How To Plant A Palm Tree

When planted right and in the right spot, Palm trees are very easy to grow and care for in the ground or in containers.

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know...

Cultural Preferences

Soil Preferences

Palm trees will tolerate a wide range of soils, however prefer a moist but loose and well-drained soil with average fertility. As with so many other ornamental plants, constantly soggy or wet soils can be problematic. We suggest amending heavy clay soils at a 50/50 ratio with bagged top-soil, sand and/or gravel, or plant the root ball above ground level in a raised mound to ensure good drainage.

How To Test Soil Drainage  

If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant your palm, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. 

To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions and possibly a need to add organic matter to help retain some moisture. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound above ground level, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

Soil pH

Palm trees grow best in a moderately acid to slightly alkaline soil ranging between 5.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. 

How To Test Soil pH  

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. 

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, or whether or not it's suitable for growing a palm tree, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Light Preferences

Palm trees will grow in full sun to part shade. The more sun the better. That being said, there are some palms that like life on the shady side. Know the sun needs of your specific variety of palm before choosing a planting site.

How To Plant A Palm Tree

Scroll down for container planting instructions.

Step 1

Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and no deeper than the root ball. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 2

Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area you might consider amending the native soil. When planting a palm in dense clay or other compacted soil it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some good organic matter such as bagged top soil, sand, and/or small gravel at a 50/50 ratio with the soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy or quick-draining soil consider mixing in some top soil to help retain moisture. When planting in a moist but well-drained and loose soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.

Step 3

To remove your palm from the container it was growing in squeeze or pound on the sides of the pot to loosen the root ball. Then, firmly grasp the base of the palm and try to very gently lift and remove the root ball from the container. If the root ball is stuck in the container use snips, a utility knife or other cutting tool to cut the container away. 

Step 4

To plant, set your palm in the planting hole so that the top edge of the root ball is at or slightly above ground level to allow for settling. When planting in clay soil plant with the top edge of the root ball about 2 to 3 inches above ground level. If your soil is moderately drained, meaning it drains somewhat slowly after rain, the top of the root ball should be 6 or more inches above ground level. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height. 

NOTE: If the soil in the planting area is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) improve draiange or select a different plant species tolerant of wet soils. 

Step 5

After setting your palm in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the trunk straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting the root ball higher than ground level taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level, as shown in the planting diagram above. To avoid suffocating your palm, avoid placing any soil on top of the root ball.

Step 6 (Optional)

When planting your palm in a site far away from a water source and in well-drained soil, you can use remaining soil mixture to build a 3 inch high water retaining berm (catch basin) around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation often reducing the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a growing season or two.

Step 7

Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted palm with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development. Root Stimulator reduces plant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.

Step 8

To conserve moisture and suppress weed growth, spread a 1-inch layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or stone mulch or a 2-inch layer of pine straw around the planting area. Avoid the use of freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your palm as this could cause the bark to rot.

How To Plant A Palm In Container

Palm trees growing in pots appreciate a moist but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil can and often will cause root rot or other harmful or deadly plant diseases. Therefore, I choose a pot with a drainage hole(s) and use a quality potting soil or potting mix, or a 50/50 combination thereof. To enhance drainage, you might consider adding 20% perlite or pumice to the soil mixture. 

Choose a container that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before shifting up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 6-8 inches or more in width than the root ball of your plant. 

Container color will matter as well. Not only will you want to pick a color of container that goes well with the foliage and berry color of your Palm tree, you'll also want to pick a container that matches the style of your home or other structures and other plants in the surrounding environment. 

Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.

Container Planting Instructions

Step 1

Before filling your container with the soil mix, we recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drain holes from becoming stopped up with soil. If you place gravel or other materials in the bottom of the container lay the fabric over it.

Step 2

To remove your palm from the container it was growing in squeeze or pound on the sides of the pot to loosen the root ball. Then, firmly grasp the base of the palm and try to very gently lift and remove the root ball from the container. If the root ball is stuck in the container use snips, a utility knife or other cutting tool to cut the container away. 

Step 3

Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set your palm in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing some soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit 1/2 to 1" below the rim of the container.

Step 4

Backfill with your potting soil around root ball, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.

Step 5

Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more potting mix if settling occurs during watering.

Step 6 (Optional)
Apply a 1/2" layer of wood chips or stone mulch to soil surface for decorative purposes and to help conserve moisture.

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Plant Long & Prosper!

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