How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Areca Palms
Are you looking for a low-maintenance tropical tree that makes an excellent houseplant? Areca Palm is a wonderful plant that thrives in a consistent environment inside the home. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares all you need to know to grow this pretty tree.
It takes a specific set of characteristics to make a good houseplant, and Areca palm checks all the boxes. This pretty tropical palm is part of the genus Dypsis.
This palm can grow up to 30’ tall outdoors but will remain closer to 8’ tall when kept as a container plant indoors. It has a slow to moderate growth rate and, if given the right lighting conditions and care, can live up to 40+ years.
Let’s explore this pretty houseplant and discuss what it needs to thrive in your environment.
Areca Palm Plant Overview
Plant Type Evergreen
Species D. lutescens
Native Area Madagascar
Exposure Bright Indirect Light
Soil Rich, Acidic, Well Draining
Hardiness Zones 10-11
Bloom Colors Yellow
Height up to 30’
Pests Mealybugs, Spider Mites, Scale
Diseases Root Rot, Red Leaf-Spot, Botrytis
Maturity 10 years
Areca palm, also known by the nicknames bamboo, butterfly, and golden cane palm, is a member of the Arecaceae family. While these plants are similar, only one is a common houseplant.
The Dypsis genus is native to the island of Madagascar, while most species of the Areca genera are native to tropical and subtropical Asia.
When kept as a houseplant or planted in a tropical climate, this species is evergreen, retaining its foliage year round. A perennial flowering palm, it flowers once per year throughout its lifespan, which is 40-50 years.
This species flowers indoors when given enough light. Male and female flowers appear on the same inflorescence and can last for several months. The flowers are low in pollen content, so they are unlikely to cause allergic reactions when they bloom.
The inflorescence forms beneath the leaves and has many fingerlike branches which originate from one central branch that attaches to the trunk. This inflorescence typically has a weeping habit but can also stand out straight from the trunk. The size and weight of the inflorescence plays a role in this.
Following the flowers, Areca palm bears small yellow fruits which mature to a deep purple, nearly black when ripe. These fruits are edible, although rather small, and have a relatively high fat content. Because of the small size of these fruits (0.5”), they’re best in the form of jams.
Areca palm produces long fronds or pinnately compound leaves with a yellow central midrib. The fronds are upward-arching and vary in length, reaching up to 9’ long on a taller plant but closer to 3’-6’ long on an indoor plant.
Each frond bears 30-40 pairs of long, lanceolate leaflets. The gracefully upward arching leaves are part of the tree, which earns it the nickname of butterfly palm.
The nickname bamboo palm comes from the appearance of the trunk, which resembles bamboo. The overall appearance of the leaves is neat and uniform.
Propagation can be done using two methods. The seeds are easy to harvest, and the plant also creates offsets to divide and pot independently.
To grow Areca palm from seeds, you can either purchase or harvest the seeds. Any year the plant blooms, harvesting the seeds is a simple process. You can pick the fruits or allow them to drop off on their own and then remove the fruit part, exposing the seed, which resembles a small coconut. To grow from seed:
- Allow the seeds to dry out for a few days if they are not already.
- Remove the outer husk of the seeds. The inside will not be entirely smooth, but it will be less fibrous than the husk.
- Seeds can be planted directly into the container you wish to grow them in. There is no need to transplant.
- Cover the seeds lightly, or simply lay them on top of the soil.
- Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, until the seeds germinate, which takes 6-8 weeks.
Under the right conditions, your plant will self-propagate by dropping seeds. Once they sprout, you can transplant them to a permanent spot.
If you have a mature plant, look around the base of the tree for these small sprouts, then simply pop them into their own container.
When grown outdoors, the stems of the Areca palm get quite large, looking more like tree trunks than stems. Indoors, your plant will remain smaller and produce new stems. Repotting is the ideal time to divide your plant.
- Water your palm the day before you intend to divide it. This will soften the roots and make them more pliable and less susceptible to shock.
- Remove your Areca palm from its container and gently loosen the soil around the root ball.
- Loosen the roots a bit to determine where the division can be made by the least amount of root tissue damage.
- Divide portions of root with at least 3-4 stems that are well rooted.
- Plant in a prepared pot, and keep moist and out of direct sunlight for 3-4 weeks until well rooted.
If you are planting outdoors, give your plant adequate space to spread. These palms get quite large over time, at 30’ tall, with a potential spread of up to 10’.
Keep this in mind when selecting a location for your palm. It is best to plant in the spring if you are planting outdoors. If planting indoors, the time of year is not important.
