Are you looking for a large plant but find the cost prohibitive? For over 150 years, people have been turning to the parlor palm to solve just this dilemma.
Chamaedorea Elegans makes a strong statement without demanding much of your time. They’re easy to find, cheap to buy, and they can even stay healthy in conditions that would upset other common indoor plants. In fact, this slow grower can live for so long that they’re sometimes passed down between generations.
This common house plant rose to fame as a centerpiece in the fanciest rooms of Victorian England. It was an exotic talking point in a society that was mad about indoor plants. Although it’s now more common to find them in reception rooms and offices, they can still be a charming addition to your home.
||Parlor Palm, Neanthe Bella
||Cat palm, bamboo palm
||South American rainforest
||6’ (more commonly 3’)
||Low – moderate
||Moderate indirect sunlight
||60 – 80F (15 – 27C)
||Well-draining potting soil mixed with sand or perlite
||All-purpose fertilizer applied every 4 – 8 weeks in summer
||Spider mites, fungal leaf spot
Lots of indoor palms have the same leaf shape. You’ll know that yours is really a parlor palm because the long, linear leaflets grow on single stems which sprout from a central clump.
The key to keeping this plant alive is to keep it reasonably dry, a little warmer than your other plants, and away from direct sunlight. If you can achieve this, you’ll keep the delicate leaves looking their best and discourage the spider mites which are the main threat to this plant.
Parlor Palm Plant Care Tips
As with most palms, it’s better to keep this plant too dry than too wet. Always make sure that the top two inches of soil have dried out before you give it more water and check when you’re finished that no water has collected in the base of the pot. Although the plant is big, its roots are very delicate and can easily rot if overwatered.
If the palm does start to drown, you’ll notice brown spots on the leaves. You should keep a close eye on these spots to make sure that they’re superficial and not ‘open’. If the portion of the leaf beyond the spot is damaged, it’s a sign that the blemish is actually a fungal infection stopping nutrients from reaching the entire plant.
If you keep the plant dry, there’s far less chance that fungal leaf spots will arise. However, drying out completely can also cause problems. In drought conditions, the leaves will turn yellow.
Once you’ve learned how to keep your palm at its ideal level of moisture, you should also consider giving it distilled water. Like many plants with long, thin leaves, the leaf tips can crisp and turn brown if they receive too much of the chlorine found in regular tap water.
The parlor palm doesn’t tolerate direct sunlight well. It will withstand an hour or two in the morning or late evening, but the afternoon sun will singe the leaves. It’s far better to keep it behind a net curtain or a few feet away from the glass.
That being said, this is a slow-growing plant, and it will grow even more slowly if it doesn’t get enough light. It helps to remember that the parlor palm is native to the floor of the South American jungle, and is used to dappled shade. If there’s a corner of your home that can emulate these conditions, your plant will be happiest there.
Although this plant likes to be very warm, it’s not as demanding when it comes to humidity. It will survive just fine in the normal conditions of your home or office. Thankfully, parlor palm care doesn’t have to involve a misting gun.
You will notice damage to the leaves if the conditions are exceptionally dry, for example, if the plant is too close to a draft, heater or air conditioning unit. Not only will the leaves start to turn brown, but spider mites also thrive in these dry conditions and can cause whole sections of your plant to die off. Happily, if you can keep your plant at the normal level of humidity found inside, you can avoid these problems.
Plant Food and Soil
When you’re choosing soil for your parlor palm, go with a 70:30 mixture of all-purpose potting soil and coarse sand or perlite. This will open up the soil and increase drainage, which in turn protects the roots. For a larger palm, you could even consider adding a layer of gravel to the bottom of the pot as a further defense against root rot.
You’ll also need to feed this plant to keep it looking its best. Remember that it’s not one plant with one root system, but a colony of stems. They can be really hungry.
You’ll know that your plant is lacking nutrients if the leaves start to turn yellow. Yellowed leaves are also a sign of underwatering, but if the soil is not obviously dry, it’s time to reach for the fertilizer.
Additional Care Tips for Parlor Palm Plants
Chamaedorea Elegans became so popular as an indoor plant because it’s difficult to kill. Unfortunately, while it can stay alive through quite a lot of neglect, it can be difficult to keep it looking pristine in the long run.
