A palm tree needs minimal care and adds an aesthetic appeal to your yard. They also create natural shaded areas. It is not difficult to grow palm trees in your yard space or garden, provided you follow some basic guidelines.
Getting Started: Basic Palm Tree Research
Perform some basic research to determine the most suitable variety of palm tree for your area. This means consulting local garden suppliers and landscapers to learn about the species best suited to your location. Palm trees can grow in both tropical and cooler conditions.
Common Palm Tree Varieties:
- Fish tail palms (Wallichia densiflora) USDA zones 9b through 11
- Royal palms (Roystonea regia) USDA zones 10 through 11
- Majesty palms (Ravenea rivularis) USDA zones 9 through 11
- Queen palms (Syagrus botryophora) USDA zones 8 through 11
- Dwarf Palmetto palms (Sabal minor) USDA zones 6 through 11
- Needle palms (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) USDA zones 5 through 11
Palm Tree Placement
Site selection is crucial because palm trees can grow to great heights. Ensure that the chosen spot is far away from nearby buildings or other forms of climbing vegetation.
Palm trees prefer bright sunlight but can tolerate dappled shade. Young trees, especially within the first growing year, are more susceptible to sun scald from bright sunlight. They need extra sun protection as they mature. Consider planting your seedling in partial shade first and then transplanting it after one year. Or, provide some sun protection in its sunny spot, such as a small canopy made from a tarp. After the first year, your palm will be able to tolerate full sun conditions.
If you are planting the tree for landscaping purposes, ensure that it is located at a spot that is accessible for pruning.
If your area tends to have colder winters or cold bouts, consider planting your palm somewhere it will be protected from damaging winter winds. Plant your palm on the south or east side of your home to protect it from cold western and northern winds. It will even absorb some of the heat from your home in the winter, which can be very beneficial. Or, plant your palm near some sturdy evergreen trees that will limit wind exposure.
Buy the best-possible palm tree seeds. Some cheaper cycad varieties have been introduced, but palms grown from these seeds remain stunted. The best seeds are those collected fresh by the grower herself. Avoid green seeds. Ripe seeds are a mature fruit color and are either ready to drop or have already dropped from the tree.
Check the seeds to ensure that they:
- Are green in color and the overcoat is not too thick
- Don’t compress easily when pinched. Collapsible seeds are immature and take very long to germinate
- Don't float when put in a water-filled vessel. Only older, decaying seeds float
- Are not exposed to direct sunlight. This can literally kill the seeds
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds. "If your seeds look good on the outside but you want to make sure they are viable, take a sample seed and cut it in half with a sharp knife. Inspect the inside layers of the seed. The inside of the fruit should be fresh, firm, and not discolored. If the seed looks rotten or has an unpleasant odor, those seeds are not likely to germinate."
Seeds should be soaked in chlorine-free filtered water for 24 to 36 hours before planting. This aids seed germination. After soaking, trim away the outer, fibrous coating. The easiest way to do this is to rub the seeds against a fine meshed screen and wash away the pulp with water. Seeds planted with fruit still on them are more susceptible to rot.
Palm Tree Planting
Prepare a 1 gallon pot with plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. Use a potting mix of peat moss or sterile sphagnum moss, with equal parts perlite or vermiculite. You can also use coconut coir in lieu of peat moss. Make sure that your mix is light and very well draining.
Bury the seeds on their sides with just a light sprinkling of potting mix on top of them.
You don’t need fertilization here, just keep the potting soil well watered and drained. The seed should not be drowned in water. This promotes fungal development. Potting mix should be allowed to dry out between waterings.
Place your pots in a sunny window or a warm spot, such as on top of the water heater. They should be kept at 78 to 95 degrees F. If these temperatures cannot be maintained, place a heating pad underneath the pots and monitor their temperature frequently.
When the seeds start to develop into small seedlings, prepare the soil at the chosen site. It's time to transfer the palm plant to the garden bed.
Dig a hole in the soil bed so that it can easily accommodate the root ball. The hole should be much deeper than the small roots of the seedlings.
Once planted, backfill around the planting site with the dug-up soil and then tamp it. Water thoroughly. Do not fertilize!
Spring is regarded as the best time to plant, but slightly warmer conditions are also good enough.
Soil Requirements & Fertilization
Most garden soils can support a palm tree unless they are highly acidic or have excessive clay content. The most important soil quality is drainage. If your tree stays waterlogged, its roots could develop rot and eventually it will die. Incorporating a few shovelfuls of sand into your garden soil will help improve drainage.
Nutrient-deficient soils can be enriched with a regular dose of compost. Spread a 2 inch layer of compost underneath the palm and work it into the soil 2 to 4 inches deep using a garden claw. Fertilize with compost once a year in the spring.
You can use organic mulch around the tree to keep the soil moisturized. Make sure to keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the trunk of your palm, which is easily susceptible to rot and pests.
Do not fertilize your palm at all in the first 3 to 4 months of growth. During this time your palm's roots are too new and delicate for fertilization.
Regular fertilization of mature palms needs to be done during the growing season only. During the warm months, fertilize your palm 4 to 5 times. Use specific palm fertilizers that contain recommended micronutrients like potassium and manganese.
Check for brownish or yellowish fronds. This means potassium deficiency in the palm tree. To correct this, use a high potassium fertilizer such as muriate of potash.
TIP: Rachel advises, "Do not apply liquid fertilizer too close to the palm's trunk. Palm bark is delicate and can develop fertilizer burn which can compromise the overall health of the tree. When watering with liquid fertilizers, keep the spray aimed on the ground and away from the tree."
Regular watering is vital in the first year of growth.] [Deep soaking your new palm once every few days is more beneficial than a light daily sprinkling. Use a soaker hose or the open end of your hose set to slow trickle for 10 minutes at a time.
If you are over watering you will notice your palm leaves begin to turn yellow, brown, and then drop off. They will not seem dry. This is a sign to water less and to incorporate a few shovelfuls of sand into your garden soil to improve drainage.
If you are under watering, the tips of your palm's leaves will turn brown. This is a sign to water deeply more often.
After the first year, reduce watering to hot days and times of drought.
Pruning is not regularly needed unless you want to design the tree in a particular way. Too many old fronds on the tree is another reason to prune. Old fronds are easily detected due to their worn-out appearance and a dark-brown coloration. Cut these off using sharp pruning shears.
Prune when suckers begin to show. They are not found in all palm trees, but sometimes develop in the form of small root-like structures around the base. They should be immediately removed.
Prune when There is disease or damage present. If you notice white or brown spots on the fronds, or some have simply become damaged in a storm, cut these fronds off immediately and dispose of them. Never throw diseased fronds back on the ground and never compost them. This will simply spread the disease.
Don’t overprune. Fronds are needed to supply nutrients to every part of the tree.
If you know in advance that bad weather is coming, you should take some preventative measures to protect your tree. If it is still small enough place a cardboard box over your palm and weigh it down. Only leave the box on for a few days as your palm still needs sunlight. A mound of mulch or straw can be used to cover the tree, but do not leave this on for too long either, as it will promote rot and fungal infection. The trunk can be wrapped with with a plastic sheet, burlap, blankets, or bubble-wrap as well. Some gardeners drape large evergreen boughs over and around their palms for sturdy natural protection.
TIP: Rachel suggests, "If you are worried that your winters may be too cold for your palm, consider keeping it in a pot. This way, you can move it indoors to a screened porch or sunny window during bouts of cold weather. However, only plant dwarf palms in pots. Every 2 to 3 years repot your palm in a larger container and change the soil."