Areca palms are slow-growing plants that prefer to be a bit root-bound. Keep this in mind when selecting a pot, and choose a container that is only 4”-6” larger than the root ball.
Because of their slow growth, don’t repot them frequently. Every 2-3 years is plenty. Clay pots are always a good choice for indoor plants, as they both help maintain moisture in the soil and wick it away so that the soil doesn’t stay wet.
A container with adequate drainage is critical. A saucer underneath the pot is a good way to protect surfaces from water.
Bright but indirect light is the best type of exposure for Areca palms. While the plant can survive in low to moderate light conditions, it will be short-lived if it doesn’t get adequate light.
Direct sunlight may not harm a mature Areca outdoors, but these plants remain somewhat delicate when kept smaller. The leaves are susceptible to sun scorch if they get too much direct sunlight.
A few hours early won’t hurt, but generally, a spot that gets bright indirect light, or most of the day, is best. In the absence of this type of situation, a sheer curtain over a sunny window can diffuse the light.
A south or west-facing window is ideal. Grow lights will provide enough light for these plants, but you must leave them on for most of the day.
The ideal soil composition for these palms is organically rich, slightly acidic, and well-draining. They prefer their soil to remain evenly moist, but their roots are sensitive to overwatering, so soil that drains properly is a must. Commercial soil blends specifically for palms are perfect for this plant.
If you prefer to make your potting mix, a peat-based medium amended with sand is best. Combine three parts peat with one part coarse sand.
You can substitute peat with standard potting soil, but add sand to this as well to improve drainage. You can add some compost or worm castings to your soil mix to give your Areca palm the best start and reduce the need to fertilize.
These are water-loving, tropical plants. They prefer soil consistently moist soil but are prone to root rot if waterlogged. It’s important that the soil and container drain well. This makes establishing a watering schedule much easier. Use a moisture sensor to help determine if your plant needs water.
Watering frequency varies depending on the temperature and sunlight your plant gets. As a good rule of thumb, wait until the top one inch of soil is dry before watering to avoid over or underwatering.
Your Areca palm won’t give any immediate indication that it needs water. However, long-term underwatering will cause dry leaves with yellow or brown tips.
Climate and Temperature
Mild to warm temperatures are best for Areca palms. An average room temperature between 65-75°F keeps this plant comfortable, but be careful about placing your palm in a position with temperature fluctuations. Air conditioning vents, drafts, or heat sources can all be stressors for this plant.
If you are keeping your palm outdoors in the warmer months, bring it in when the weather dips below 50°. They are not tolerant of cold, and freezing temperatures will likely kill them.
A mature tree can tolerate cold weather down to about 20°F, but there’s no guarantee that the plant will survive. Don’t plant this one outdoors north of Zone 9.
This tropical forest tree also likes a fair bit of humidity. Relative humidity in the 40-60% range is ideal, which is an acceptable range for indoors.
If your home falls on the lower end of the spectrum, a pebble tray placed beneath the plant will help to contribute some additional humidity. Misting this plant every few days will also help it to absorb the moisture it needs.
The growing season for Areca palms is during spring and summer. The optimal fertilizing regimen is to fertilize once monthly, through the spring and summer, and give the plant a break during the fall and winter. The roots of this plant are sensitive to salt buildup, so it is detrimental to over-fertilize.
A fertilizer made for palm trees will provide the right balance of nutrients. Look for a fertilizer with an NPK formulation that contains more nitrogen and potassium and less phosphorus, such as an 8-2-12 formula.
Maintenance and Care
Because of its slow growth rate, Areca palm does not need to be repotted often. Every 2-3 years, increase the size of the pot by 4-6” to keep your plant growing and give it space to form new roots. Just remember, this is a plant that likes to be a bit root-bound and doesn’t need an overabundance of space.
Don’t prune this plant often. In fact, over-pruning can result in whole-plant death! Only remove canes if they are dead or damaged. Fronds can be removed if the entire frond is dead or damaged.
If your plant has dried out and the leaves are brown at the tips, avoid cutting the brown sections off. This triggers the entire branch to stop growing. Be sure to use clean, sharp tools any time you do prune. A bypass pruner is a great tool to have on hand for this plant.
Pests and Diseases
Several pests and diseases can affect the health of your Areca palm. The best treatment is always prevention, but that is not always possible.
If you discover one of these issues plaguing your palm, isolate it immediately from other plants. Always inspect new plants before bringing them into the house. This goes a long way toward avoiding infestation and disease.
