How to Plant and Grow a Palm Tree

Learn to plant and grow a palm tree with our easy guide to caring for these tropical beauties.

Cabbage palm

Palm trees are known for their long, slender trunks and thin fronds and are closely identified with tropical locations and warm-weather spots. However, some palm trees are actually shrubs, and some types of palms grow comfortably in cooler weather or indoors. Palms look like trees and act like trees, but their botanical family, Arecaceae, is more closely related to grasses and bamboos than other trees.

There are nearly 2400 species of palms, with perhaps the most familiar being the date palm. To successfully grow a palm tree, learn what the variety you choose needs in order to thrive in your climate, whether outdoors or inside. Just as no two palm tree species look the same, their care will be different as well.

Where to Plant Palm Trees

Palm trees need to be planted in a suitable climate to thrive. Most palm trees in the United States are grown in the Southern part of the country where temperatures are warmer, but some hardier varieties can grow in cooler climates, as low as zone 8. Most palms in the U.S. are transplants from other parts of the world, but they've thrived because the environments they're grown in are hospitable. For example, though there are many types of palms in California, the only palm tree native to the state is the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera). 

Most of the 14 species of palms native to the U.S. are found in the southeastern part of the country.

How and When to Plant Palm Trees

Once you've found a palm that fits your location, it's time to plant it. This is a crucial stage in your palm's life, and knowing the correct preparations is key. Avoid planting palm trees during dry seasons—young palms are more susceptible to damage from weather changes. The best time to plant palms is during spring when the soil temperatures warm up. This way the palms get 5 to 6 months to grow before cooler weather returns.

Palm species vary greatly in their sensitivity to cold. Some palms can handle temperatures in the high teens for short periods, while others are damaged when temperatures hit 45°F. Know the freezing patterns of your region and make sure to buy a palm that can handle it.

Dig a Hole and Plant Root Ball

When you're ready to plant your palm, dig a hole at least twice as wide as the diameter of the root ball, and make the hole no deeper than the root ball. Be sure to exercise caution when handling your new palm tree, especially toward the heart, which is the delicate part from which the leaves grow. If the heart cracks or shatters, your palm could experience stunted growth or even die.

You should also handle the root ball with care when removing it from the container—it may be easier to cut the container away from the palm to prevent root damage. Once the palm is out of the pot, level the hole so the bottom of its trunk is flush with the soil level of the yard, then backfill it with loose soil to help promote root growth.

Bracing Your Palm Tree

Palm trees need support after planting. Bracing a palm typically works better than staking, because palm trunks are often smooth, causing ties to slip down the trunk. Because a field-grown palm often has a smaller root ball than a container-grown plant, it's more top-heavy and therefore susceptible to toppling over in heavy winds. To prevent this, brace your palm in place for at least a year, or until it has reestablished sufficient roots to stay anchored.

To start bracing your palm, take three or four braces of 2x4 lumber and equally space them around the palm. Make them long enough and place their bottom ends far enough from the palm tree to allow support in strong winds. Fasten these braces to the palm by wrapping burlap around the trunk at the appropriate height to protect the trunk from scratches and scrapes. From there, secure an equal number of small pieces of wood with metal bands or similar ties that will not allow the wood to slip up or down the palm during high winds. Securely nail the braces into the small pieces of wood—never nail directly into the palm. At the bottom of each brace, insert a 2x4 stake into the ground to nail the brace into. Leave the braces in place for one year or until the palm has reestablished sufficient roots to stay anchored.

Palm Tree Care Tips

Palm trees are low-to-no-maintenance once they're planted and thriving. Focus on irrigation, mulching, and a bit of pruning. Fertilization may also be needed every once in a while.


Some palm trees require a lot of sun, while others do fine in less light. Pay attention to what your type of palm needs, particularly if you're growing indoor plants.

Soil and Water

Palm trees will do fine planted in many types of soils, but they prefer a moist, loose, and well-drained soil. Too much water and soggy conditions can become a problem for palm trees. Sandy loam soil is usually the best option for palms.

If your soil drains well, use a mulch to retain moisture and keep out weeds. As the mulch breaks down, it will enrich the soil around the palm. Apply a 2- to 4-inch-deep layer, with it thinner near the trunk and thicker over the root zone. This will help keep excess mulch from piling up, which can cause rot and fungal disease.

New palms should also be watered frequently to help form more roots. Make a small dam on the soil surface around the outside of the root ball, then add water inside the dam to direct water into the root zone. If you're replanting a field-grown palm, it's going to need extra watering—because these trees have had their roots cut, they need all the help they can get reaching water. That being said, keep in mind that too much water may discourage roots from growing, delaying the palm's progress.

Watering three or four times a week is sufficient for most species, except moisture-loving palms, which will need more frequent watering. After three to four weeks, you can gradually cut back on watering to four or five times a week for another period of three to four weeks. Do this until your watering schedule is down to three or four times a week. If a palm's lower leaves turn yellow and brown, this could be a sign that it's thirsty for more water. However, be aware of drainage, because too much water can cause roots to rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Warm temperatures and humidity are not a problem for the majority of palms. The bigger concern for these trees is protection from cold snaps and unseasonable temperature drops.

