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A Guide to Growing Palms in Pots

Growing Plams in Pots - Kentia Palm - Howea forsteriana

This guide is part of our in-depth coverage into growing healthy potted plants for the home, both internal and external. In this instance, we are looking at growing palms in pots.

We recommend starting your reading with Smart Tips for Growing Healthy Pot Plants at Home.

Then move on to our comprehensive guide to the best pot plants for the home gardener, starting with part one.

If you love roses, then don’t miss our in-depth guide to Growing Potted Roses.

Kentia palm potted patio or indoor house plant

Kentia palms are one of the most popular indoor house plants and also make excellent patio potted house plants. 

Also known as Howea forestriana, when it comes to growing palms in pots, these are particularly rewarding.

The plant has tall arching stems with large dark green foliage.  Most Kentia palms are grown to around 1.5m tall indoors and they seem quite happy to stay this size for many years.  They can also grow much larger in a bigger pot. 

When growing palms in pots, the size of the pot can be very important.

The size of the pot does seem to restrict growth for these palms, but they seem happiest in a pot around 45cm wide or larger. Most pots are usually multi-planted, this tends the make the planters look a bit fuller in growth.  A single Kentia palm looks a bit lonely on its own, so multi-planting is a good way to create a more tropical affect.    

Kentia palms are great to grow on a shaded patio and will grow in shade where many other plants will not grow.  Since the palm grows fairly upright they tend to make an excellent plant to put in a corner indoor, or outdoors.  Kentia palms add a real tropical affect to wherever they are used and they maintain a nice green colour with little care. 

Kentia palms can also be grown in full sun, but it is very important to be aware that they must be “conditioned” to do so.   Generally speaking most Kentia palms are grown from a young stage for either sun or shade conditions.  If a Kentia goes from a shaded indoor situation and is placed in full sun most of the leaves will brown off and die, they will not adapt. However the new leaves that grow from then on will be conditioned for the full sun and the plant will then grow nicely. 

It takes time for this to all happen and it could be a year or so for a plant to adapt.  Many people take their old Kentia palms and place them in the garden, as they do make a great garden palm.  It should be noted that they can grow to a large size (15m plus), and they can take up a fair bit of space in the early stages. 

Generally speaking Kentia palms are pretty slow growing in temperate climates where they grow well but in tropical climates they grow quickly.  Kentia palms are not suited to growing outdoors in cold climates and frost will damage them. 

Kentia palms can be kept indoor in any climate people normally live and can be kept on a covered patio situation even in cool temperate climates.

Care of Kentia palm pot plants: 

To care for you Kentia palm,  plant it in a good quality potting mix.  Kentia palms grow well on slow release fertiliser when it is mixed in with the potting mix.  Scattering some slow release on the surface of the pot can also improve foliage colour. 

Kentia palms respond very well to liquid fertilisers.  Using a liquid NPK and seaweed based fertiliser is the best way to go. There are a number of brands to choose from and we’ve always had good results with “Maxi-crop”. Kentia plants do grow slowly and so it can take time for any fertiliser to do its job.  

The best light conditions for Kentia palms is bright indoor light, but they can also take heavier shade as long as the light duration is long.  They make very good office plants as a result, where the indoor lighting assist in growth.  If you can find a good spot it is best to leave the plant in place and it will adapt to the conditions given time.  

The worst pest on Kentia palms is Mealy Bugs, they are white fluffy insects which can appear on any part of the plant.  They usually only appear if the plant is not healthy or the conditions are very shaded (insufficient light).  White oil seems to fix them, but a number of applications may be required.

Another pest that can appear on indoor and patio Kentia palms are scale insects.  These can be hard to see, but they are mostly white or brown blobs on the leaf stems.  White oil will also fix them.

Raphis excelsa palms – the king of potted palms

Many gardeners consider the Raphis palm to be the best of the potted house plants. 

This pot plant does have some great qualities and is long lived in a container.  Many potted Raphis plants (Raphis Excelsa) can live for decades in the same pot. And if you are growing palms in pots, not having to upsize your container regularly is a major plus.

Raphis palms have short erect leaf stems with rounded palmate leaves.  The leaves are usually a rich dark green colour.  Plants are normally very bushy and mostly multi-stemmed. 

Rhapis palms create a very tropical atmosphere and they also have an architectural quality to them. Consequently, they can look wonderful in modern-style homes.   

Raphis palms are used extensively as indoor plants in bright light conditions.  However, they also make an excellent patio plant for a shaded or semi-shade position.  Once conditioned for shaded positions they are not really suited to long durations of direct sunlight.