Read on for some expert-level advice on parlor palm care. If you keep these tips in mind, you should be able to keep the leaves of the plant bright green and unblemished for several growing seasons.
Remember how the parlor palm’s delicate roots made it easy to overwater this plant? They also mean that you should avoid repotting it for as long as you can. Once the stems are anything longer than 2 feet in length, you should only repot it every second or third year.
Because this is still a hungry plant, in the years when you don’t repot, you should dress the top of the soil with a good 2 -3 inches of fresh soil or compost to replenish the nutrients. At this time, check that the soil still has some structure to it. If it’s degraded to a soggy mess, it’s time for an upgrade in spite of the stress this can cause to the plant.
Some of your parlor palm’s lower branches will naturally die off as new growth emerges. You should always remove those to help your plant to conserve its energy and keep it looking neat. However, you must never trim healthy growth on this plant because, if a branch is cut, it will stop growing completely.
The only reason to prune back a healthy stem is if it starts to rub against another part of the plant. The friction between the stems can open up a wound and leave it vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections.
As we’ve said, spider mites are the biggest risk to the parlor palm, but they’re most common in exceptionally dry environments. Under the right humidity and watering conditions, this plant is generally resistant to infestations.
You’ll know that bugs have found your plant if whole sections of it go brown and die. Leaves dying of old age will go translucent first and leaves suffering from over or underwatering will spot or turn yellow. If there’s an infestation, more than one stem is going to drop much more quickly.
If you notice signs of pests, it’s best to head to a specialist for advice on a pesticide. Palm leaves are not as tough as those of waxy rainforest plants and can easily be damaged by washing.
Varieties of Parlor Palm House Plants
Although there are a lot of indoor palms with a similar shape, there’s only one cultivar of the true parlor palm. Sadly, you won’t find any other colors or patterns to the leaves.
If you’ve got a nice warm corner in your home and think that it’s calling out for more palms, try looking at other similar species. The cat palm and bamboo palm are also easy to grow. Each one has a different shape and degree of leafiness, so they’ll sit nicely alongside your parlor palm.
Happily, all parts of this plant are recognized as non-toxic to humans and animals, so it’s a very safe choice for your home. This includes the small flowers and seed heads which sometimes develop when the plant is grown indoors.
Where can I buy one?
The parlor palm is cheap and easy to find because it’s easy to grow. Some of the most popular indoor plants of the last 5 years are so delicate that it’s difficult for stores to display them at their best. On the other hand, the parlor palm will take any punishment it receives before it ends up on the shop floor.
You should be able to pick one up from an interiors store or even a supermarket if you’re lucky. Because these are such popular office plants, if you want a larger one, you can also try ordering from a company that specializes in providing plants for workplaces.
How often should I water it?
If your parlor palm is sitting in the right spot, you should only need to water it every 10 – 14 days, even in the summer. Obviously, smaller specimens should be in smaller pots and will need to be watered slightly more frequently.
It’s a good idea to poke a wooden skewer into the soil before you water to check that the top of the pot has dried out well. Remember to cut back on your watering in the winter, when the plant is dormant. It’s not unusual to have to water a mature plant only once a month when it’s not growing.
How can I revive it?
If your parlor palm is looking sad, you’ll need to troubleshoot quite quickly to figure out what the problem is. The stems are supposed to bend slightly but, if it’s too cold at night or if it’s getting too much direct sun, it starts to sag. Consider the conditions the plant has throughout the whole day and see if you can solve the problem by moving it.
The plant also uses its leaves to tell you what’s wrong. If they’re yellow, it’s thirsty or in need of plant food. If the leaves are spotted, the roots are beginning to rot from too much water. If they’re rapidly turning brown, the problem is pests. Your plant should perk up if you can address these issues.
There’s a reason this plant was an instant hit when it was brought back from South America in the 19th century. Parlor palm care is relatively easy to get your head around and the plant brings a lot of life to a room with its light, bright leaf structure.
If you follow these tips and care for your parlor palm correctly, it should provide a focal point for your space for many years to come.