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How to Grow and Care For Areca Palm

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by Max - last update on February 26, 2019, 5:15 am
Decorative Areca palm near white brick wall

The Areca Palm is a beautiful houseplant, originally coming from Madagascar. It’s fairly easy to take care of indoors, but watch your watering schedule and inspect it frequently for a variety of insects.

Quick Facts

OriginMadagascar
FamilyArecaceae
Scientific NameDypsis lutescens
TypeEvergreen Palm
Common NamesBamboo palm, Areca palm, Golden cane palm, Butterfly palm
Ideal Temperature65° F (16° C) - 75° F (24° C)
LightBright indirect light
WateringAllow to dry out between watering
HumidityModerate humidity
ToxicityNot poisonous to dogs and cats
PestsWhitefly, mealy bugs, scale, red spider mites

Caring for Your Areca Palm Plant

Areca Palm Caring

Watering

Overwatering this plant is a surefire way to kill it, so water sparingly and with caution. To make sure your Areca Palm doesn’t get too much water, you should allow the soil to dry out between each watering during fall and winter. Test the soil by dipping in a finger; if you can feel moisture in the top inch or two of the soil, then it means the plant isn’t yet ready for another watering. Wait a day or two before testing again.

During spring and summer, you should work to maintain a slightly moist soil for your Areca Palm, never letting it completely dry out, but also not allowing it to sit in wet soil. Once you ascertain roughly how long your Areca Plant likes between each watering, you will be able to organize your watering into a more regular schedule.

This plant is very sensitive to fluoride, which is found in some tap water. If you are in an area that has tap water high in fluoride, then you will need to make some alterations to how you feed your Areca Palm. You could use distilled or bottled water to water your plant, or alternatively, you could place a pot outside to collect rainwater during rainy seasons, and use the rainwater to water your plant. This is an efficient use of water, and the lack of fluoride in it will help to keep you Areca Palm healthy.

Feeding

Fertilize the Areca Palm in spring and summer only, with a palm fertilizer or a standard houseplant fertilizer at half strength. Finding the right fertilizer for your plant may be a game of trial and error. The Areca Palm likes to feed heavily, needing magnesium and iron to prevent yellowing leaves. However, the plant is very sensitive to the salts found in fertilizers, which can make feeding the plant a tricky balancing act. Experiment with different fertilizer solutions until you feel the plant is responding well.

Light

Areca palm plant enjoys the light behind the curtain
Areca palm plant enjoys the light behind the curtain

This plant has a high dependency on light and will need to be placed in a brightly lit spot in your home. Many owners struggle to find an area with the correct lighting, as the Areca Palm needs lots of bright light, but won’t be happy in indirect light, which will turn the leaves a yellowing color. A windowsill that receives lots of natural daylight will be the best place for the plant, and if necessary, filter direct sunlight with blinds or curtains. While this plant isn’t especially difficult to grow, it is quite specific in its requirements. If the plant doesn’t get enough of the right light, then it will struggle to thrive and survive (Clemson Cooperative Extension- Home and Garden Information Center).

Temperature

The Areca Palm enjoys temperatures usually found in homes, ranging between 65° F and 75° F. It should be kept away from doorways or other areas that might be susceptible to cold drafts. The plant should not be allowed to sit in temperatures of below 55° F, and sudden temperature drops will cause the plant to suffer, causing brown spotting on the leaves.

Humidity

This plant is happy in the typical humidity found in homes and does not need any special treatment. The only instance when you make like to make an effort to increase humidity around the plant is if your home is experiencing very dry air. Dry air can cause tips of the leaves to turn brown. This can be prevented by lightly misting the plant with water. Alternatively, you can sit the plant on a tray of pebbles surrounded by water. As the water evaporates, it will cause the humidity levels around the plant to rise.

Propagation

Propagation of Areca Palms is done with seeds. The seeds can be difficult to come by because they are not commonly grown from seed by amateur gardeners, as they frequently fail to grow. If you do try your hand at growing an Areca Palm from seed, select the older seeds, which are orange in color, and not green like the newer seeds. The older seeds have a higher rate of germination and are more likely to bring success.

