How To Help a Parlor Palm That’s Not Doing Well Indoors

A parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) is an excellent addition to any indoor setting due to its elegant green leaflets on arching fronds. However, providing the tropical-like conditions necessary for this plant to do well indoors is not a walk in the park. Without suitable growing conditions and proper care, a parlor palm will start showing signs of distress.

You can help a parlor palm that’s not doing well indoors by maintaining temperatures of 65 to 80 °F (18-27 °C), providing sufficient indirect sunlight, watering deeply, and fertilizing the plant. These provisions ensure the plant receives conditions similar to its natural habitat.

In the rest of this article, I’ll take you through the ways to help a parlor palm that’s not doing well indoors. I’ll cover each point thoroughly to make your work easier. When you’re done reading, you’ll have all the knowledge to turn your parlor palm’s health around.

1. Provide Optimum Temperature for the Plant

Optimum temperature is crucial for any plant to thrive and do well. An optimum plant’s temperature is the temperature at which it can grow, develop, and perform its vital functions at its best.

Some plant processes that rely on temperature include:

  • Photosynthesis
  • Germination
  • Respiration
  • Transpiration
  • Flowering

As you can see, these processes affect a plant’s growth.

Since parlor palms are tropical plants, they need temperatures that mimic their natural habitats to thrive. The average tropical and subtropical temperature that will see your parlor palm thrive indoors ranges between 65 to 80 °F (18 to 27 °C). They can’t survive winter temperatures below 60 °F (15.5 °C)

Keep an eye on your heating and cooling systems and any drafty windows or doors in your plant’s area. To prevent damage, you want to avoid exposing the plant to sudden or extreme temperature changes. 

In addition, keep your parlor palm away from artificial heat sources such as fireplaces and heated vents to prevent excessive temperature. Leaves turning brown at their tips or margins signify too much heat exposure that can hinder the plant’s growth.

2. Ensure Adequate Light for Growth and Development

Parlor palms love indirect sunlight (think a well-lit room or near a window with sheer curtains). They need about 6 hours of indirect light daily. Excessive light will burn the leaves, reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize.

Sufficient indirect sunlight enables the plant to undergo photosynthesis. Thus, denying your plant light is like denying it food. Without photosynthesis, the parlor palm can’t produce its food and will not thrive.

The yellowing of leaves indicates your plant is receiving insufficient light. The plant may also experience phototropism, whereby it leans towards a light source, causing it to grow lopsided.

The best way to help such a plant is by moving it closer to the window. Rotating your plant by 90-180° weekly can also help prevent uneven growth.

The window’s direction is crucial if you want to move the plant closer to it. An east-facing window is ideal because it provides gentle morning sunlight. You can place your plant next to a lightly curtained east-facing window. Without curtains, you can move the pot about 3 feet (90 cm) away.

On the other hand, south or west-facing windows tend to provide the most sunlight during the day. To prevent direct exposure, you should place the plant at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) away from the window. You can also hang sheer curtains to filter the intense afternoon sun.

3. Water the Palms Deeply

Parlor palms need regular watering to sustain the foliage, which is why you planted them indoors. Underwatered palms will have yellow and crisp leaves, reducing their aesthetic appeal.

On the other hand, too much of anything is catastrophic. The same applies to overwatering your parlor palm. Although it’s recommended to water the plant regularly, you must allow the soil to dry a bit between waterings to prevent overwatering.

Overwatering can do more harm than good to the plant since it leads to waterlogging, exposing the plant to:

  • Stunted growth
  • Root rot
  • Fungal growth
  • Yellowing leaves

To confirm when your parlor palm needs watering, use your finger to feel the top two inches (5 cm) of soil. If the soil is dry, water it thoroughly until it seeps out of drainage holes at the bottom of its pot. Make sure you use a pot with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging and maintain optimal soil moisture for your parlor palm’s health.

It’s also best to water with room temperature water. Cold water can shock the roots, causing damage that hinders growth and development.

4. Fertilize During the Active Growth Periods

Parlor palms have active growth periods during spring through fall. They require fertilization to support their growth and development during these times.

However, one mistake most first-time parlor palm owners make is overfeeding their plants, hoping they would grow faster or greener. This is a difficult decision that exposes the plant to over-fertilization.

When this happens, your plant risks:

  • Root burns
  • Browning of leaf tips and margins
  • Stunted growth
  • Defoliation

An excellent way to prevent over-fertilization is by using slow-release fertilizers. These fertilizers slowly release nutrients into the potting mix over a long period, eliminating the risk of fertilizer burn and ensuring more sustained growth.

