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Indoor Palms? Why Not!


By Paul James

My wife and I just booked a fall trip to the tropics, and while perusing the pictures of where we’ll be staying on the Intertoobz, I couldn’t help but notice all the amazing palm trees growing in the mountains and along the beach. You see, I love palms of all kinds. To me, they’re the quintessential plant of the tropics. But you don’t need to visit the tropics to enjoy them, because most of them make great houseplants.

And generally speaking, all palms have these things in common. 

  • They prefer a deep pot as opposed to a squatty one. 
  • They require a quality, well-draining potting mix.
  • They actually enjoy being pot bound.
  • They don’t like soggy soil, and only need to be watered when the top inch or two of soil is dry. They grow best when fertilized every two weeks during the spring and summer (using only a third of the manufacturer’s recommended dose).
  • They grow fine in normal household temperatures. 
  • And they’re all susceptible to invasion by scale insects and spider mites.

Where palms differ is in their light requirements. Bismarck and Foxtail palms need all the bright light they can get, while Kentian and Parlor palms grow well in low light. But for the most part, the majority of palms will grow best with at least six hours of bright but indirect light a day. In most homes, that means near a south- or east-facing window.

And while they can remain indoors year ‘round, during the spring and summer months palms thrive outdoors. Just make sure to place them in a spot that gets afternoon shade so their fronds don’t scorch, and plan on watering more frequently.

As for the scale and mites, they’re easy to control with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Once dead, the protective covering of scale insects will remain on leaf surfaces, but you can wipe them off with a damp towel.  

In my experience, the easiest palms to grow indoors are Majesty palms, Parlor palms, Pygmy Date palms, and Chinese fan palms, but all palms can be grown successfully as houseplants with proper care.

Carrie and I are actually planning another tropical trip next January to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary, where there will also be plenty of palms, which she enjoys as much as I do. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that her maiden name is Palmer.

Happy gardening, y’all.

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