Many seeds can be planted together in clusters, which will then take around six weeks to germinate. They will require a higher than average humidity and a warm temperature of around 80° F. A heated propagator would be the easiest method of maintaining the correct humidity and temperature levels, with a better chance of success (Royal Horticultural Society).

Re-potting

Decorative Areca palm in pot

This plant doesn’t need to be potted very frequently as it tends to fare better when it is pot-bound. It likes to be in quite a tight fitting pot for its roots, and this will also help to limit the size of the plant; however, it’s always a good idea to re-pot just to freshen up the soil that the plant is sitting in. You can re-pot this plant around once every three years, or more often if it looks like your Areca Palm is struggling as a result of being pot bound. Some people get away without ever re-potting their Areca Palm, as its lifespan is only around ten years.

Areca Palms are potted in clumps, and can form their own clumps as they grow. To re-pot, carefully remove the palm from its current soil, taking care not to harm the root ball. This plant may struggle in its new pot if you disturb the roots too much, so use a gentle touch. Select a new pot that is one size bigger than the size you were currently using, and pot your palm into it, making sure that the root ball is buried at the same height as it was in the last pot. Notice on the stems where the soil previously came up to, and make sure the new soil doesn’t go any higher than this.

Potting the plant into fresh soil will be a particular help if the plant has been struggling as a result of salt and fluoride buildup. For the new soil, use a palm specific potting soil, or a mixture of standard houseplant potting soil with a handful of builder’s sand thrown in.

Varieties

The Areca Palm, scientifically named Dypsis lutescens, is the most popular palm sold as a houseplant, as it is relatively inexpensive and easy to grow. It is found all over the world planted both indoors and outdoors. It does have some relations, such as the Triangle Palm, scientifically named Dypsis decaryi, and the Betel Nut Palm, scientifically named Areca catechu. These are not typically used as houseplants and are generally only found in their natural habitats in tropical regions.

Common Problems

Areca Palm problems

 

Yellowing Leaves

Yellow leaves are not normal for the Areca Palm, and usually indicate that the plant is not receiving enough water. Remedy this by giving your plant more frequent waterings, and the plant should recover very quickly.

Yellow Spots

If the leaves of your palm are turning yellow only in small spots, then this is likely caused by potassium levels of the soil being too low, or the acidity level of the soil may be too high. Adjust your fertilizer to try to balance out the levels, and if necessary, you could re-pot the plant to start with fresh soil.

Brown Tips

Brown tips are usually not a watering issue, but instead are caused by cold drafts, or the air being too dry. Use a process of elimination to figure out what is causing the tips of your plant to turn brown, and address this accordingly. You may want to move the plant to a more secluded spot away from cold drafts, or spray it with a misting water spray to increase humidity.

Brown Leaves or Spots

Brown leaves on the underneath of the plant are not a problem; this is a natural occurrence and removing them by cutting or allowing them to fall off will promote new growth. Brown leaves elsewhere on the plant is a cause for concern, and is typically caused by overwatering. If you suspect this is the case, simply water the plant less frequently and it should recover quickly. Check that the soil is dry to the touch before watering it, and the problem should not recur.

If you don’t think the plant has been over watered, then the cause of brown leaves or brown spots on the leaves could be due to a sudden temperature drop, too much fertilizer, or a response to being watered with hard water. If you live in a hard water area, you could try using bottled water on your plant, or collect rainwater, and see if this helps. Using a more diluted fertilizer to feed the plant, or moving the plant away from cold draughts may resolve the issue.

Root Rot or Pink Rot

These problems are serious, and are caused simply by overwatering. Root rot can quickly kill a plant or damage it to a point where it cannot be saved. Prevention is the best medicine for root rot, and can be achieved very simply by ensuring you have a good drainage system in place, and by being careful to not over water your Areca Palm.

Use a well-draining soil and ensure that your plant pot has holes at the bottom where unused water can drain away. The drip tray should be emptied on a regular basis so that the plant doesn’t have to sit in water. Always test the soil before adding more water, this will ensure that the plant does not become overwatered.

