor potted palm (and other jungle houseplants) close together to help create a humid microclimate whenever I go away on holiday.

I have found that I have to mist my palm plants more often in the Winter as cold air naturally carries less humidity, and the hot air from indoor heating also drives down humidity, so I have personally started using a humidifier to avoid having to constantly mist the leaves in certain rooms due to central heating.

I have also found that in my experience, the Aareca palm and Majesty palm tend to turn brown more quickly in response to low humidity due to their thinner leaves, whereas Sago palms and Kentia, which have thicker, more waxy leaves, are more resilient to low humidity.

What is the Best Temperature Range for Indoor Palm Trees?

Indoor palm trees are comfortable at room temperature with an optimal range of 65-80°F (18-27°C) during Spring and Summer, with a 10ºF drop in temperature at night. Keep all indoor palms in temperatures above 55ºF (13ºC) in Winter, or they may die back.

Important tip: Keep your palm trees away from any source of indoor heating as this can cause an increase in temperature at night when it prefers a 10ºF temperature decrease.

Equally, it is important to avoid locating your palm near any sources of cold air, such as draughts from frequently open doors or windows.

Fertilizer

Feed indoor palms once a month during active growth from March until September. Palms are slow-growing and, therefore, do not need as much fertilizer as most houseplants but potted palms do suffer from specific nutritional deficiencies.

This is why I prefer to use a palm plant-specific fertilizer to address any potential nutrient deficiencies (potassium deficiency is particularly common for indoor potted palms) before they become a problem. I personally use a product called ‘Palm Focus’ for my indoor palms, but there are a lot of good products out there.

What Type of Soil Do Indoor Palms Need?

The best potting soil mix for my indoor palm trees is 80% all-purpose potting soil with 20% perlite or pine bark. The perlite creates the optimal soil structure with a loose, open texture which allows for good drainage, whilst the potting soil retains moisture and provides the nutrients to meet the palm’s needs.

I would caution against planting any indoor palms in unamended potting soil as this is likely to retain too much moisture and become unfavorably compacted over time, both of which can cause root rot.

Palms naturally grow in well-draining, reasonably gritty soil in their native habitats so adding perlite helps to replicate their ideal soil conditions.

Best Pots for Indoor Palms

Clay and terracotta pots are best for indoor palms as these materials are breathable, which allows the potting soil to dry more evenly between bouts of watering. Plastic pots are impermeable and can dry out too slowly for indoor palm trees to tolerate.

However, one thing I would highlight is that a palm tree with a clay or terracotta pot full of damp potting soil can become particularly heavy, which can be impractical if you intend to move it frequently (for cleaning, etc.)

In this case, I plant some of my larger houseplants in plastic pots as this can be more practical as they are lighter.

How Often to Repot Indoor Palm Trees?

Repot indoor palm trees every 2-3 years in the Spring or early Summer. Use a pot that is only about 2 inches larger than the previous pot to avoid ‘over-potting,’ which is where the soil dries out too slowly. Palm trees have fragile root systems, so be careful when repotting.

To check whether your indoor palm needs repotting, look to see if any roots are growing out of the drainage holes in the base because if the holes become blocked, the palm is likely to die of root rot.

I personally always re-pot my larger palm trees every three years as I find this helps to restrict the growth of the tree, as palm trees can grow very large and very heavy and outgrow the room they are in. I find it is a two-person job, so ask a friend for help when repotting!

Pruning

If your indoor palm is green and healthy looking, there is no need to prune it, and excessive pruning can even weaken the plant. However, if the outer fronds have turned brown and crispy then you can trim these off with a sharp pair of pruners in the Spring.

You can prune dying fronds at any time of year, really, but I typically wait to prune the leaves of my trees until the Spring when the tree is at its most resilient.

Pro tip: I would also recommend pruning the fronds only when they are brown and crispy. If the outer fronds at the base of the plant are turning yellow and brown, this is often a sign that the palm is drawing up nutrients from the leaves, which benefits the tree, so wait until the frond is brown and dried out completely before pruning.

Once they have turned crispy, you can cut them back to the base.

Sometimes some leaves of your palm can turn brown due to low humidity, in which case you need to increase the humidity with regular misting and cut the brown leaves back to healthy growth. I should highlight that this is not necessary from a plant health perspective but merely for aesthetic reasons to keep your palm looking healthy.

How do I Care for Indoor Palms in Winter?

If you have the space indoors, I recommend moving your palm tree to the brightest room in your home in the winter months, particularly if you live in a northern latitude with short winter days.

You can also use a grow light if you do not have the space near a brighter window.

Scale back how often you water your palm trees in Winter by only watering once every 2 or 3 weeks, ensuring that the top inch of the potting soil feels dry before watering again. Palm trees hate damp soil in winter, whilst they are not in active growth, so it is better to go underwater than overwater.

I would also recommend misting the leaves of your palms as often as every day in Winter, as dry Winter air and central heating sap moisture from the leaves, causing them to turn brown.

Do not use any fertilizer during Fall and Winter as your palm tree is not actively growing, and keep them in a room where the temperature does not get colder than 55°F (13ºC) at night.

Are Indoor Palm Trees Toxic to Cats and Dogs?

Whilst most species of indoor palm trees are not toxic to cats and dogs, it should be noted that the popular species of Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta) is toxic to both cats and dogs, so avoid growing sago palms indoors if you have pets.

The other popular species of indoor palms, such as the majesty palm, parlour palm, areca palm, and kentia palm, are all non-toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA.

Troubleshooting:

Why are My Palm Leaves Turning Brown and Crispy?

  • Underwatering and low humidity are the most common reasons indoor palms turn brown. Air conditioning and indoor heating are usual culprits for lowering humidity to unfavorable levels. Mist the leaves more often and give the soil a good soak. Trim back any brown leaves or fronds back to healthy growth.
  • Sometimes, the outer lower fronds turn brown and crispy as the palm ages. Let the growth dry out before cutting back with pruners.

Palm leaves Turning Yellow

  • Usually, the reason for palm tree leaves turning yellow and brown is overwatering or poor drainage. Palm trees need well-draining, gritty soil and prefer the top inch of the soil to dry between each bout of watering. Reduce how often you water your palm and always test the soil to an inch depth with your finger to ensure the soil is sufficiently dry before watering. If it is Spring or Summer, I would also recommend repotting your palm with a gritty mix of 80% potting soil and 20% perlite to improve drainage. Do not repot during Fall or Winter.
  • Yellow and brown leaves indicate the palm tree is too cold. Palms are native to warm tropical climates and do not appreciate cold blasts of air from open doors or draughts from windows. Find a place for your palm tree with stable temperatures ideally between 65-80°F (18-27°C).

If you have any more problems with your indoor palm tree, then read my article, How to Revive an Indoor Plam Tree.

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