How to Care for a Palm Plant: Tips and 3 Straightforward Mistakes to Avoid

OH BOY, I am ready to share some stories about how to care for a palm plant. In fact, more specifically, what not to do with a palm. I have killed, genuinely, at least five different palm trees – this used to be my achille’s heel. Luckily, time and time again I made mistakes, but now it means I’m literally an expert and I have some very happy palms.

Despite my failures with this plant, it is generally considered an easy plant to care for, it’s also available in a ton of shapes and sizes so I would call this plant beginner friendly and suitable for all homes.

One quick definition before we begin talking about how to care for a palm plant- a frond is just basically a section of leaves on a palm or fern plant, see the diagram below:

how to care for a palm plant

Table of Contents 

Types of Palms

Palm plants are native to a lush, warm, tropical rainforest. As always we will be trying to replicate the plant’s natural home. We’ll do this with lots of warmth, water and a humidifier! 

It is a perennial plant that can grow in shrubs or trees, with its distinctive fan shaped fronds. There are lots of other types of houseplant palms which can be found quite easily, including areca palm trees, butterfly palms, fan palms and sago palms. Here are a few of the most common:

Parlor Palm or Chamaedorea elegans is one of the most common types of palms available as a houseplant. This particular type of palm likes less light than the others, doing best in a shadier spot with high humidity.

Yucca Palm also called a Joshua tree are a slow growing houseplant which are super low maintenance that just hang around.

Majesty Palm are incredible plants which can grow up to 98 feet tall in the wild or around 12 feet tall indoors. These palms like more sunlight than the other types and will be happy with some bright light

Ponytail Palm which is not really a palm, or a tree but it is related to agave plants which are succulents! It is known for its unique shape which comes from the fact it grows nearly as wide as it does tall. Its thick trunk stores water meaning the plant needs very little maintenance and can be left alone for the most part.

What is the Best Care for a Palm Plant (Indoors)?

How Much Light Is Necessary?

When thinking about how to care for a palm plant, it is important to note they need indirect light as they are so delicate. Therefore they can easily be burnt or damaged by too much light. They will be happiest near a west-facing window or a south-facing window that is covered with thin curtains or blinds.

If you want to bring your palm outdoors during the summer time make sure they are in the shade. The light intensity outdoors is much higher than the light that comes through a window.  

Here are some of the signs that your plant is getting too much or too little sunlight:

Too much lightNot enough light 
Yellow and brown leavesSlow growth 
Soil that seems to dry out very quicklyDarker green leaves
Stems may buckle over Fronds may lose their shape 

indirect light on a palm plant

What Watering Schedule Should I Follow?

Your indoor palm plants will need watering approximately every 10 days. However this number varies a lot depending on the environment. I don’t like having a watering schedule for my plants really because they just vary so much – instead I like to check them a little looking over every few days to see if they need anything. 

Here’s how to know when to decrease or increase watering based on the environment: 

Increase frequency of wateringDecrease frequency of watering 
If the plant is potted in a small pot If the plant is more established 
In the summerIn the winter
When the plant is receiving a lot of light – two parts to this one, firstly the sunlight will dry out the soil by evaporating the water. Also when the plant is photosynthesising at a great rate it will be using water up more quicklyIf your home is humid (when the air has more moisture in it is harder for leaves to lose water so the plants uptake the water slower and need watering less often)
For younger plants as their roots are just little If the plant has thicker stems (which hold water)

I would advise using filtered water or rainwater because this plant is very sensitive to the added minerals in tap water and will likely go brown at the tips if exposed to them.

Check if your palm needs watering either by using your finger or by getting yourself a moisture meter. 

If You’re Using the Old Fashioned Method:

When the top 2-3 inches of the soil feel dry and your finger comes out of the soil clean (the wet soil sticks, the dry soil falls off) it’s time to water your plant. If you don’t want to use your finger just use a stick or similar for the same process.

If You’re Down With the Technology:

Keep your moisture meter in the soil at all times or stick it in to test the moisture levels every week or so and when the soil is dry, give the plant a drink. Make sure to not have the moisture meter too deep in the soil or the plant will end up underwatered.

Since palms aren’t particularly thirsty plants and their root systems often sit further down in the soil. I always recommend picking the pot up to feel its weight before watering. If the pot feels light and easy to pick up, that’s a sign it is time to water.