Pests

This plant is vulnerable to many pests, including scale, mealy bugs, red spider mites, and whitefly.

Red Spider Mites

These pests like to feed on the dust found on the foliage of the Areca Palm. Dust tends to accumulate more when humidity is low, so you can try to prevent this problem by keeping humidity high. You can do this using an electric humidifier, or simply spray the plant’s leaves occasionally with a misting water spray. If a spider mite infestation has already occurred, you can usually get rid of it by sponging the leaves with soapy water.

Often, an infestation can become quite bad before you even notice, as spider mites are so tiny they can usually only be seen with a magnifying glass. You will usually spot the damage before the infestation, which can include mottled yellow leaves, brown leaves, and stunted growth. To discover if you have a spider mite infestation, place a piece of white paper under your plant and tap the leaves. This will cause the spider mites, if they are present, to fall out onto the paper for identification.

To treat a spider mite infestation, take the plant outside and spray it with a powerful jet of water. Do this twice daily until the infestation is under control. If this doesn't work, you can try using neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Scale

Scale insects present themselves as small round or oval white lumps, with no identifiable features, such as body parts. They are usually found on the underside of leaves, which can look whitewashed if the scale infestation is severe. They can attack a whole plant but are usually most prevalent on the foliage of Areca Palms, sucking the sap from the plant with their straw-like mouths. The result of this will be brown spots on the leaves of your plant, as well as curled up, dropping leaves, and eventually, a dead plant (University of Florida).

There are several different types of scale, and you need to identify which type you have before attempting to remove the infestation, as different types will respond to different treatment.

While most types of scale are just a nuisance and inconvenience to deal with, some types are dangerous and can quickly destroy a plant beyond the point at which it can be saved. This type of scale is most commonly found on palms which are sitting in heavily wet soil, or which have poor drainage. This is another reason to try to avoid overwatering your palm.

If you identify a scale infestation, do not try to wash them off the leaves, as this can actually encourage new scale infestations. Instead, cut off heavily affected leaves and dispose of them carefully. Prune back different sections of the plant to thin it out and ensure that all of the leaves have access to light. High levels of continued exposure to sunlight will naturally control scale infestations.

If further pest control methods are needed, use a horticultural oil to keep the scale infestation at bay, or introduce natural scale predators such as lacewings, beetles, and ladybugs. A pesticide is rarely needed to control scale and should be the final resort as it can harm the natural balance of ‘good’ insects.

Mealy Bugs

Mealy bugs look like a fluffy white substance on your plant, and usually reside in the nooks of plants where they are difficult to spot and remove. They suck vital nutrients from the plant and leave behind a sticky residue which in time becomes black. The black residue is actually mold, and should be removed with care.

Mealy bugs can usually be removed by spraying them with a fast stream of water. Take your palm outside and spray it with a water hose, focusing on areas where mealy bugs may be hiding. If this doesn't resolve the issue, you can use tweezers to remove the mealy bugs, or wipe the leaves with rubbing alcohol.

Whitefly

These pests are much easier to spot, as the adults are white winged creatures who fly away as soon as you disturb the leaf they are on, while the juvenile whitefly resemble scale insects. They are found on the underside of leaves, where they suck the sap from the plant, compromising its health. Whiteflies secrete a sticky substance, which is left behind on the leaf after they have fed on the sap. This will turn into a black soot-like substance, which is actually a fungus growing on it. If you have a whitefly problem, you will likely soon have an ant problem too, as the ants are attracted to the sticky substance the whiteflies leave behind.

To tackle a whitefly infestation, in the first instance spray the plant outside with a strong stream of water. This can be repeated twice a day until the infestation is gone, focusing on spraying the underside of leaves. Alternatively, placing yellow sticky tape near the plant is usually very effective at removing whiteflies, as the adults are drawn to yellow and get stuck on the tape.


Let us know how your Areca Palm is doing or if you have any other questions by leaving us a comment below!

How to Grow and Care For Areca Palm

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