I have a parlor palm that I have been keeping on my screened porch. I’ve only had it for a few months and it’s been perfectly happy outside but my wife insists it is not cold-hardy. Can you settle that? And it’s been getting progressively less healthy since I got it last spring.


Parlor palms have an oh-so Victorian flair about them. They’re very tolerant of low light and can live indoors very well in our low humidity without having a problem. Or outdoors all spring, summer and fall. They won’t tolerate temperatures much below 50 degrees so I hope you have found a corner for it indoors so that it hasn’t been freezing in our recent cold. They are not like the palms you see planted outside that are hardy enough to endure our occasional cold.

Another problem people have with our indoor palms lies in the fertilizer requirements. That might explain the decline you are seeing. With a lady palm I have, I used a standard fertilizer for a couple of years and the palm steadily declined. I thought it was a watering problem and attempted to adjust my watering and the humidity continuously. I thought I had a very picky plant. The problem turned out to be that palms really need palm fertilizer, which properly addresses the need for minor elements exactly as they are needed. This is most unfortunate for people in other parts of the country, where palm fertilizers are not available in the nurseries. On countless websites, I have read “experts” advising the use of standard indoor type fertilizers. Not true! Palm fertilizer is the best fertilizer for palms, indoors or out. Once I started using granular palm fertilizer, the lady palm rebounded and it’s beautiful again. Lesson learned! As a gardener, my best lessons have been learned the hard way. Sorry, plant friends…

Consider too, the presence of fluoride in our tap water. Florida’s water contains fluoride naturally. This might be great for our teeth, but it’s really hard on some plants. One of them is the parlor palm. (Others include the spider plant, dracaena, lilies and cordylines, also known as ti plants). All of these plants are monocots like grasses. Damage shows up on the tips of the leaves with yellowing and brown necrotic spots.

The only way to filter out the fluoride is with a special filter or a reverse osmosis filter system. Many people use these for their drinking water. Alternatively, it may be easier to capture rainwater to use to water fluoride-sensitive plants.

With the proper temperatures and some other tweaks, your parlor palm can add a tropical flair to your home and porch for years to come.

I have a fairly shady area in front of my house. Is there anything I can plant there this winter that will be pretty?

For the first time, I have a good answer for that question. Last year a plant appeared in our markets that I was told would work on a north-facing site. I’ll admit I didn’t believe it. But I tested it.

And yes, they worked. Hardy cyclamens not only bloom in a mostly shaded site, they are just beautiful. They don’t care if it freezes. They don’t care if it rains. They don’t care if it’s a little sunny. They are fine as the weather warms up in May.

They don’t like the summer heat and rainfall. But I was able to pull some of them out of the ground in early June, repot them and put them in a sheltered spot (on a covered porch) and keep them over the summer. They became dormant and rested in a fairly dry site, springing up again when the weather cooled a bit. This makes them like other plants that have to rest seasonally. A little extra work, perhaps, but they are quite lovely. I have found them in red, pink and a coral/peach color.

These are not the same as the florist’s cyclamen, which are tender and designed for an indoor life. The variety name on the plants I have is Cyclamen “Allure.”

They are going to need to be fertilized during their growing season, according to the label on your fertilizer product. This is true of any producing plant in the winter, like flowering cabbage and flowering kale, which will also work in your shaded site. Apply fertilizer as the fertilizer package specifies.

Becky Wern is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and ask for a Master Gardener.