How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

Broadleaf lady palms are tough indoor plants, easy to grow in the average home. Kevin Espiritu explains everything you need to know to keep Rhapis excelsa happy.

How to care for Rhapis excelsa

Contents

Lady palms (also broadleaf lady palm or bamboo palm) are a strange species of fan palms that actually don’t exist in the wild. They were created by Chinese cultivators, with the species name Rhapis excelsa.

They’re exceptionally good houseplants, great for adding a tropical touch to your interiors. They’re also easy to care for and safe to keep around pets and children, making them ideal for gardening beginners with families.

These plants can be a little fussy in the wrong conditions. Find out how to keep them happy in your home with this guide.

Overview

Rhapis excelsa in yard
Cultivated in China, the Lady Palm makes an exceptional, tropical houseplant.
Plant Type Houseplant
Family Arecaceae
Genus Rhapis
Species Rhapis excelsa
Exposure Bright indirect light
Height 14′ outdoors
Watering Requirements Moderate
Maintenance Moderate
Soil Type Houseplant mix

What is a Lady Palm?

Row of cement planters that have tall, bright green, palm trees in them lining a cement wall.
These easy to grow palm trees have become a staple houseplant throughout America and Europe.

Lady palms come from China and are some of the easiest palms to grow. Scientifically known as Rhapis excelsa, these plants first gained popularity in Japanese palaces, spreading through Europe and America in the 1770s and 1850s respectively.

Lady palms can reach as high as 14 feet and have palm fronds 6 to 12 inches across. They have a moderate growth rate, growing around a foot in height each year in the ideal subtropical temperatures. If grown indoors, the growth rate is a bit slower.

There are many different types of broadleaf lady palm, usually split into two main groups: green and variegated. A few are so rare that they’re considered collectible.

Standard bamboo palms are relatively easy to find and great for filling corners, particularly if you purchase a larger plant from the start.

Perhaps the most popular variegated Rhapis excelsa is ‘Zuikonishiki’. Despite its unique look, it’s not majorly difficult to grow. Variegated types should be grown in cooler temperatures and out of direct sunlight to prevent burning or discoloration.

Planting

Tall, green plant in the corner of a room, sitting in front of a window with white curtains.
As an indoor plant, the Lady Palm will need time to adapt before transplanting into a new container.

Lady palms are shade plants that appreciate higher temperatures, which is why they are usually grown as houseplants.

If planted outside, lady palms attract many kinds of tropical butterflies and can even serve as a home to nesting birds.​ But since they don’t tolerate cold well, only those in USDA Zones 9 and above should consider planting outdoors. You can also keep them protected in a greenhouse.

Your lady palm will likely be happy in the container it came in for a few months, or at least until it has adapted to the conditions inside your home. If it appears rootbound or you want to switch to a more decorative container, repotting is required.

Choose a container one or two sizes up from the current one. Don’t choose a container much larger than the original, as this can stunt growth rather than boost it. Plant in a soil mix with a similar texture, or a specialized houseplant mix designed to improve drainage.

Tease the roots before transferring the plant to the new container to encourage them to grow outwards. Fill in any gaps with soil and press around the base to settle any air pockets. Water immediately and place the pot back in its original home.

How to Grow

Several tall bright green, palm trees planted in a rocky are in front of a black house.
Although they are low maintenance, Lady Palms need to be planted in the right environment.

Lady palms are relatively low-maintenance, but need to be placed in the right environment to avoid a few common growing problems.

Light

Close up of several bright green palm leaves.
The Lady Palm will thrive best in bright indirect sunlight.

Lady palms can handle direct sun when slowly introduced to full sunlight over time. However, the ideal conditions that match their native habitats are bright indirect sunlight. This is found in areas close to bright windows but just out of the path of the direct sun.

To boost growth, you can also provide some gentle morning sun. Keep your lady palm out of direct afternoon sun, as this harsh light can scorch the leaves and lead to discoloration.

If you move it to a sunnier spot suddenly, the leaves will likely turn yellow and their tips might burn. However, if you allow the plant to acclimate slowly over time, the burning will go away as the plant adjusts to the increased amount of light.

Water

Bright green palm leaves with water droplets.
The Lady Palm needs to have consistently moist soil that has adequate drainage.

Lady palms prefer soil that is constantly moist. Their thin leaves wilt quickly when they don’t have enough moisture. Keep an eye on the soil and water when the top inch or two has dried out, depending on the size of your container.

Avoid overwatering your palm, as standing water in the soil will promote root rot. It can tolerate minor dry periods, but it’s best to check the soil often to prevent discoloration.

Soil

Close up of a green palm plant in a white, ceramic pot.
Lady Palms are susceptible to root rot and will require well-draining soil.

Lady palms will adjust to different soil types well outdoors. But when confined to a container, the soil mix should drain well to prevent any risk of root rot.

Most houseplant soil mixes are suitable for lady palms kept as indoor plants. These contain amendments to retain some moisture while draining quickly. You can also make your own by amending regular potting soil with perlite and coconut coir.