Remove the plant from its decorative pot so that any excess water can drain away when you do water, as stagnant water left behind will kill your plant.

I recommend putting your palm plant in the shower and giving it a wash with some warm water if you are blessed with nice soft tap water. If you’re like me and your tap water is full of minerals then use rain water instead. I personally like to collect rain water to be eco-friendly but that’s not an option for everyone. Additionally it’s nearly as effective to just let the tap water sit for 24 hours before using it. 

blue and white watering pot

Always avoid using cold water as it will shock the roots.

If you are trying to counteract having under-watered your plant consider bottom watering as it will help to saturate the soil more evenly. Just fill a tray or the sink with some warm water and pop the plant in the water for around 20 minutes.

One extra pro tip: before watering your palm aerate the soil and break up any compacted chunks of soil. This helps with drainage and moisture retention.

How Do I Know If My Plant Is Getting Enough Water?

Too Much WaterToo Little Water
Wilting Crispy leaves
Soft, limp leavesShriveled stems
Going brown and yellowGoes brown

It can be hard to know whether the yellow and brown leaves are from a water issue or pests or a light issue or nutrient deficiency – the plants do not make it easy for us! So, take all of the factors into account when diagnosing your plant and before treating it. I’ve created a nice flow chart to help you out though.

flow chart that describes what to do if a palm plant is worse for wear

How Much Is Too Much Humidity?

This is an important point when discussing how to care for a palm plant. Palm plants LOVE humidity so we are going to want to be using a humidifier for sure. If you don’t have one and need a hand choosing one check out this guide on the 10 Best Humidifiers for plants.

For a happy palm you’ll want to keep your humidity levels around 40-60%. Tons of people recommend misting but I strongly advise that you do not do this. Misting encourages pests and sunburn by creating pools of stagnant water. I highly recommend you do not let any water sit on your plant or in your pot.

Alternatively, if you want to boost humidity in your home without spending any money on a humidifier there’s a few DIY tricks. Grouping plants together – plants lose moisture in their leaves, by grouping many plants together they create a more humid microclimate.

Here are the main signs your palm plant needs more humidity: 

  • Brown edges/ crispy leaves 
  • Dull color
  • Yellow leaves
  • Wilting 
  • Stunted Growth 

What Can I Use to Fertilize? 

You can also use chicken manure pellets or slow release palm fertilizer, seaweed mixed with water is great too.

If you use a slow-release fertilizer I would recommend just fertilizing once a year at the beginning of the active growth season (spring/summer). Remember to use a fertilizer which contains iron, manganese and zinc as well as the regular nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

How Often Is Repotting Necessary?

repotting plants and exposed roots

When repotting your palm plants I recommend a potting mix which has extra ingredients to make sure that the moisture retention and drainage are good. 

I like to use perlite mixed in with indoor plant potting mix when caring for my palm plant. Sometimes I use some chunky bark pieces to break up the soil even more. Some people will recommend peat but I shy away from using peat because of its environmental impact (Read about that here).

I recommend repotting your palm plants at the beginning of the active growth season. This is generally around spring or summer but just pay attention to your actual plant, when it starts growing again and coming out of winter dormancy it is a good time to repot your plants. This matters because during colder months the plant is not growing roots which leads to issues during repotting where the plant cannot get settled and absorb nutrients in its new pot.

Where the roots do not reach the further parts of the pot, water will settle in the soil and create denser soil. This dense soil prevents airflow throughout the pot and leads to root rot. 

Avoid repotting too frequently because it is highly stressful for the plant. 

How to Repot Your Palm Plant? 

First, give the plant a thorough drink which helps to protect the roots during the repotting process. Then gently remove the plant from its original pot and remove as much of the old soil as possible – you can give the root ball a gentle shake to help remove excess dirt.

Make sure to use well-draining soil to line the bottom of the new container and place the plant in, fill the rest of the plant up with more soil until the plant is fully supported. Pat the soil down around the plant to help stabilize the palm but be careful not to compress it too much. Water the plant from above, bottom watering doesn’t work just after repotting because the roots aren’t established in the soil yet.

Make sure you wait a few months before fertilizing and bottom watering the plant.

When Should I Prune?

Palm trees generally don’t require pruning to maintain their shape. If any fronds are becoming damaged or diseased then remove them quickly before the ailment spreads throughout the plant. 

