Four Typical Challenges of Growing Palm Trees Indoors

growing palm trees indoors in an open lobby

Many people move to Florida for the sunshine, the beaches and the beautiful tropical foliage.  Palm trees embody Florida therefore, many of my clients want palms inside their buildings. While growing a palm tree outside is fairly easy since mother nature does most of the work, keeping a palm alive and well inside can be a challenge.  If you’re in this same predicament with a client, here are a few lessons I’ve learned about growing palm trees indoors.

1. Palm Tree Varieties Matter:

There are several varieties of palms that are specifically grown for interior use. Some of these, I’ve never had success with.  These varieties tend to be some of the cheaper palms such as the majesty, cat, areca and Chinese fan. Out of these four, I have been able to keep some arecas alive and well for two years at most.  The rest, generally only make it a maximum of six months. Some of the hardiest palm varieties also tend to be the most expensive. Palms such as the kentia, bamboo, adonidia and rhapis. The kentia, one of the most elegant palms in my opinion, can be triple the cost. However, when you factor in this plant’s ability to survive in lower light situations, their low maintenance requirements and the possibility of it living for a decade, you often save in replacement costs.

2. Overwatering:

Probably the most common mistake a technician makes while caring for a palm is giving it too much water.  Palms generally have short root systems and don’t like to be oversaturated. So, if your palms are sitting in water, this could quickly develop into root rot.  Bernecker’s nursery who grows stunning chamaedorea seifrizii palms (bamboo palms) says overwatering is the number one killer of their plant. They recommend watering only 7 to 14 days and that’s if 1/3 to ½ of the top soil is dry.  Using a sub-irrigation system is highly recommended for a happy palm.  

3. The Right Light:

Another challenging aspect to keeping a palm happy inside a building is providing it with enough light.  Having access to good natural light is often a problem for interiorscape design, especially with energy efficient companies.  I have some locations that have large picture windows with perfect western exposure, but they keep the blinds shut and lights off in order to keep the energy bill down. If you have a space with mostly artificial overhead lights as your main light source, the best palms to use would be a kentia or chamaedorea bamboo.  Some other palms that I’ve had success with in filtered light are the neathebella, fishtail, and the rhapis.  

4. Palms are Temperamental and Susceptible to Diseases:

Another challenge with palms is their tendency to acquire diseases more frequently.  I find I have to be more diligent inspecting their fronds for any sign of scale, mealy bugs or spider mites.  Spider mites love to cover delicate palm fronds with their nasty webs. They can quickly take over a plant within weeks if you don’t take preventative measures with a chemical like malethon or an eco-friendly remedy such as antibacterial soap.  On a regular basis, I mist the more delicate palms such as the adonidia, neathebella or areca with a few drops of dish soap in a plain water bottle in order to help keep the spider mites away. Especially during the cold weather when heaters are running and drying up the interior air, this is a mite’s favorite time of year to set up shop on a vulnerable indoor palm.  Additionally, drafts can be damaging to delicate leaves. Avoid locations under vents to keep your palm tree healthier. 

Though growing palm trees indoors can be a definite challenge, the beauty of their fronds can make a delightful display for clients.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

Fiberglass Planters

Leave a Reply

Join the Community