If you’re keeping your container outdoors on a patio or in a greenhouse, the soil will dry out slightly quicker. You can still add perlite to the mix to improve drainage but use slightly less than you would when potting indoors to stop the soil from drying out too quickly.

Temperature & Humidity

Row of tall skinny palm trees lining an area in a tropical yard.
These palms thrive best in tropical locations and don’t tolerate cold weather.

Lady palms grow best in tropical conditions and don’t tolerate cold well. Luckily, keeping them as houseplants provides protection from sudden temperature dips. Avoid exposing the plant to temperatures below 45°F (7°C) for extended periods, as this can damage the leaves and stunt growth.

Higher humidity levels (around 50% and higher) will keep the leaves lush and green. In drier conditions, you may notice the edges of the fronds turning brown. In that case, move the plant to an area with higher humidity or invest in a humidifier.

Fertilizing

Close up of a woman kneeling down outside, wearing white gloves, pouring a dark liquid into a bottle cap.
You will only need to fertilize your Lady Palm once a year during growing season.

When planted in high-quality soil and repotted regularly, you don’t need to worry about feeding your lady palm often.

You can give it a boost with a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer during the growing season if needed, but these plants are highly sensitive to overfertilizing. You’ll do far more damage feeding too much than you would not feeding at all.

Maintenance

Wall of bright green palm trees that have several dry, brown leaves dispersed throughout.
Cutting out any dry or damaged leaves will help promote healthy ventilation.

Keep the plant thinned by removing any leaves that have become discolored or dried out. This will aid in ventilation, preventing the risk of disease.​ If new growth is brown or dead, the entire plant should be cut back to the soil and repotted to encourage new growth.

Repot every few years to refresh the soil or when the palm outgrows its current container. Follow the same steps in the Planting section, choosing a slightly larger container and a fresh soil mix.

Propagation

Close up of a palm trees root ball that has been taken out of its container.
Waiting until your palm is root bound is the perfect time to start propagating.

Lady palms are commonly propagated by division. They produce so many roots that dividing the rhizomes after a few years of growth is not only easy, but it can be beneficial for growth too.

Wait until the root system has become root-bound before dividing to tackle two tasks in one. Divide the roots into two or three sections and replant them into new containers. Don’t worry about damaging a few roots in the process. They will grow back.

Propagation from seed is not recommended unless you’re an experienced gardener with a lot of patience. It takes around seven years before a propagated lady palm will reach the sizes you see in nurseries.

Common Problems

Close up of a mans hand holding a bright green palm leaf.
Considering these plants are easy to care for, there are a few things to look out for.

Lady palms are not difficult plants. However, there are a few key problems to watch out for to ensure your plants stay healthy.

Yellow Leaves

Close up of a large yellowing palm leaf.
If your Lady Palm is starting to turn yellow it could be an indication of too much sun.

The most likely culprit is too much light. Lady palms will acclimate to a lot of light, but they react by turning yellow.​ This could also be caused by incorrect watering. Check the soil and if that isn’t the problem, move the plant to a shadier spot.

Wilting

Large tall wall of palm tree leaves that have several sections of brown and yellow leaves.
If your soil is good but your palm is wilting it could be a sign that your palm has outgrown its space.

Typically caused by underwatering. Lady palms like well-draining soil that is constantly moist (but not soaked).

If you’re already following these watering guidelines, then the plant may have outgrown the pot or container it’s planted in. Only repot if you’re sure the plant needs it, as repotting when the plant is stressed can exacerbate problems.

Pests

Close up of tiny spider mites clustered at the edge of a leaf, with a wall of webs all around them.
Lady Palms have several pests that are drawn to them such as spider mites and scale insects.

Scale insects are the nastiest pests that may attack your lady palm. It can be hard to see them, as they love hiding underneath the leaves of your lady palm, near the base of each leaf. To get rid of them, use an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Apply a light mist of either in intervals of seven to ten days.

Spider mites are hated by gardeners as they are tough to spot and cause plenty of damage. To get rid of them, use a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol to immediately kill them. Be sure to inspect your plant fully. Wipe down the entire plant if necessary.

Diseases

Close up of a root ball from a palm tree.
If you suspect root rot in your Lady Palm, it can be treated with a specific kind of fungicide.

Rhapis excelsa is susceptible to ​root rot. The following pathogens can infect your lady palm’s root system and cause the plant to die:

  • Fusarium​
  • Pythium
  • Rhizoctonia
  • Penicillium (also known as pink rot)

The best way to prevent these pathogens from destroying your plant is to watch for the signs of root rot and treat liberally with a fungicide specifically designed to combat root diseases. Also watch your watering and don’t let the container sit in standing water.

FAQs​

Are lady palms toxic to cats?

These plants are considered non-toxic to pets, including cats and dogs.

When should I repot lady palm?

Repotting every two years or so is recommended, depending on the growth rate of the plant and the quality of the soil. Repot in spring into a container one or two sizes up.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons to add a lady palm to your houseplant collection, whether you’re looking for something low-maintenance or a touch of the tropics to keep indoors.

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