Endemic to Lord Howe Island, a tiny subtropical island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Kentia palm, or Howea fosteriana, offers the chance to bring part of the subtropics to your inside space.
It’s unlikely most of us will see it in its home environment as only 400 visitors are allowed to the island at any one time.
How to care for Kentia palms
Howea palms have a bad reputation for being hard to look after, but that needn’t be the case. Yes, they are a little sensitive, but as a tree that can grow to 18 meters tall, confined to the plant pot in your living room, wouldn’t you be too? Surprisingly, despite their eventual size, the Kentia palm makes a really good houseplant.
Crucial to its success are two things, watering and repotting, or rather, not repotting. With any plant, getting the watering right is pretty critical to its success, and the same is true for your Kentia palm.
Like any palm, it will grow best when the compost around the roots is moist but not wet. Make sure excess water is able to drain from the bottom of the pot, as the roots are very likely to rot if they are swimming.
Only water your Kentia when the top few centimetres of compost has dried out. Be vigilant and use your finger to gauge when to next water. A weekly watering routine with no consideration for the roots of the plant is a recipe for disaster.
How to repot Kentia palms and where to position them
When it comes to repotting, Kentia palms despise root disturbance. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s best to let your palm become pretty pot-bound before potting it on to a larger pot. The temptation is always there when you see a root making its way out of the pot or your palm is struggling, most Kentia palms will be fine in the pot you purchased them in for a good few years.
Young palm fronds are sensitive to direct sunlight, so it’s best to position your Howea in a place with bright but indirect light, to the side of a window for example.
How to propagate Kentia palms
Kentia palm propagation is difficult, partly because of their sensitive roots. Unfortunately it’s not possible to take cuttings of palm trees like the Kentia. However you often find young Howea plants for sale with multiple seedlings in a single pot. Here you can carefully separate out the plants and pot them on into individual pots.
To do this, water the plant well the night before, and get the new pots and peat free multipurpose compost ready.
The next day, remove the seedlings from the pot, and gently prise them apart.
Plant them in the new pot at the same depth they were before and gently firm the compost to secure the plant in place. Keep them somewhere warm and humid out of direct light.
Water as you would a mature plant, in a 10 - 12 cm diameter pot, each palm should be fine for a couple of years before you need to repot them.