Indoor palm trees make attractive additions to a home or office, but the low humidity and low lighting conditions mean these plants require more care than an outdoor palm. Choosing the right species and providing plenty of light and water are key to keeping an indoor palm healthy and thriving, but the extra care is worth it when the result is an attractive palm tree in your living room.
Choosing Your Tree
Some species of palm are more suited to indoor life than others. Good choices include Kentia, Lady, and Fishtail palms. Majesty and Areca palms, which are sometimes sold as indoor trees, do not grow as well inside. Signs of sick trees that you should avoid include those with a lot of dead leaves, soggy soil or soil with a bad odor. Tall trees with few leaves that have a "stretched" look may have grown tall too quickly and may be weak. It's better to look for compact specimens.
Most palm species grow best in full sun. Some indoor varieties can tolerate lower light conditions, but will do better if you can provide them with direct sunlight every day. If this is not possible, place your indoor palm tree in indirect light, such as under a skylight or in a window where only early morning sunlight will reach the tree. A palm tree that receives direct sunlight for only a short time every day will begin to "stretch" toward the sun, giving it a leggy appearance.
While palm trees do well in warmer temperatures, avoid placing your indoor palms close to a heat source because the constant dry heat can damage the leaves and roots. Indoor palms need soil with good drainage and regular watering to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Distilled water is best for watering; tap water contains salts and minerals that can accumulate in the soil over time. If you're watering with tap water, you can leach the soil every three to four months by taking your tree outside and soaking the soil several times to wash the salt buildup out of the soil. Because palm trees like humidity, spray a mist of distilled water on the leaves regularly.
Other Care Considerations
Palm trees grow slowly indoors due to the lower lighting and humidity and because their roots are cramped in pots, so your palms won't need much fertilizer; an occasional feeding with water soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20 will be sufficient. Palms can tolerate having their roots cramped, so you don't need to transplant to a larger pot until very little soil is left in the pot or the roots break through the container. Re pot your palm in a container only a bit larger than its previous pot and water it frequently for a few weeks following transplanting.
Your indoor palm shouldn't have many pest problems, but may have carried some in from the nursery. Watch the undersides of the leaves for mealy bugs and evidence of spider mites. Mealy bugs are small white insects that will look like dots on the leaves; spider mites are even tinier, but may leave white webbing on the leaves. If either insect is present, spray the leaves with insecticidal soap or a pesticide containing malathion or diazinon according to the instructions on the label.