The lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) is a small palm species that grows in dense clumps of slender upright green stems. On the stems are fan-shaped, glossy green fronds that each have between five and eight narrow, lance-shaped segments. Because this palm is extremely tolerant of low-light conditions, it's popular to grow indoors as a houseplant. It’s best planted in the spring at the start of the growing season, though houseplants generally can be started year-round. This palm has a fairly slow growth rate, gaining less than a foot in height per year.
|Botanical Name||Rhapis excelsa|
|Common Names||Lady palm, bamboo palm, miniature fan palm|
|Mature Size||6-15 ft. tall and wide (outdoors), up to 6 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide (indoors)|
|Sun Exposure||Partial, shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||9-11 (USDA)|
Lady Palm Care
As houseplants, lady palms will fit easily into a corner of a room near a bright window. Their care isn’t overly complicated, though you will have to establish a regular watering and feeding routine. Plan both to water and feed more during the warmer months of the year and then back off slightly during the cooler months. Other than that, your palm should thrive in the indoor temperatures that you also would be comfortable in.
These palms don’t need a lot of pruning. Avoid removing fronds that have just a little browning (a fairly common sight on lady palms often due to inadequate water or light), as the plant still can use nutrients from those fronds. However, if an entire frond is discolored or dead, you may prune it off. These plants generally don’t have any serious pest or disease problems. But watch out for scale and spider mites, which can affect many houseplants. Signs of an infestation include wilting or yellowing leaves, a sticky substance or webbing on the leaves, and tiny light or dark dots along the plant. Treat your palm as soon as possible with an appropriate insecticide.
A spot that gets direct sunlight is not ideal for these palms; the unfiltered sun can cause leaf burn. When grown outdoors, lady palms like dappled light and can even tolerate a somewhat shady spot. Indoor palms should be placed where they can get bright indirect light near a window.
A loamy soil that has excellent drainage is best for lady palms. When grown in containers, a potting mix made especially for palms works well. African violet potting mix also is suitable.
Lady palms have average water needs and are somewhat tolerant of drought once they’re established. In the spring and summer, when most of the palm’s active growth is taking place, water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. In the fall and winter, reduce watering to whenever the top 2 inches of soil feel dry.
Temperature and Humidity
Besides their compact size and light requirements, another factor that makes lady palms ideal for growing indoors is that they thrive in typical room temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the colder months, be sure your palm remains in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, as anything colder can damage the plant. Protect your plant from cold drafts, as well as from blowing hot air (such as air from a heating vent) that can dry it out.
This palm prefers a humidity level at 50% or higher. Brown leaf tips can be a sign that the humidity is too low for the plant. To boost the humidity, you can regularly mist your palm with water from a spray bottle. Or place its pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water, making sure the pot isn’t sitting directly in the water as this can cause root rot.
Lady palms only need fertilization during the growing season. From around April to September, feed your palm monthly with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.
Potting and Repotting
The lady palm doesn’t mind being a bit cramped in its pot. Initially, choose a pot that’s slightly larger than the size of the root ball. Make sure it has ample drainage holes.
Plan to repot your palm every other year in the spring into a slightly larger container. To do so, gently lift the roots out of the container, aiming to disturb them as little as possible and keep the root ball intact. Then, place the palm into its new container, and fill around it with fresh potting mix. Pack down the soil, and water it well.
Lady Palm Varieties
There are several varieties of the lady palm available, including:
- Rhapis excelsa ‘Koban’: This variety has notably wide leaf segments and tends to spread outward.
- Rhapis excelsa ‘Daruma’: This variety features narrow leaves and an upright growth habit.
- Rhapis excelsa ‘Tenzan’: The leaves on this fast-growing variety have a bit of a curl.
- Rhapis excelsa ‘Kodaruma’: This is a miniature variety with an especially slow growth rate.
- Rhapis excelsa ‘Zuikonishiki’: This variety sports green-and-white striped leaves.