Caring for Palms


Think of Palms and you think of brilliant sunshine, endless heat and exotic locations. This popular image, based on holidays and postcards, is romantic but wrong for Palms grown as houseplants. Indoors, Palms prefer cool winters, shade from strong sunlight, and plenty of moisture in the growing season. Get these right, and your plants will go on giving pleasure for many years.

As its name suggests, Parlour Palm is ideal for growing in a living room.


Palms are tough plants – they used to have to survive the rigours of Victorian parlours and countless hotel lobbies. In your own home, large specimens can be focal points in a living room or dining room, while smaller Palms can decorate a coffee table or bookshelf or even make a tiny ‘tree’ in a bottle garden. Palms are popular because they are elegant, long lived, slow growing and easy to care for. Here are a few ‘tricks of the trade’, so you can keep your Palm in first-class condition. Most palms are easy to look after and the following is a general guide to their care.

The right light

  • In the wild, young Palms are shaded by Other nearby plants.
  • Although palms are tough plants, try to avoid draughty positions.
  • Since most Palms sold as houseplants are young, bright but not fierce light, such as that from an east-or north-facing window, is best. Protect young Palms from full sunlight in summer, or their fronds may scorch and fade.
  • Palms like spending the summer outside, on a sheltered, lightly shaded patio or terrace. After the last frost, gradually get the Palm used to its summer home. Start with an hour or two a day, then all day and eventually all night. Sudden changes of light or temperature can harm Palms. Remember to take your Palm in before the first frost.
  • Many palms, especially Kentia and Parlour Palms, will survive in dimly lit rooms, but won’t grow any bigger. Try to give Palms grown in poor light a dose of brighter light from time to time.

The right temperature

A centrally heated house is fine, though Palms in the wild have a winter rest period, and appreciate cooler temperatures then. The minimum winter temperature is 10°C (50°F) for most Palms. Hardier types, such as Kentia Palm, Date Palm, European Fan Palm, Lady Palm and Parlour Palm, tolerate cooler temperatures, and actually prefer low night temperatures. Avoid draughty positions, such as hallways opening on to an outside door.

When to water palms

Nothing kills Palms faster than waterlogged roots. Keep the potting mixture fairly dry in winter, watering every two weeks or so. As a general rule, the lower the winter temperature, the less water is needed. Palms should always be watered more generously in the growing season.

Repotting and potting on

Palms prefer being potbound and dislike root disturbance. Repot only when the roots are pushing out of the pot, usually every 2-3 years. Firm potting is very important, so use your fingers to press down the mixture around the trunk or stems. Use a soil-based potting mixture, with peat or sharp sand added for perfect drainage, and a layer of drainage material in the bottom of the pot. Once the Palm is in its final-sized container, topdress with fresh potting mixture every spring. Be careful when removing the old mixture that you don’t harm the roots.


Mist the fronds if the room is heated, and also in summer, when the air temperature is naturally high. Occasionally sponge leaves with tepid water, to get rid of dust. Another way to increase humidity is to stand Palms on a tray filled with gravel or pebbles and topped up with water. (Keeping the humidity high in summer is a good way to discourage red spider mites, which can infest Palms in hot, dry rooms.)

Feeding requirements

To promote healthy growth, feed established palms every two weeks in spring and summer. Use diluted liquid fertilizer.

Palms to try


  • Burmese Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis)
  • Canary Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis)
  • Chinese Fan Palm (L v stona chinensis)
  • Coconut Palm (Cocos weddeliana)
  • European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)
  • Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)
  • Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Parlour Palm (Neanthe hello)
  • Reed Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
  • Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
  • Sentry Palm (Howea belmoreana)
  • Yellow Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Palms will grow well in a conservatory. East-and north-facing windows are also ideal.


I am sure I am looking after my Palm properly, but the lowest leaf keeps turning brown. What should I do?

If it’s only the lowest leaf, it is a natural shedding. Just cut it off at the base in spring. If other fronds turn brown, you are probably overwatering.

My friend has a Palm growing in his garden all year round. How does it survive the winter?

It is probably the European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis), which is fairly hardy, given a sheltered garden.

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