The Kentia palm belongs to the plant genus Howea, which contains only two species that are very similar. In their natural resort, Australia’s Lord Howe Island, these palms can reach over 15 meters into the sky. In Central Europe, the Kentia palm is cultivated as a houseplant, so it can still grow up to 2 meters high. With its lush green, feathery fronds, the slender Kentia palm adorns every room and also adapts to seemingly unfavorable conditions. If its rather modest care requirements are met, it always produces new, decorative palm fronds that are covered with numerous pinnate leaves that are up to 60 cm long and 4 cm wide.
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The preferred location of the Kentia palm is light to semi-shady, but does not get exposed to blazing sunlight. It doesn’t die in a dark corner of the room, but it does reduce its already leisurely growth or, in the worst case, stop it altogether. In the summer she doesn’t mind being placed outside as long as the temperature is above 15° Celsius. In addition, successful care includes the following points:
- well drained, slightly acidic substrate
- conventional potting soil is not suitable
- water abundantly in spring and summer
- use low-lime irrigation water
- permanently slightly moist soil is ideal
- no waterlogging
- Discard any water in the coaster immediately
- Give liquid fertilizer every 4 weeks
- Use fertilizers containing nitrogen and potassium
- water less in winter and do not fertilize
- Wipe fronds regularly
- rotate a little every few days
- Cut off brown tips on leaves
- Cut off withered leaves to 2 cm
- occasionally check for pests and diseases
If the fronds are covered in dust, it can be quite time-consuming to wipe each individual leaf with a damp cloth. Alternatively, the Kentia palm receives a lukewarm shower, with the root area being protected from waterlogging with a plastic sheet. Commercially available palm leaf cleaning products are not suitable because they clog the pores and can damage the howea. Alternatively, a light rain shower can be used in summer to remove dust and dirt from the fronds. If you want your palm leaves to have a deep green glow, spray them with diluted algae juice every 3 to 4 weeks. This does not result in the undesirable side effects of chemical sprays, but at the same time strengthens resistance. Since the Kentia palm, like all other plants, always grows in the direction of the light,
Kentia palms hibernate from October to March. There is nothing wrong with staying in the room during this phase, because it usually has no problems with dry heating air. From time to time it is sprayed with a little low-lime water and only receives enough water that the root ball does not dry out. It should not be placed too dark in winter, but rather near the window. Otherwise, the experienced hobby gardener makes sure that the temperature does not fall well below 15° Celsius and in this way creates the perfect conditions for safe winter storage.
Every 2 to 3 years it is time to repot the Kentia palm. At the latest when the roots press up through the earth, it has become too narrow for the palm tree in its previous bucket. The best time for repotting is spring. The new planter should be as deep as possible, because the palm tree forms taproots that grow vertically downwards. A drainage hole for the irrigation water is essential, over which a drainage is made of small pebbles or crushed clay fragments, which is ideally covered with an air- and water-permeable fleece so that it is not blocked by the potting soil and harmful waterlogging still occurs. If you don’t want to buy the palm substrate, you can also make it yourself from the following components:
- part peat,
- a few handfuls of horn shavings
- part well rotted compost
- part loamy garden soil
Some coarse sand or quartz chippings is added to this mixture, which not only ensures the necessary permeability, but also provides the silicates that palm trees need for good growth. If Styrofoam balls are added, these contribute to an airy consistency of the substrate to support root growth. If the Kentia palm is already very large, the proportion of garden soil is increased slightly in order to increase the stability of the bucket. Once the preparations are complete, the Kentia palm is lifted out of its previous pot and freed from the old substrate. Experienced hobby gardeners use this opportunity to take a close look at the root ball and remove brownish parts. While a helping hand holds the palm tree in the middle of the bucket, the substrate is filled all around except for a few centimeters below the edge. Finally, lightly poured on.
The propagation of the Kentia palm takes place with seeds, which are located in the approximately 3 cm long, pointed fruits. If the fruit falls to the ground, this is the surest sign that it is ripe. The seeds can now be removed from them. They are more durable and resistant if the entire fruit is dried in the fresh air. First, the seeds are thoroughly cleaned from the pulp and then soaked in room-warm water for a day. Coconut substrate or the inexpensive Perlite, which is available in every hardware store, is ideal for cultivation.
Since the germination period is up to 12 months, sowing in the pot is problematic because during this long period there is a risk that insects will lay their eggs in here and the larvae will eat the seeds. The following method is safer and also space-saving: the substrate and seeds are placed together in a small plastic bag, which is formed into a roll and sealed airtight. The coconut substrate should only be slightly moist, because if there is too much moisture, the seeds will rot within a short time. This seed roll is now stored in a warm place until the seeds germinate. With a bit of luck, after just a few weeks, the first seedlings will appear. As a rule, however, this process is a test of patience for the ambitious hobby gardener until the time comes
Each seedling is now placed in a seed pot that is ideally much higher than it is wide, so that the taproots can develop unhindered. Either pure coconut substrate or a mixture consisting of equal parts of garden soil, coconut substrate and sand can be used as potting soil. The seedling is inserted with the shoot tip upwards, whereby the head can still be seen. In a warm and bright place, there is a good chance that the first leaf will appear within the next few days and weeks. During this time, the substrate is kept only slightly moist and not fertilized. This measure encourages the roots of the Kentia palm to spread out in search of nutrients. Only when a strong root system has formed is the first dose of fertilizer applied.
Since the young plants are particularly susceptible to pests during this phase of propagation, they are checked daily as a precaution so that pesticides can be used immediately. All in all, the propagation of the Kentia palm really puts the patience of the hobby gardener to the test. However, if it is crowned with success, this can be the beginning of a lifelong friendship, because with the right care, the exotic plants reach a ripe old age.
Avoid care mistakes
If the Kentia palm does not thrive as desired, the cause is not necessarily a pest infestation or a plant disease. Although Howea are basically undemanding to a large extent, damage that occurs can also be the result of care errors.
Dried leaf tips
The cause may be insufficient humidity. Humidifiers or bowls filled with water can help. Alternatively, the palm fronds are regularly sprayed with low-lime water. The dried tips can be cut off with scissors, being careful not to cut into the green tissue.
Dried brown palm fronds
Such damage indicates waterlogging, which leads to rotting roots. To be on the safe side, the Kentia palm is repotted so that the root ball can be examined. If only brownish roots appear instead of the cream-colored roots, they are cut off completely. The palm is replanted in fresh substrate and watered less. However, such a measure only shows a positive effect at a very early stage.
Dried green palm fronds
With this appearance, the plant signals a lack of water. In this case, the Kentia palm can still be saved as long as at least one non-dried frond can be seen. However, the hobby gardener must not be tempted to overdo the watering and drown the plant.
Yellow or brown spots on the fronds
This is a sign of sunburn damage. If the Kentia palm is protected from direct sunlight from now on, it will recover.
Soft or monstrously growing shoots
The experts also refer to this condition as vergelingen. The Kentia palm receives too little light, is too warm and may be watered too much. These grooming mistakes are fairly easy to fix.
In view of this type of damage, the cause can be a too dark environment and too much watering. In addition, iron deficiency also causes yellow fronds. It is advisable to determine the pH value of the substrate and, if the value is above 7.5, to supply the Kentia palm with special iron fertilizer – no iron sulphate. However, there are also pests that cause yellow fronds, such as spider mites and red spiders. Those who do not want to contaminate the room air with chemical pesticides are better off using biological pesticides such as lacewing larvae or nematodes.