Applying a 12-4-12 fertilizer twice during the growing season (spring and summer) should suffice.

5. Invest in the Right Potting Mix

It’s always best to grow indoor plants in a pot with the right potting mix. Although it may seem tempting to use garden soil, it’s not the right thing for potted plants because it compacts and doesn’t drain well.

Your potting media is critical, especially if your parlor palm is not doing well indoors. The mix must have the proper nutrients in the right proportion for the parlor palm. Moreover, the potting medium must drain well to prevent waterlogging.

You can buy ready-made parlor palm potting medium from certified gardeners or go the DIY way. If you buy a ready-made mixture, go for a light and airy potting mix specifically designed for indoor plants like parlor palms. This mix drains easily while also holding onto the needed moisture and nutrients.

However, making a DIY potting mix instead of buying it will save you some bucks.

Parlor palms need soil with adequate drainage and moisture retention. You can achieve these requirements by mixing 2 parts coco coir with one part sand and one part perlite. Alternatively, you can replace one part coco coir with slightly acidic compost to enrich the potting mix with nutrients.

6. Maintain a Favorable Humidity Level

Tropical and subtropical areas are usually covered with densely populated rainforests. These forests keep humidity levels constant and high.

Indoors, they can thrive in moderate to high humidity levels. But since high humidity can be bad for human health, keeping the humidity around your plant above 50% should be enough.

To maintain a good humidity level around your parlor palm, you can set its pot on top of a tray filled with pebbles and water. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water, as it can cause root rot. Alternatively, you can mist the leaves regularly or invest in a humidifier for consistent moisture.

Other DIY options to ensure your parlor palm has sufficient humidity include:

Place It in the Bathroom or Kitchen

Bathrooms and kitchens are suitable locations at home with high humidity levels. However, you must ensure these areas have sufficient indirect light before making them home for your parlor palm. 

Group Your Plants

Plants release water vapor through their leaves, creating a mini humidity bubble if grouped. You can group your parlor palms with other indoor plants that require similar conditions. Some examples include spider plants, sword ferns, and African violets.

7. Prune the Plant When Necessary

Pruning is an efficient way to help a parlor palm that’s not doing well indoors. When you prune a plant, you remove the dead or dying leaves and branches, creating room for new growth. However, parlor palm’s pruning is slightly different from other plants.

Parlor palms are generally clean plants with self-cleaning leaves. This means they fall off on their own without pruning, except for the dead and damaged ones.

If you must prune your parlor palm, ensure that the stem or frond is dead and not just dry due to insufficient watering.

You can use a clean pair of garden shears to remove the dead foliage from your parlor palm. Ensure to sterilize the shears to prevent transmission of disease-causing pathogens that can kill the plant.

When pruning, cut at the base to remove the entire stem or frond.

8. Consider Repotting for Growth

As a plant grows, so do its roots, stems, and leaves. As a result, the initial pot becomes small with time, constraining the plant’s growth.

Repotting a plant helps it thrive and grow bigger. It also prevents the root from being pot-bound, a situation that occurs when the roots have filled all the space in the pot and begin wrapping around each other.

Repotting your parlor palm should be done every two years or sooner if it outgrows the pot. You can follow the steps below:

  1. Schedule repotting in spring so that the plant can recover more easily from transplant shock.
  2. Water your plant 2 days before repotting. This will help make the soil easier to work with as you remove the plant later.
  3. Choose a container with drainage holes to ensure that water doesn’t get trapped in the soil. Go for a pot 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) larger in diameter than the current one. The new pot’s size is also a crucial consideration when repotting. You don’t want to move the plant to the same pot size or smaller.
  4. Moisten the fresh potting mix with filtered water one day before repotting. You can use a potting mix with the same composition as before (equal parts compost, coco coir, perlite, and sand). Ensure that it’s enriched with nutrients. Place 2 inches (5 cm) of the moist potting mix into the new pot on the day of the transplant.
  5. Carefully loosen the soil around the edges of the pot. Hold the base of the plant and tilt the pot as you gently slide the plant out of the soil. Note that parlor palms have delicate roots.
  6. Remove as much old soil as you can from the roots and inspect for any kind of damage. Healthy roots should be white. Trim any darkened roots using sterile shears and rinse the roots with room-temperature filtered water. Gently pat them dry with a clean towel.
  7. Place the root ball on the moist and fresh potting mix, keeping the base of the plant about 2 inches (5cm) below the top of the pot. Fill in the pot with enough soil to secure the roots in the middle. Put in enough soil to just about an inch (2.5 cm) below the top of the pot.
  8. Water the soil lightly. You don’t need to water the new potting mix deeply because it’s still damp. Also, the plant is still well-hydrated from watering a few days earlier. Give the plant 3-5 days before checking again if the soil is dry about 2 inches (5 cm) deep before watering again.
  9. Keep optimal conditions around your plant. Give it bright, indirect sunlight, keep the humidity level above 50%, and keep the temperature between 65 and 80 °F (18 and 27 °C).

