How To Grow Palm Trees | Indoors and Outside

Did you know there are over 2,500 species of palms in the world? And you can grow many of them in your home or landscape with relative ease.

A palm is any plant within the Arecaceae family. The most iconic palms have pinnate fronds atop tall, slender trunks. However, they come in all shapes and sizes, including trees, shrubs, and vines.

Palm trees grow in a variety of climates. Some can even tolerate relatively cold winters. In this article, I’ll cover the basics of how to grow palm trees both indoors and outdoors.

Growing Indoor Palm Trees

Palm trees make stunning houseplants if you’re able to meet their needs. The hardest part about growing palms indoors is their love of high humidity.

Selecting a palm species suited for indoors is also key. Some of the most popular and easiest to grow to include the parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans) and areca palm (Dypsis lutescens).

  • Sun: Bright, indirect light
  • Watering: Allow the soil to dry between waterings
  • Size: Up to 6 feet tall indoors, Up to 50+ feet outdoors
  • Temperature: 40-100°F
  • Humidity: 40-50%
  • Propagation: Via seed or offshoots
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic
  • Flowers: Large inflorescences of varying colors on mature trees

1. Bright, Indirect Light

The best strategy is to place indoor palm trees somewhere that receive bright, indirect sunlight. An example of this would be a sunny window that is covered with a sheer curtain or partially shaded by trees in the landscape. Palm trees also grow well in east- and west-facing windows that receive less than 4 hours of direct sun per day.

Modern windows block a surprising amount of UV light. Keep this in mind if you choose to place your potted palm tree next to an open window or somewhere like a covered porch. You might find that the tree receives too much direct light in these locations even if they seem no brighter than its usual environment.

2. Watering Needs of Indoor Palm Plants

On average, indoor palm trees should be watered no more than twice per week. Young palms may require slightly more frequent watering, especially if they are planted in small containers that dry out quickly.

Palm trees tolerate underwatering far better than overwatering. Rather than water your palm tree after a certain number of days, I recommend monitoring the soil. Water only when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch.

3. Temperature Requirements

One thing all palm trees have in common is a love of warm temperatures. While some species boast slightly better cold tolerance than others, no palm will thrive in temperatures below 50°F.

4. Soil Moisture and Humidity

Palm trees grow best in sandy soil that drains quickly. Adding a porous material like peat moss to your palm tree’s soil will improve moisture retention without becoming soggy. 

Always allow excess water to drain out of your palm tree’s container. Do not place the container atop a saucer that will collect standing water (if you must use a saucer to protect the floor from water damage, elevate the tree’s container an inch or so above it).

While palm trees don’t like wet soil, they do enjoy high humidity. Placing a household humidifier near your indoor palm can prevent the fronds from drying out, particularly in the wintertime.

5. Soil Mix

I recommend using potting soil formulated for palm trees. Most potting mixes advertised for succulents and cacti will also meet the needs of an indoor palm tree. If you can’t get your hands on one of these specialty formulas, however, all-purpose potting soil will work as well.

6. Fertilizing Palms

Fertilize indoor palm trees during the growing season using an all-purpose houseplant formula or one designed for palms specifically. Be sure to select a formula with sufficient potassium and manganese — deficiencies of these nutrients are quite common in palm trees.

7. Potting and Re-Potting

Palm trees are very prone to stress from repotting and typically grow just fine when slightly root-bound. Keeping your indoor palm in a tight container will also slow its growth, so you shouldn’t be in any rush to relocate it to a larger pot.

How To Grow Palm Trees Outdoors

Those fortunate enough to live where winters are mild and summers are warm can enjoy palm trees grown outdoors. Cold-hardy palm varieties typically grow in USDA zones 7 and warmer, though they can also survive in parts of zone 6 with proper care.

The native environments of palm trees are surprisingly varied. Be sure to select a species that will grow well in your climate as well as suit the individual needs of your landscape.

1. Bright, Indirect Light

One of the most important factors when selecting a location for your outdoor palm tree is light exposure. The right amount of light will ensure your palm tree will grow fast and maintain healthy fronds. Remember that landscape palms can vary greatly in their light requirements. Always take your individual tree’s needs into account. 

A surprising number of palm species grow best when exposed to bright, indirect light versus full sun. Consider planting such palms near larger trees that will provide some shade during the hottest part of the day.

2. Watering Requirements

It’s a common misconception that all palm species enjoy wet growing conditions. While there are some exceptions, most palm trees grow best in well-draining soil that is never waterlogged. 

Water newly planted palms often during the first couple of weeks. Once trees are established, cut back to watering only when needed. The ideal palm species for your property will survive off of natural rainfall for most of the year.

Outdoor palm trees grown in containers will need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground. Keep a close eye on the soil moisture level when the weather is particularly hot and dry.

3. Temperature and Humidity

Most palm trees need temperatures above 40°F to survive. Short periods of cold can be tolerated but are far from ideal. I recommend only planting palm trees that can easily survive your climate’s coldest annual temperatures.

