How to Plant and Grow Palmetto

This palm tree is native to southeastern North America and attracts wildlife.

Palmetto Palm Tree Sabal_ spp.

Palmetto, or palmetto palm, is a common name used for several different palms that are commonly used in home landscapes. They belong to the Sabal genus, which comprises 17 subtropical and tropical palm species. The plants are native to southeastern North America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. In palmetto palms, all of the fronds grow from the top of the plant. The fronds are curved and fan-shaped, with blades that can reach 3 to 4 feet in length. The single trunks are tan-gray.

As native palm trees or shrub-like palms, palmetto palms are low-maintenance and have high wildlife value. They provide shelter and nesting material for bats, birds, small mammals, snakes, and insects. Native Americans considered the sabal palm a “Tree of Life.”

Palmetto Overview

Genus Name Sabal
Common Name Palmetto
Plant Type Tree
Light Sun
Height 5 to 60 feet
Width 4 to 20 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed

Where to Plant Palmetto

Palmetto does best when planted in full sun. The soil needs to have excellent drainage and the pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline.

Most palms in the Sabal genus don't produce a large canopy, making them valuable as focal points that don't block the sun. When strategically planted, they can shade roofs and buildings to help keep structures cool in summer; however, they grow slowly so you won’t be able to count on this for a good number of years. When selecting a planting spot, keep in mind that older fronds die off and when they drop off a tall tree, they can create a hazard.

The palm makes a beautiful backdrop for mixed borders. Smaller, more shrub-like species can also be planted in a row as a privacy hedge or foundation planting. Palmetto does not like to be moved once it is established so select its location carefully.

How and When to Plant Palmetto

Although palm trees can be planted at any time of the year, the best time is between May and August.

Dig a hole that is at least twice the diameter of the root ball and the same depth. Be extra careful when you move the palm out of the nursery container to prevent cracking of the heart of the palm, which will stunt the palm’s growth or even lead to plant death. Place the palm in the hole and backfill with enough of the original soil so that the top is flush with the soil surface.

After planting, the palm needs support for at least the first year after planting because it is top-heavy and can easily get knocked over by the wind. The small root ball of palm trees does not sufficiently anchor the plant in the soil until it’s established. The preferred method of support is bracing:

First, protect the trunk by wrapping it with two layers of burlap about one-fourth of the way up the trunk.

Vertically place 4 pieces of 2×4 wood, about 12 inches in length, on the outside of the burlap layer, securing the pieces with heavy-duty twine or wire ties. Do not nail them into the trunk.

Drive four stakes, either 2x4 wooden stakes or metal T-stakes, around the trunk, at least 2 feet deep into the ground. Space them equally at about a distance of 4 feet from the trunk.

Rest the top of each brace against its corresponding slat and nail the brace to the slats.

If you want to create a hedge with dwarf palmetto palms, space them 4 feet apart. Specimens should be placed at least 12 feet apart.

Palmetto Care Tips


In order to thrive, the palm should get full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sun daily. It can tolerate partial shade, but it will slow down its already slow growth rate.

Soil and Water

Palmetto palms need soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. Excellent drainage is key. The pH should be between neutral (6.6 and 7.3) to slightly alkaline (7.9 to 8.4). 

During its establishment period, palmetto should be watered regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. After that, is it fairly drought-tolerant.

Temperature and Humidity

Palmetto is a tropical palm that needs mild winters to survive. Their hardiness varies by species, with some being hardy as far north as North Carolina.

If you're growing one of these trees at the northern end of its hardiness range, it helps to plant it in a protected spot, such as near a south-facing wall, to help give it extra winter protection. Some gardeners wrap the palms in burlap, then fill it with leaves to provide extra protection during winter. It is tolerant of high temperatures and humidity.


In average soil, these palms usually don't require fertilization, but in nutrient-poor or especially sandy soil, they can benefit from a spring application of fertilizer formulated for use on palms. Be sure to follow the label instructions.


Palmetto does not require pruning other than removing dead fronds for aesthetic purposes. As the palm grows taller, you might not be able to reach the top part any longer. The older fronds die off and drop off on their own while the bases remain attached to the trunk.

Potting and Repotting

Dwarf palmetto palms can be grown in pots, but you need a very large heavy container with large drainage holes. Fill it with potting mix and keep in mind that potted palm tree needs to be watered and fertilized more frequently than in-ground palm trees. 

Repotting might be required every two to three years, or when the roots fill the pot. The best time for repotting is in the spring or early summer. Just like when planting a palmetto palm, handle it with extra care when repotting it, as the root system can be easily damaged.

Pests and Problems

Palmetto palms can be affected by several diseases, including bacterial and fungal diseases such as fusarium wilt, palm rot, bronzing disease, bacterial blight, and root rot. The most common pest is the palmetto weevil, which is native to Florida and the largest weevil in North America.

How to Propagate Palmetto

While it is possible to grow a palmetto palm from seed, it is a very lengthy process. Germination of the seeds occurs within about a month, but the seedling grows so slowly that it takes 15 to 30 years to grow a trunk. With that in mind, you are much better off purchasing a palmetto from a nursery.

Types of Palmetto

Belize Thatch Palm

Belize thatch palm (Sabal mauritiiformis) palmetto

One of the fastest-growing palms in the Sabal genus, this palm is native to Central and South America and features large fronds. In frost-free areas, it can reach 60 feet tall. Zones 9-10

Cabbage Palm

Cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto)

This is Florida's state tree. Cabbage palm is also called swamp palm. It can reach 80 feet in height in ideal conditions, but in most home landscapes, it tops out around 20 feet tall. Zones 9-10

Dwarf Palmetto Palm

Dwarf palmetto palm (Sabal minor)

The smallest palmetto type is also the hardiest. This shrubby palm reaches 10 feet tall and has fronds up to 5 feet long. Zones 7-10

Puerto Rico Hat Palm

Puerto Rico hat palm (Sabal causiarum) palmetto

This majestic species can reach 60 feet tall and has a smooth trunk that sets it apart from most other Sabal genus. Zones 9-10

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are the fruits of palmetto edible?

    The small blackberry-like fruit is edible but not very palatable to humans. The fruit contains very little flesh and it's rather seedy. It serves as a food source for raccoons and other wildlife. 

  • Is palmetto palm invasive?

    Because it is native to the southeastern United States, it is not considered an invasive plant. However, in certain habitats, it exhibits invasive tendencies at the expense of other native plants.

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  1. "Sabal Palmetto". University of Florida Extension.

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