Protecting your palm from cold damage can be simple. If you have a cold-sensitive palm, plant it in a warm microclimate, such as behind a windbreak or in a sheltered courtyard. This will protect it from the chill of winter winds. You can also take potted palms indoors before freezing temperatures arrive. If the palm is too heavy to move, drape a lightweight blanket or sheet over your palm to trap heat inside and keep your plant 4 or 5 degrees warmer than the air.

If your area expects unusually cold temperatures, protect your palm with an outdoor propane heater, while keeping the heater far enough from the palm to prevent burns. You may also water the soil around the palm prior to a cold snap; moist soil stays warm longer because water loses heat less rapidly than dry soil. Take care to keep water off the palm—when water freezes on the palm, it causes damage to the plant tissues below.


Give your palm two to four weeks to acclimate to your garden before applying any fertilizer. Once the plant is established, fertilize it four times a year using a complete fertilizer that contains two parts nitrogen, one part phosphorus, and three parts potassium along with one part magnesium.


Pruning palm trees is actually quite simple. Remove dead fronds and old fruit stems. Once the old fronds turn completely brown, it's safe to prune them from the palm. Just make sure you wait until there is no green left on the frond. Use a hand pruner for smaller palms and a sharp pruning saw for larger leaf stems. Whichever pruning tool you choose, treat it with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide in between pruning different palms—this helps prevent the spread of disease from plant to plant.

When removing a leaf, cut it as close to the trunk as possible. The remaining leaf base will eventually fall off, but it may take several years. If you try to strip it off before it's ready to fall off, you can scar the trunk. If you have a large palm tree and can't reach old leaves with a pole saw, decide how important it is to prune your palm tree. Eventually, the palm will shed its old fronds, but if you don't want to wait, you have a couple of options, including hiring a cherry picker or a tree climber.

Potting and Repotting Palm Trees

Select a palm variety either slow-growing or low-growing if you want to plant it in a pot. It should be able to stay in that container for 2-4 years. Potted palms will need to be watered more frequently than outdoor plants, since the soil they have to draw nutrients from is limited to what's in the container.

Confining their roots is the best way for palms to be potted, so they may need repotting only every two to three years, depending on how the roots grow in the pot. If repotting is needed, only do it in spring or early summer if possible. To avoid damage, palms should be carefully handled when repotting since their root systems tend to be fragile.

Pests and Problems

Fertilizer burn, nutrient deficiency, overwatering, off-balance pH levels, or inhospitable temperatures and humidity levels can all be problems for palm trees. Roaches, aphids, mealybugs and other insects can harm palm trees, leaving holes in trunks and discolored and drooping fronds behind.

You should be cautious with weed-control products, especially on new palm trees. Some palm species are sensitive to herbicides and can suffer damage if the herbicide comes in contact with green stems, foliage, or exposed roots. This may result in brown leaf spots, browning foliage, deformed new growth, and death. It's a good idea to hand-pull weeds until the palm is more stable and grown.

How to Propagate Palm Trees

Palms can only be grown from seeds, not from cuttings. You can divide a palm and replant the divided part to grow a new tree, but that will involve dividing the roots.

Types of Palm Trees

Date Palm

The date palm is a slow-growing variety and of the most common palm trees seen in warmer locations. It's commonly grown for its decorative properties, not its fruit. A smaller variety, the pygmy date palm, grows as a bush instead of a tree.

Bamboo Palm

This low-growing shrub is a great option for an indoor palm plant. This genus (Chamaedorea)
has over 100 species, so there are lots of options for indoor plants or outdoor shrubs. They're easy-care and generally have few problems.

Blue Hesper Palm

This desert-dweller, when grown in the sun, has a blue-silver tint to its leaves. It's a great choice for a drought-tolerant landscape plan. When in bloom, they boast white flowers that only add to their appeal.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which palm trees have edible fruit?

    The palm species that grow in the United States that have edible fruit include Date Palm, Senegal Date Palm, Saw Palmetto, and Jelly Palm, and Coconut Palm.

    The most popular type of palm fruit is arguably the Coconut Palm. It will bear fruit only when grown outdoors. Coconuts also offer skin oils and coconut water for drinking.

  • What can palm trees be used for?

    The different parts of palm trees are useful for many things. Palm fronds can be used for thatched roofs for outdoor living spaces. The fronds can be dried and woven into floor mats, wall hangings, and baskets.

    Palm oil is used in everything from soap to cooking. Palm wax is used to make candles. There's even palm wine, made from the fermented sap of Date Palm and Coconut Palm trees.

  • Are palm trees native to Hawaii?

    Despite how naturally palm trees fit in the tropical environment of Hawaii, the only native plant to the islands is the Loulu Palm. Most other varieties on the islands were brought in by Polynesian settlers.

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