Perhaps you've always wanted a palm tree but thought you'd never be rich enough to have a house it could fit in.
Perhaps you've longed for some of that old Victorian elegance to grace your home and make your visitors marvel about your wealth and affluence.
Perhaps you've heard of potted palms that won't crowd your family out of the house but also heard the horror stories of high maintenance from fellow palm-worshippers.
If this sounds like the story of your life, then have I got a great deal for you: the chamaedorea elegans, otherwise known as the parlor palm. It rarely grows bigger than four feet in height, it's well suited to indoor humidity and light levels, and you won't have to resort to camping out on the lawn while it takes over your living room.
Parlor Palm Overview
|Common Name(s)||Parlor palm|
|Scientific Name||Chamaedorea elegans|
|Height||Up to 4 feet|
|Fertilizer||Feed monthly in spring and summer with slow-release fertilizer.|
Other names this Victorian parlor palm goes by includes Neanthe Bella Palm or, more simply, the Bella Palm. Those living in the Victorian era coveted these plants to show others how stinking rich—er, excuse me—how prosperous the family was.
Though nowadays not many would see them that way, that doesn't mean you can't appreciate them for the touch of refinement and sophistication they bring wherever they reside. And a bonus for pet owners: it's non-toxic to dogs and cats.
Parlor Palm Care
Compared to some other houseplant palms, chamaedorea elegans care is quite basic. It is one of the more forgiving houseplants, though it has its preferences, like any finicky parlor palm cats would.
One easy trick to tell if your palm is getting enough light: does it cast a shadow where it stands? Then yes, there is enough light, whether it be natural or artificial. They do best in bright, indirect light. Too direct and your baby will dry out. If it comes to a choice between north- and south-facing windows, choose north.
The amount of water the Parlor Palm needs will depend on how much light it receives. A brighter light means more water, while lower lighting means less water. On small palms, the surface of the soil should be dry before giving it more water. On larger palms, the soil should be dry at least one inch down in the soil before adding water.
This houseplant should be watered all the way around the base of the plant to avoid "dry spots". Dry spots left in the soil could result in a drastic loss of fronds. If the pot has drainage holes, water the plant until some of the water seeps through the holes. Any excess water in the saucer should be emptied within an hour to prevent the roots from rotting.
The main mantra of gardeners everywhere: well-draining soil. So many plants need it and the parlor palm is no exception. These palms are native to rainforest so they like it moist and humid, but soil that keeps too much water around the roots leads to rotting.
Keep those happy fertilizing fingers in check: these palms don't dig a lot of fertilizer. A monthly basis of water soluble houseplant food during the summertime would be fine, but make sure you cut back in the winter season, perhaps every two or three months.
If you're not a fan of repotting chores, then rejoice! This plant is one of the slowest-growing ones and won't need it that often. In fact, they rather like close quarters in their containers and won't need larger ones until you see roots peeking through the drainage holes.
As these plants grow from terminals, pruning is usually not recommended. These slow-growers will stop growing altogether if they get pruned too much. If there are dead fronds, though, feel free to trim those away during dormancy.
Propagation is usually not recommended for this plant. It is such a slow grower that starting from seed can take forever. And separation at the roots will freak it out so badly it'll lose a lot of its fronds. Better to just buy another palm.
There are a few problems that may arise with water and light issues. A too-dry palm can invite bugs and boggy roots can lead to disease. Here's a list of ones to look out for.
Spider Mites – If your home is too warm and dry, this might encourage a population of spider mites. If you notice little webs on the underside of the leaves, bingo! You've got an infestation. Neem oil and insecticidal soap can aid in their destruction as you change the conditions of your house to one more hospitable to the palm and less so to the bugs.
Scale insects – There are about 8,000 species of scale that mostly all develop some sort of waxy defense covering. Soft scale will leave honeydew, leaving the plant open to a moldy fungus. Withered and yellowing leaves are signs of their presence. Physically removing them is the simplest method of control if there aren't an overwhelming number. Insecticidal sprays are another choice. Try to get the little buggers at their crawling stage where they are more susceptible.
Root Rot – No real treatment for this problem once it has taken hold. Make sure that the palm resides in well-draining soil and take care not to overwater.
Cankers – Several culprits can be identified for this issue, including bacteria, frost, or fungi. An infected wound in the plant can stop the upward movement of important nutrients to the rest of the plant's parts. Basic care is usually enough to prevent cankers from happening.
Leaf Spot – A fungal or bacterial cause of freckle-like spots that can merge into larger blights on the leaves. Usually more cosmetic than anything else, yet too much can cause quite a bit of damage and loss of foliage. Remove the infected leaves to increase air circulation to the rest of the plant, avoid overhead watering (keep it on the soil), and don't crowd it together with other plants. A bit of fungicide can help as well.
Q. I've been following all the advice but my palm doesn't seem to be getting better. What else can I do?
A. One of the hardest parts of healing a palm like this is patience. No, I'm not trying to sound like your mom. It's hard to remind myself how slow these plants grow. Hence, they are also slow to heal. It can take a long while to see any real improvement in growth. Just keep doing everything right and wait it out. You'll know when it's time to move on and get another palm.
Whether you want to impress your neighbors with your classy taste in houseplants, or you wish you were born in the Victorian era with a real parlor in your home, or you just have a thing for palm fronds, the chamaedorea elegans is an easy way to fulfill your desires for small palm trees. A little well-timed watering and a perfect spot to stay are all they need to be happy and healthy, radiating beauty for years to come.
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