You can also remove the taller stems if the plant is outgrowing your space.

palm plant on grey background

What Are Common Problems for Your Palm Plant?


Palm plants are susceptible to spider mites which literally suck the life out of your plant, these can be treated with insecticidal soap mixed with water. Rib this solution over every nook and cranny of the plant.

Palm plants also suffer from scale, mealybugs or whiteflies. My go to method is physically wiping the plant down to remove pests as I find spraying the plant is just less effective.

I recommend repeating the treatment several times a day for a whole week after you’ve seen the last signs of bug life. Pests lay so many eggs it is easy to miss a few and suddenly the problem is huge again.

Dried Out Leaves

The main causes of dried leaves are excessive sunlight and low humidity levels. Try increasing the moisture in the air to help compensate for the sunlight levels.

How Do I Keep My Palm Plant Happy? 

Mistake #1 – Not quarantining my plants 

I was given a plant that was grown by a friend and I didn’t even think about it. But as luck would have it this ‘friend’ gave me spider mites. 

The spider mites spread rapidly and infected my brand new palm plant. While pests are not a death sentence and they can be dealt with, it was too late for me. 

Due to the humidity and moisture levels that these plants love it is extra important to keep an eye out for pests. Since diseases and little unwanted visitors thrive in this warm environment for instance. So give your palm its best chances by isolating all your plants upon bringing them into your home. 

Mistake #2 – Impatience 

Patience really is a virtue, especially with plants. I tried everything to cure my sick plant, I moved it about to new spots, I watered it, I misted it. In the process I shocked the plant and killed it. It takes time for a plant to recover, one watering isn’t going to fix a chronic problem. So keep calm, be patient and give your plant time before trying the next thing.

Mistake #3 – Trusting the label

If you ever buy a plant from a big shop and it has one of the labels that says I like bright light and lots of water, be cautious of it and do your research! These little signs cannot adequately tell you how to care for a palm plant for example and the information can be misleading.

FAQs About How to Care for a Palm Plant 

How do I save my palm?

The remedy depends of course on the exact problem but generally you need to assess whether the plant is receiving the right amount of light and water, enough fertilizer and a well draining soil. Cut off any dead sections or any diseased parts of the plant and check the roots for root rot. 

Can brown leaves turn green again?

Unfortunately any brown fronds are dead and won’t come back to life – this is not necessarily a sign that your plant is dying. Old fronds will naturally die away as time goes on. It is important to cut them away as soon as they go brown as they will not help the plant and are a drain on the plant’s resources. 

How do I keep my palm plant healthy? 

Be sure to provide plenty of bright, indirect light and allow the soil to be moist a majority of the time. If you can give it some humidity too, they will love that. 

How often should I water my palm? 

As a tropical plant they are used to and appreciate a moist environment. Watering 2 – 3 times a week should be plenty for them. It will keep their soil moist, but be careful not to overwater as this will cause root rot. 

Should I cut off brown palm leaves? 

If they are brown at the tips, then it’s an indication of too much direct sunlight or not enough humidity. However, if the frond is brown at the base or is yellow, then it would be ok to cut them off. 

It’s Time to Be Cool – Get a Palm!

Given that palm plants have such a lovely, tropical ambience it’s no surprise they are so popular as a houseplant, meaning that they are super easy to find and pretty easy to care for too!

Keep your palm tree evenly moist, with the occasional feeding throughout the warmer months and use a humidifier if you’re feeling fancy with it!

Just remember to use a well-draining potting mixture and your plant will be just fine.

Are You Now as Obsessed With Palms As We Are?

Let us know your thoughts and feedback – here. Whether it’s how to care for a palm plant or something else, we love to talk plants! 

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Photo of author
Katie Riggs
Katie’s love of plants began at a young age, in fact it was the first time she went camping and discovered the medicinal wonders of a dock leaf that the fascination with all things botanical took hold. Spending time in nature and frequently visiting the Kew Gardens, she became obsessed with the diversity of plants you could grow at home. Her favorite things to grow are herbs and vegetables outdoors as well as her prized fiddle leaf fig and calathea orbifolia. Hundreds of mistakes later she has become well versed in how not to kill a houseplant. Her passions now involve sharing her love of nature and all things green to help other people keep their plants happy and healthy.

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