Humidity is also important. If you live in a more arid region, select palm species that grow well in low humidity. 

4. Soil And Nutrients

When planting a palm tree, dig a hole twice as big as the root ball.

Palm trees prefer sandy, well-draining soil. Native soil that is high in clay should be amended with loose topsoil or sand.

A soil test is the best way to determine if your native soil is suitable for a palm tree. Your local extension office can provide a detailed soil analysis and offer suggestions to improve its quality.

5. Fertilizing Outdoor Palms

Apply a slow-release palm fertilizer in the spring to prepare for the growing season. Palm trees growing in less-fertile soil can be fertilized again in early fall.

Palm tree root systems tend to be shallow and wide. When fertilizing, amend the soil several feet from the trunk to access as much of the root system as possible.

Palm trees can react poorly to high-nitrogen fertilizers used in lawns and gardens. Avoid the use of turf fertilizers near palm trees.

6. When To Overwinter Palm Trees

Palm trees appropriate for your climate should survive winter without special protection. With that said, winterizing will protect your palm trees’ foliage when the temperatures drop below normal for a few days.

I recommend keeping an eye on the forecast and winterizing just before low temperatures are expected. You shouldn’t completely cover your palm tree for longer than 3 to 5 days. 

In-ground trees can be insulated with a thick layer of organic mulch placed around the trunk and a tree blanket secured around the foliage. Container-grown palms can be temporarily moved into a shed or garage or — if too heavy to relocate — covered with a blanket.

Palm Tree Maintenance

Aside from routine care like fertilizing and irrigation, established palm trees require minimal maintenance. This makes them very attractive to hands-off gardeners, especially in climates where deciduous trees struggle to grow.

Pruning Palm Trees

Pruning can be used to clear away lower leaves that have died. Note that palm trees are unique in that they sap nutrients from dying leaves. Old leaves should only be removed when they turn completely brown.

Palm trees don’t require pruning to maintain their size or shape. You should never cut from the center or top of a palm tree. Doing so will damage the terminal bud and prevent future growth.

Pest Control

Palm trees growing indoors or in the landscape may be infested with common pests like spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, and fungus gnats. In temperate climates where palm trees are relatively common, you may encounter more specialized pests like the:

  • Palm aphid
  • Palm leaf skeletonizer
  • Giant palm borer
  • Banana moth
  • Palmetto weevil
  • Palm leaf scale

Cultural control methods are always the ideal first line of defense. I recommend familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of common palm pests in your area so you can identify infestations immediately.

Infested container-grown palm trees should be quarantined and treated with an appropriate insecticide. Severe infestations of landscape palms may require professional treatments, especially if there are multiple vulnerable trees on the property.

Common Problems

Palm trees are generally healthy plants. They don’t just up and fall ill on a whim. In other words, symptoms like leaf drop or discoloration can usually be traced back to factors like nutritional deficiencies or environmental stressors.

If you’re ever faced with an unwell palm tree that you’re unsure how to treat, I strongly recommend hiring a professional in your area. An arborist who specializes in palm trees can answer all of your questions and prescribe the best strategy for a full recovery.

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellow palm leaves are often a symptom of poor drainage or overwatering. Outdoor palm trees that prefer arid climates or are planted in a low-lying area of your property may be more susceptible to moisture issues.

If your palm tree appears yellow only between the leaf veins, it may be deficient in iron or manganese. 

Leaves Turning Brown

A potassium deficiency will cause a palm tree’s fronds to turn brown at the tips. This is a very common nutritional problem in many palm species and should be ruled out before trying other treatments.

Brown fronds could also indicate a lack of moisture in the air, fertilizer burn from overfeeding or run-off, or root rot from poor drainage.

Leaves Falling

Palm trees naturally lose old leaves as new ones fill in. There’s no reason to worry about moderate leaf drop that only affects the lowermost fronds.

Excessive leaf drop indicates that something is wrong with your palm tree’s care. Unfortunately, the only way to narrow down the cause of these falling leaves is to take a full inventory of your palm’s health and environment.

You may also find this article on How To Remove A Palm Tree Stump And Roots interesting

Growing Palm Trees From Cuttings

Countless landscape plants — including some types of deciduous trees — can be easily propagated via cuttings. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for palms.

You can, however, propagate palm trees by taking pups from the original plant. Pups are small offshoots that grow from the roots of a mature palm. Pups generally need to stay attached to the parent plant for several years before being separated and transplanted.

Note that only a few true palms produce viable pups, the most popular being the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). This propagation method is more common with the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) and ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), neither of which are true palm trees.

Popular Palm Plant Varieties

While there are thousands of different palm species, surprisingly few are grown as ornamentals. Those that tend to be low-maintenance and tolerate a wide range of environments.

The most popular palm trees grown as houseplants include the:

  • Parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
  • Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)
  • Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis)
  • Majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis)
  • Cascade palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum)

Some noteworthy landscape palms include the:

  • Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis)
  • Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)
  • California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera)
  • Cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto)

FAQs How To Grow Palm Trees

References

University of California Pest Management Program

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.