9. Control Diseases

Plant diseases are one of the reasons your parlor palm doesn’t do well indoors. This plant often develops diseases and infections when grown in the wrong conditions.

However, you can control these diseases by regularly inspecting the plant for signs of infection and taking corrective actions. These include controlling humidity, avoiding overwatering, and ensuring proper drainage for the potting mix.

Some common signs to look for include the following:

  • Brown fronds and trunks
  • Soft and rotten trunks or stems
  • Fungal growth on potting mix
  • Wilted and yellow leaves

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to isolate the affected plant from others. This will prevent the disease from spreading. In some cases, removing the infected parts of the plant may also be necessary for its overall health.

You can also treat the plant with fungicides and insecticides once in isolation. You can use a neem oil solution to deal with insect pests. However, plants with severe fungal infections might require repotting in fresh, sterile soil.

10. Check for Pests and Remove Them

Pests are a menace to plants. These organisms affect a plant’s growth by feeding on its parts, causing damage, and hindering nutrient absorption.

The main problem with pests is that most are pesky and move quickly from one plant to another. Therefore, if not identified and controlled immediately, they can spread and affect the health of all your plants.

You should regularly check for pests on your parlor palm by closely inspecting its leaves, stems, and potting mix. The common pests to look for include mealybugs, spider mites, scale insects, and aphids.

In some instances, you might not see the pests, but signs that they are present. Some signs to look for are:

  • Spider-like webbing: This indicates spider mite infestation.
  • Brown or yellow spots on leaves: These can result from scale insects or aphids.
  • Honeydew: This is sticky excrement on the plant’s leaves. It’s often left behind by aphids or mealybugs.

Once identified, remove the pests by hand or wipe them with a damp cloth for small infestations. Otherwise, consider using insecticides or natural pest control methods like neem oil for large infestations.

Signs of a Troubled Parlor Palm

Like sick humans, troubled plants display various signs to show that all is not well. As the owner, you must take appropriate steps to safeguard your plant when you see these signs.

Some of the signs to look for are:

Drooping

A drooping parlor palm is an immediate sign of over or underwatering. Drooping entails the fronds or leaves hanging down and the stem bending toward the ground. This happens due to insufficient moisture or oxygen reaching the plant’s roots.

When this happens, check if the potting mix is dry or soggy. If it’s dry, water it appropriately.

If the mix is soggy, let it dry or drain the excess water. Alternatively, inspect your plant more closely for other signs of root rot, such as a rotting smell or darkened roots, as it will require repotting.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellow leaves on a parlor palm can result from too much sunlight or nutrient deficiency. Excessive sunlight can cause the leaves to turn yellow. In this case, consider relocating the plant to a shaded spot indoors.

On the other hand, you can remedy yellow leaves due to nutrient deficiency by feeding your plant with a half-strength liquid fertilizer.

You can also apply nutrient-specific fertilizers after checking the actual deficiency in the soil using a soil test kit. However, commercially available test kits cannot test for micronutrient availability, such as iron, which can cause the yellowing of parlor palm tree fronds when deficient in the soil.

Damaged or yellow leaves won’t turn green a gain, so it’s best to remove the entire stem to encourage the plant to grow new and healthier ones.

Wilting

Wilting often occurs due to insufficient water or pest infestation. A finger test will help you confirm if the potting medium is dry. If it is, water it appropriately.

However, if the mix is damp and the plant still appears wilted, it might have a pest infestation. In this case, you should look for pests on the plant’s leaves and stems and take appropriate measures to remove them. 

Conclusion

Helping a parlor palm that’s not doing well indoors involves proper watering, fertilizing during the active growth period, and using the right potting mix. The focus is to ensure the plant has access to tropical-like conditions for optimal growth.

You should also strive to prevent and control any pest infestations. While doing so, keep an eye out for signs of a troubled parlor palm and take the necessary action.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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