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How to care for parlour palms: watering, repotting and where to position them

This gift of a plant is a non-negotiable for a tropical interior – just remember to keep things moist.

Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
22 March 2021

f you’re trying to recreate a jungle in your living room, a palm is a plant you can’t go without.

But not all palm trees are made equal: many resent the dry air of our central heated homes and low indoor light levels.

The parlour palm is an exception to this rule. It thrives where others die, and will continue to look great even after it has left the plant shop or garden centre.

The clue to its charm might be in its botanical name, Chamaedorea elegans. Chamaedorea translates to small gift on the ground and elegans simply meaning elegant.

How to care for parlour palms

The parlour palm is native to the northern tropics of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, where temperatures fluctuate between 15-25 degrees over the period of a year somewhat similar to the temperature in your own home. Parlour palms are plants that dwell on the forest floor so are well adapted to cope inside. They will grow well in most parts of a house, but prefer not to be exposed to direct light as this can damage the fronds, causing them to turn acid green, before eventually dying.

Like all palms, Chamaedorea do not like their roots to dry out, and will sulk for a long time afterwards if this does happen. Keep the compost around the roots moist during spring and summer, checking and watering regularly and ensuring excess water can drain away and not get stuck in the bottom of your cache pot. In winter, you can relax a little, and allow the top third of compost to dry out before watering again,. Even in the tropics, the palm lives through a dry season.

Most of the time parlour palms will be fine without the need to mist the fronds. However, if you do notice brown tips and you have kept the compost moist but not wet, it may be a sign the air needs a little extra moisture in it to keep the plant happy. Move it away from heat sources to a more humid room like the kitchen or bathroom, and mist if the problem persists. Remember, brown leaves won’t go green again. Keep an eye on new growth.

How to propogate parlour palms

Parlour palms can be propagated by dividing a clump into smaller sections. To do this you will need organic, peat-free multipurpose compost (something like perlite or horticultural grit to improve drainage), and a pot to grow the newly created plant in. If your parlour palm is mature or you’ve had it a while, you may need a knife, scissors or secateurs too.

Start by removing the plant from its pot. It’s likely some of the compost will fall away this is fine, and you may want to gently shake the roots to remove a little more so you can see how they are growing. If the roots don’t look congested, you can hold the palm with half the stems in each hand and gently prise the roots apart.

If your palm roots are more congested, you may need to carefully cut through the root system in half through the middle of the plant, and sacrifice a couple of the stems in the process.

All sound a bit brutal? If you don’t want to take away from the elegance of your parlour palm, you can also remove single offsets (new baby palm shoots) from around the base of the palm as it multiplies itself.