Raphis palms are very slow growing for the most part, which makes them suited to container growing and hence the reason you can keep them in a pot so long.  Raphis palms are a very low maintenance pot plant, once set up in a good spot. They generally just tick over and growth is minimal, so there is not much to do when it comes to care. 

Raphis palms are quite expensive to buy, but it is worth purchasing a handsome, larger plant (if that is what you require) as they will pretty much stay that way for years to come.  They can grow fairly broadly so find a suitable spot and a larger pot size to suit. 

Rhapis palms are warm climate palms, but they do well outdoor on a patio in most temperate climates.  They will also do well indoors in any home with normal room temperature.  Raphis palms are a great indoor plant for long term office situations and seem to do well under artificial light.

Growing palms in pots - Green Bush of Lady Palm Tree or Rhapis Palm Plants in A Garden, A Tropical Plant Growing in Warm Temperate Climates.

Care of Raphis pot plants: 

With regards to care of your Raphis palm make sure you use a good quality potting mix and slow release fertiliser when it is planted. Your Raphis will love a rich, well drained mix and live longer and look better for it.

Raphis palms become adapted to light conditions quite slowly so you may like to find a good spot and leave your plant there for the long term.  To maintain the beautiful rich green colour use a liquid fertiliser once a month or so. 

Seaweed based fertilisers like “Maxi-crop” are very good (seaweed tonics like “Seasol” also help).  If you find that your Raphis palm has yellowing leaves it is usually an indication of insufficient water and nutrients. So maintain soil moisture and keep your plants fertilised.

The pests that mostly affect Raphis palms are “Mealy bugs”.  These are white fluffy insects which damage the leaves.  Scale insects can also be an issue at times.  White oil normally fixes both these pests.

Golden Cane Palm colourful potted palm

Palm plants generally come in one colour and that’s green, but if you are looking for something slightly different to grow as a potted house plant,  then have a look at the Golden Cane palm. 

Golden Cane palm plants are a very attractive palm to grow in a large pot on a patio or balcony.  In shaded conditions this palm tends to be a green gold colour and when the plant receives part sun, or full sun, the foliage turns a true golden colour. 

These plants send up a large number of short stems that have weeping palm foliage.  Plants can be quite bushy and plants are generally multi-planted in pots to accentuate this affect.  In large pots plants can range from 1.5m to 2.5m tall. 

This palm can be kept in a small pot for a period, however generally plants need to be upgraded to a larger size to keep the plant looking good.   

Golden cane palms can be grown in semi-shade to full sun conditions in most tropical and warm temperate climates.  In areas with cold winters they are much better grown on a covered patio or balcony with good light. 

These palms will grow in cooler climates outside, but the foliage tends to be damaged by even light frosts and the foliage becomes blotched and looks unattractive.  However given a little protection during winter and good sun they make an excellent patio plant. 

Gold Canes are not suited to growing indoors, unless the indoor light is very bright and of long duration.  

Generally speaking most Golden Cane palms can live in a good sized pot for 5 to 10 years. Please note that they are unlikely to live as long as a Raphis palm when potted.

They are however a very attractive palm which adds a bright and leafy atmosphere to a garden or patio.  In warm temperate and tropical climates they are an excellent pot plant to grow outside and in temperate climates best to grow them with a bit or winter protection.   

The botanical name of the Golden Cane palm is Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens.

Care of Golden Cane palm pot plants: 

To care for your Golden Cane palm make sure you keep them actively growing.  Use a good quality potting mix and use slow release fertiliser.  Golden Cane palms thrive on seaweed based fertilisers and regular use of liquid fertilisers. 

Golden canes generally will develop nice new foliage if they are growing well, so you may need to remove old leaves at the plants develop.  Maintain watering in hot weather, although they are a hardy palm the plant will lose vigour over time if it does not get sufficient water. 

If you find that your pot is not holding water you may like to use some “wetting agent” to improve water absorption.

In regard to pests Golden Cane palms can get “Mealy bugs” and scale insects in shaded conditions, white oil seems to fix them.

Some Golden Cane palms can get an unusual wrinkled foliage problem after a few years in a pot.  We are not sure why this happens.  However, it could be a nutrient deficiency as it does seem to happen with old dry potting mix (particularly in dry climates). 

Re-potting and regular use of wetting agents and liquid fertilisers seems to overcome this issue.

Parlour palm indoor or patio house pot plant

Next in our guide to growing palms in pots is the delicate Parlour palm.

If you are looking for a small,  miniature palm to grow in a pot then you can’t go past the Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans). 

Most potted parlour palms grow to a around 1m, but many will only grow to 50cm in a small pot.  The great thing about these palms is that they can be grown in the house as an indoor plant, or as a patio plant.  These palms prefer shaded protected positions to look their best. 