Many insects leave behind a sticky mess called honeydew. This sugary excrement makes the perfect environment for sooty mold to grow, interfering with photosynthesis. Remove this honeydew from the foliage after treating and eradicating pests from your plant to prevent further damage.
Mealybugs are a difficult pest to deal with, so it’s important to catch them early and not allow the infestation to become extreme. These little white bugs have a waxy coating that makes them appear fuzzy and more difficult to kill. The waxy coating is difficult to penetrate.
Mealybugs also burrow down into the plant’s stems, making them difficult to access. To treat this issue, remove as many bugs as possible manually. Prune away any foliage that has been seriously affected. Take the plant outside and hose it off before treating it with insecticidal soap.
Mealybugs have several natural predators, including the ladybeetle. Leaving the plant outdoors allows predators to eradicate them naturally. Treating infestations with an insecticide harms the beneficial insects too.
Spider mites are even more difficult to eradicate than mealybugs because they reproduce so quickly and are so small and difficult to detect. One clue to their existence is the fine webbing that they spin under leaves and in crevices. They also deplete the plant of nutrients, resulting in stunted or shriveled newer growth.
Take the plant outside and wipe off any visible mites. Hose the plant off thoroughly before treating it with an insecticidal soap. You might have to repeat this process a few times, at two-week intervals, to ensure you get rid of newly hatched eggs.
If scale insects are the problem, you will be able to see them and the damage they cause early on. Scale insects are large enough to be visible and are typically a dark brown color. The larvae look like small grains of rice. These little sap suckers will quickly strip the nutrients from your plant.
Neem oil or insecticidal soap is effective at treating scale, but you will likely need to treat more than once, at 7-14 intervals. Take the plant outside, hose it down well, and then apply an insecticide. Expect to treat the plant and keep it in quarantine for a month.
Thrips are small flying insects that feed on plant sap and reproduce quickly, with each female able to lay up to 200 eggs in her 40-day lifespan. The treatment for thrips is in line with other insects.
Isolate the plant, spray it with a steady stream of water to knock off the insects, and treat it with insecticide. Spinosad, an insecticide made from two types of soil bacteria, is very effective against thrips. Repeat treatment weekly for a month.
Whiteflies are easy to detect. When the foliage is disturbed, the small, white insects will take flight and zoom around the plant before settling back down.
These insects lay up to 300 eggs each in their 60-day lifecycle and can do much damage. Prune off damaged foliage and treat it like other pests with an insecticide (Spinosad works well here, too), repeating treatment weekly for a month.
Root rot is a fungal infection of the roots most commonly caused by overwatering and poor drainage. When the roots of the Areca palm sit in soggy soil, they begin to break down and become more susceptible to fungal infection. They also fail to transport water and nutrients to the rest of the plant, so the plant will ultimately die if the roots are untreated.
Treating for root rot typically involves repotting. The soil should be gently shaken from the roots.
Remove any black and mushy tissue, as these portions of the root will not recover. Then treat with an anti-fungal agent, and re-pot your palm in fresh potting soil that drains better than the older soil did.
Red leaf spot disease is a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Helminthosporium. It manifests as small reddish-brown patches on the foliage of plants that gradually spread and cause the plant to collapse.
It is most active in warm, moist conditions, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue indoors, but if you are growing your Areca palm outdoors, keep an eye out for this.
The disease can be treated with fungicide, and environmental control is typically effective as well. Remove affected foliage to stem the spread.
Avoid watering the foliage of the plant, and only water at the level of the soil. Avoid watering in the evening as well to reduce the occurrence of many types of fungal infections.
Botrytis is a fungus that mainly affects tender new growth. It can cause whole plant death or stunt growth.
It shows up as a powdery grey mold that causes necrosis. Maintaining proper air circulation is important in the prevention of fungal disease. Isolate the plant, remove all affected tissue, and treat with an approved fungicide.
Southern blight is a lethal fungal infection common in tropical and subtropical climates. Signs of the disease are water-soaked spots that become lesions on lower stems and leaves.
There is no cure for the disease, and all plants should be disposed of and not composted. If the palm is planted outdoors, remove the top 3” of soil from the area, and refrain from planting anything else in that place for several years.
Areca palms make wonderful houseplants with their easy-going nature and moderate light needs. Their slow to moderate growth means they are unlikely to outgrow their space quickly, and they rarely need to be repotted. A temperate, consistent environment with few fluctuations will keep your plant looking its best.