A palm in your home will inject personality, colour and style, and as a bonus, purify the air. Discover how to strike the right balance between moisture, feeding, light and warmth to keep your palm looking lush all year round.
1. Start with good soil. Give your palm a winning start with a quality potting mix. Use a mix that’s free draining but keeps the soil damp and fertile. If the soil mix frees too much water, you'll have to water your palm more often and run the risk of drowning it. Don’t overfill your pot with soil. Leave at least an inch between the soil and the top of the pot.
2. Give your palm plenty of light. Find a well-lit spot near a window, glass door or beneath a skylight. Palms will also absorb artificial light that's 40 to 50 centimetres above the foliage. A tell-tale sign your palm isn’t getting enough light are brown frond tips and leaf loss. Without enough light, your palms will also be more prone to disease.
3. Give your palm the right level of humidity. Although palms love heat, they don’t love rooms with heaters and air conditioners, which zap moisture from the air. A good general guide is to keep your palm in room temperature. In winter, you may want to move it to a room that’s warmer and if the room is being heated, to maintain humidity in the room, place a bowl of water near the palm. Brown tipping and leaf loss are also a sign of low humidity.
4. Water your palm often. As tropical plants, palms are designed to cope with heavy storms and torrential rain. That said, make sure they’re not drowning in water because they will rot. The soil should be moist but not wet. A good way to test the soil is to poke your finger into the top inch. If it’s dry, then water. Empty the drainage saucer under the pot every time the water is drained through, as palms hate wet feet. While your palm is growing in spring and summer, water often and less in autumn and winter. When the weather is dry and hot, mist spray the foliage several times a day. This will keep it cool and also help deter pests.
5. Keep your palm clean. Every couple of months, pop your palm in the shower. This will remove dust and help keep your palms fronds looking lush and green. To give the fronds a glossy finish, clean your palm with a mixture of milk and water.
6. Protect your palm. Mealy bugs, scale and spider mites are the most common pests attracted to indoor palms. Mealy bugs are found on the underside of the fronds and look like tiny cottony dots. Scale appears as light-coloured spots on top of the fronds and tiny speckles are signs of spider mite. To rid mealy bugs and spider mites, use natural neem oil. White oil can be used for scale. Small amounts of scale can be removed by hand. You can also try misting your palm with soapy water or scrubbing it with a toothbrush for more stubborn scale. Whenever applying pest controls to your palm, make sure to do it outdoors.
7. Feed your palm, but not too much. One of the most common mistakes people make when feeding palms is burning the roots because they’ve used too much fertiliser. When a palm is outdoors it needs more fertiliser. But when its roots are bound and it’s exposed to less heat and light, it needs far less. Choose a water-soluble fertiliser or slow or controlled-release pellets and feed your palm three to four times a year.
8. Give your palm a holiday. Palms love being taken outside. Like us, palms benefit from a month-long holiday once a year. It helps prevent pests and diseases as well as encourage good photosynthesis.
Pictured: Livistona chinensis, Chinese fan palm