Parlour palms have lime green palm foliage, on short stems.  Plants are multi-stemmed, this produces a nice brushy looking plant.  This has enhanced the popularity of this plant, as it brings a healthy, tropical feel to an indoor environment.

Parlour palms are used extensively as indoor plants, they are attractive and easy care.  In indoor situations they do their best in bright light conditions.  In patio or balcony situations they grow well in a spot protected from wind and out of direct sunlight. 

This palm can adapt to some sun during the day, but it can take a while.  Leaves tend to become damaged if plant is in full sun all day in most climates.

Most Parlour palms live around 10 years in a pot and longer in good conditions.  Re-potting of a Parlour palm seems to extend the lifespan. 

Parlour palms will grow well in a covered patio situation in temperate through to tropical climates.  The plant is frost sensitive. 

When growing indoors, they will prosper in any home or office which reaches and maintains a consistent room temperature.  

Growing palms in pots - Parlour Palm

Care of “Parlour palm” pot plants: 

The care for your Parlour palm, pot them into a good quality potting mix with slow release fertiliser.  These plants look at their best if they are actively growing, so it is important to keep up the moisture of the potting mix (not sodden) and fertilise now and then. 

Use a slow release fertiliser on the surface of the pot or use liquid fertilisers. Liquid fertilisers seem to have the best effect on these plants and improve the colour of the foliage. 

Seaweed based tonics and or seaweed based fertilisers will also enhance growth, particularly if the plant has been in the pot for a long period. 

If you find that your potting mix is a bit stale and old try an application of wetting agent now and then.

Pest problems with Parlour palms usually involve “Mealy bugs”.  These are white fluffy insects which live at the base of stems. White oil usually fixes “Mealy bugs” after a few applications. 

Parlour palms growing in heavy shade situation will likely develop “Spider mite” infestations. These manifest themselves in small spots on the underside of the leaf. 

At the end of the day it is better to move your plant to a brighter light situation then to try and fix Spider mite.  Also give the plant a fertiliser boost – healthy plants have fewer pests. 

Japanese Sago Palm Cycad potted plant

“Japanese Sago palms” are a Cycad and an ancient plant dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. 

Sago palms are prized by gardeners as an attractive plant to grow in the garden, but they are also very popular as a potted house plant for patios.

Sago palms grow from a central growth point, the leaves fanning out in a circular shape.   The leaves are hard and usually dark green in colour.  These cycads do very well in pots and can live for decades.  Most Japanese Sago palms grow to around 80cm high and 1m across.

Japanese sago palms are fantastic looking plants in pots.  However, it should be noted that the leaves can be a bit hard and sharp on the tips.  So they are not usually used in areas where people will brush against them. They are usually used as feature plants in large pots.  

Sago palms are best planted in large, low pots, as they have a broad growing habit.  When grown under good conditions these plants are very low maintenance and quite valuable, large plants being worth hundreds of dollars each.

Japanese sago palms can be grown in either full sun or part shade.  However, they must be conditioned to do so.  This means that once grown in shade and doing well, they should stay in shade.  Or once they are grown in sun, they should stay in full sun.  

These plants take ages to grow to a large size and look at their best when conditioned to a standard light level.  So, when you go to your local nursery and they have Cycads growing in shade, it would be best to keep this plant as a shade growing specimen. 

Plants that are taken from a shade situation and grown in full sun tend to get damaged leaves, this is usually indicated by yellowing of leaf and brown spots.

Care of Cycad pot plants: 

To care for your “Japanese sago palm” make sure you plant them into a good quality potting mix.  Use a slow release fertiliser that is designed for foliage plants. 

Your Japanese sago palm is will live for decades in a pot, so it is worth setting it up correctly.  Purchase a low broad pot with good soil volume.  Sago palms do best in temperate and warm temperate climates, but will grow in most climates under cover, like a veranda or covered patio.

Fertilise with slow release or liquid fertilisers.  Sago palms are not fast growing, so they do not need regular fertilising like other plants.

However they still need nutrients.  Liquid fertilisers given once a month should be enough.  Maintain watering so the potting mix is moist, but not sodden.  Plants do very well on seaweed base liquid fertilisers and tonics.

Pest problems are not usually an issue with Japanese sago palms.  They can however get damage on the leaves in the form of spots.  These spots are usually created by drops of water which sit on the leaf. Fungus has a tendency to develop quickly in water drops and will damage the leaf. 

Plants under cover tend not to get this problem to any great extent.  Spots on the leaf can also be created by sun damage in some situations.

Growing palms in pots is a great way to turn a barren corner of your home of patio into a lush oasis.


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