The Q&A Archives: Palmaceae Care

Question: I received a palmaceae, palm tree for christmas, and I am not sure the best way to care for this tree. I live in Kansas City MO which is a zone 5 and I don't know if I need to keep this plant inside for the winter and outside in the summer or if that would harm the tree. Please give me as much information about this tree as possible thank you.

Answer: Your region is too cold to plant your palm outdoors, so plan on keeping it in a container indoors for the winter months and taking it outdoors when the weather warms in the spring. It can stay outdoors until late summer, at which time it should be moved back indoors to spend the winter.

There are key cultural requirements that must be followed on palms as houseplants, but also on almost any interior plant. The first thing is to maintain adequate hydration of the soil without over-watering. This typically means one would water about once a week under most circumstances. Checking the top inch of the soil is helpful in finding out if you need to water. If the soil is dry one inch below the surface, you should water. If it is winter and you have a heater on, it would be best to provide extra humidity. This can be done to some extent by placing potted palms on a platter with damp gravel, or one can mist the leaves several times a day. A room humidifier can be very helpful, although this might lead to mold buildup on the carpets or walls. Place your palm where it will receive bright, indirect light.

The predictable problem of all house plants including palms is the gradual buildup of salts within the soil. Owners typically give the plant several cups of water. In the next week or two, the water evaporates and leaves the natural salts in the water behind in the plant?s soil. Think of the inside of your teapot. This is what happens in your soil. As time goes by, salts in the water (calcium, sodium, etc) build up in the soil; this eventually results in too ?hot? of a mix. The plant begins to decline. First one notices brown edges on the leaves. Then the lower leaves brown entirely. Finally there are just a few sick looking leaves left. The treatment for this malady is to take the plant outside and water it ten to fifteen times. This leaches out all the salts. While outside, spray down the foliage. When the plant has drained all the water, bring it back indoors. Typically, I recommend leaching interior palms about three times a year. If one only waters with distilled water, this problem can be avoided to some extent. However, fertilizers do cause salt buildup as well.

Regarding fertilizers, most people prefer soluble fertilizers for houseplants. If using these, it is best to go on the dilute side. In other words, give less than recommended. Giving more leads to problems. Always follow the directions on the product you buy. If you haven?t leached your plant for a while, perhaps it is best to wait until after leaching before you fertilize. A timed-release fertilizer can work for houseplants as well. Never fertilize a plant with dry soil. And, remember the most important rule: too little fertilizer results in a slow growing plant; too much kills it!

Best wishes with your new palm!

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