How to Grow and Care for Rhapis Palm (Lady Palm)
Rhapis palm is one of the most popular interior palm trees available. This plant has fan-shaped fronds with protruding separated ends that look like fingers on a large hand. This characteristic has earned it the common name of Ladyfinger palm.
The stems are brown with a sheath of brown fibers that resemble cocoa fiber, protruding from the soil at multiple points from the horizontally growing rhizome roots.
This palm makes a great addition to a large space that needs some greenery, since it has dense, wide-spanning foliage.
This elegant creature requires consistent care and monitoring and is definitely not a houseplant for anyone who intends to leave it unattended for long periods of time.
Where to Place Your Rhapis
Rhapis is a palm that is a bit more tolerant of lower light conditions, unlike triangle, fan, and sego palms. This tolerance makes them more adaptable to indoor conditions, but attention still must be paid to placement.
Ideally, a moderately natural lit space, with comfortable indoor temperatures, are best for long-term health and vitality. This type of environment will help a rhapis to maintain a consistent moisture level while receiving all of the light energy needed to maintain existing and grow new foliage.
Rhapis can be adapted to low-light conditions, but they have a tendency to decline in health overtime. In lower lighting, they will often begin to display a significant amount of brown-tipped leaves commonly associated with overwatering. This phenomenon is a result of not enough light being available to allow the palm to be productive at a healthy level. When the productivity level is taken to an incredibly slow point for a generally active plant, even small amounts of moisture can cause big problems. Thus, low light is not recommended for long-term health of a rhapis.
A high-light environment can work, remembering that a highly productive palm in high light will become even more productive, using more water and increasing growth. This will require you to water more frequently, or leave more excess water in a liner.
Watering Your Rhapis
The trickiest part of being a caretaker for an indoor rhapis is definitely watering. Rhapis are most commonly potted in lava rock as their soil medium. When watering into lava rock, little of the moisture is bound in the rock itself, and much of it runs right through the pot into the drip liner.
To compound things, rhapis require a great deal of water, wilting severely once they become the least bit dry. This combination of characteristics makes the incidents of water flowing out of pots onto the floor very high for this particular plant in interior settings.
The best watering practice for a rhapis that has been placed in a temperate and moderately light-exposed space is to water it thoroughly, carefully watching for water to begin to seep out into the drip liner. This can help to ensure that the water does not overfill the liner and flow out onto the surrounding floor. It is usually best to leave excess water in the drip liner and wait until it has been used before watering again. Believe it or not, the water will usually get used in a week's time.
In high-light situations, it may be necessary to use and oversized drip liner to accommodate additional water to get the plant through a week's time. The other option is to water more frequently, possibly bi-weekly.
Low light will require less water on a consistent basis, however. In spite of water reduction, the palm may still exhibit signs of distress in low light.
General Rhapis Palm Maintenance
Rhapis have a few general maintenance requirements needed to keep them in great condition.
- Brown leaf tipping: This is natural in small amounts on rhapis. But if the tips become excessive and increasingly unsightly, they must be removed. Tipping rhapis leaves is simple: just rip the the browned area away with your fingers. This will leave a natural-looking jagged edge on the leaf, as opposed to cutting. Also, evaluate your watering technique if tipping becomes too extreme. On a rhapis, tips and very upright leaves are good indicators that the plant is staying overly moist.
- Mealybugs: These are the most common houseplant pest found on rhapis. Mealybugs can be difficult to treat on this plant, since they generally nestle themselves down under the fibrous stem material. The best treatment for a mealybug infestation is a full and thorough spray down, followed by an application of a systemic pesticide. The usual methods of hand wiping are not very effective on rhapis, due to the difficulty of cleaning mealies out from beneath the fibrous stem sheaths.
- Water damage: This plant is the most common houseplant associated with overwatering accidents. Every precaution should be taken to make sure that the drip liner, or pots, are secure, free of cracks and holes, and just plain and simply watertight. Nothing is worse than finding rotted carpet or warped hardwood floor under your favorite houseplant. Good preparation during placement and close attention to water application can keep you clear of unpleasant water issues.
- Dusting: Be sure to dust the wide fronds to keep your palm looking vibrant and healthy all around.
- Removing dead leaves: Do this by cutting leaves off where they connect to the central brown fibrous stem. Excessive amounts of completely dead brown leaves on a rhapis may be an indicator of under-watering, as is consistent and obvious wilting. Your watering regiment should be evaluated and increased in such a case.
- Removing blooms: If they appear, blooms on most interior foliage plants only serve to make a mess and rob the plant of vital energy that could be used for more productive purposes.
Check your rhapis frequently and be sure to be prompt and consistent with watering. Following these tips will provide a happy, healthy palm for years to come.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.