The robellini palm, or Phoenix roebelenii, is a dwarf variety of palm tree that does well planted in a container indoors. These easy-to-maintain plants can grow up to six feet tall and are non-toxic, so they're safe for animals and kids.
In the spring, this tree produces creamy white flowers, but its large green fronds grow all year round. Since it's kept indoors, even gardeners living in the coldest parts of the country can bring a little bit of the tropics to their decor with a robellini palm.
When shopping for a robellini palm, look for a specimen with shiny green leaves that stand tall on the stalk. Avoid trees with fronds that droop low to the ground or leaves that are starting to yellow.
If your nursery of choice won't deliver, make sure you plan ahead and bring a vehicle that is large enough for you to keep the plant upright during transport.
Robellini palm trees like well-drained soil, so it's important to layer your container carefully. Choose a planter that is at least 1.5 times the diameter of the tree’s root ball. At the bottom of your planter, place a 2- to 3-inch layer of rocks before adding your soil at the top to encourage good drainage. Select a soil that is moderately acidic and include fertilizer for best results.
It's no surprise that a tropical plant like the robellini palm likes it nice and bright. Position yours near a window that receives light throughout the day. A bit of shade should be okay, but make sure your tree gets light from sun up to sundown if possible, and move it to a brighter location if you notice it's starting to droop.
Consistent watering is vital for the health of the robellini palm. For the first few weeks after planting or transplanting, water daily. After that, you can reduce watering to every other day. Ensure the soil is kept moist, and water deeply if your plant does dry out, to keep it from suffering any long-term damage.
Robellini palms are native to hot and humid environments and do not tolerate even minor frost.
For indoor plants, it's essential to put them in an area of the house that is warm and bright. Do not allow the ambient air temperature to fall below 50 degrees. Keep the palm away from air conditioners and vents that can shock the delicate roots.
To encourage strong, healthy growth, your robellini palm should be fertilized often. Look for one that's specifically formulated for palm trees and apply it to young plants monthly, following the instructions on the box. Once your tree has matured, applications can be reduced to two or three times a year.
Pruning a robellini palm is tricky, and a simple mistake could irrevocably damage your plant. If you cut into the palm's crown, the plant may stop growing new leaves altogether.
Robellinis also have needle-sharp spines that make pruning your own plant dangerous. Since it's a recommended step, consider having a professional deal with it when necessary.
As your robellini palm matures, it will require repotting to make room for new growth. Once you've selected a pot 2 to 4 inches larger than your current container, fill it with a layer of rocks for drainage and a mix of soil and palm fertilizer. Lift your plant from its current container by the trunk, and place it in the center of the new container before covering it with soil and watering deeply.
Robellini palms are easy to propagate from the suckers that they produce. Carefully remove a sucker from the mother plant, protecting the fragile roots to keep them intact.
New plants should be planted in rich soil in a location with indirect but bright sunlight. Water them regularly and repot when they grow too large for their current container.
If your robellini palm becomes sick, the most likely cause will be a fungus. In young trees, bud rot can damage the heart of the palm and cause it to stop growing new leaves. Spots on leaves that turn yellow or brown can be caused by leaf spot fungus or pestalotiopsis.
All of these infections can be treated with commercial fungicides applied at the first sign of problems.
Robellini palms are particularly susceptible to infestations of spider mites and scale. A spider mite infestation will cause leaves to yellow and discolor. If your plant's leaves are covered with a sticky substance similar to tree sap, your palm is probably infected with scale.
You'll need an insecticide to clear spider mites, but scale can be managed with simple rubbing alcohol applied with a q-tip to remove it from the leaves.
With its impressive stature and large green fronds, the robellini palm demands to be seen. Open foyers with high ceilings are a good match for the robellini's size, but it can also work as a statement piece in front of a large bay window in your living room.
Wherever you choose to display your plant, make sure it has adequate sunlight, and move it to a location with better lighting if you notice it starting to wilt.
Not ready to commit to the robellini, but still want a palm plant to add to your collection? The Kentia palm is another common indoor tree that grows up to 12 feet in a container and sports larger, thicker fronds.
If you want a shorter version for your home, a dwarf palmetto tops out at 3 feet high but has large, fan-shaped fronds that make it a dramatic addition to your decorating.
The good news is that the robellini palm plant is entirely non-toxic. In fact, almost all palm trees are safe for pets and children. You can even eat the small dates produced by the tree, but they require fertilization to form. Since robellini palms are dioecious, meaning they are either male or female, you'll need to have one of each to fertilize the flowers on the fruit-bearing female trees.
There is only one variety of the robellini palm that you will see at your local nursery. However, it may be sold under various names such as Phoenix Roebelenii, dwarf date palm, pygmy date palm, and miniature date palm. Both male and female plants will flower, but only the female plants produce fruit.