Whether you are trying to move a palm tree from one location to another one in your garden or getting a field grown palm tree from a nursery, the planting steps would be the same.
Understanding how palm roots grow and respond to being cut will help you avoid damaging them and increase palms survival rate. Palm trees don’t have woody roots like broadleaf trees. They have a lot of small roots, tightly packed together, growing from the base of the trunk, similar to grass roots. Unlike broadleaf trees, palm roots don’t increase in diameter and remaining the same size as they first emerged from the base of the palm.
Research showed that different palm species respond differently to root cutting. Roots of some palms like Sabal palmetto will die back after being cut and will be replaced by the new roots. So, it really doesn’t matter how close to the palm base you cut them. In some palms like coconut palm, half of the cut roots will survival no matter how close you cut it. It will produce very few new roots after transplanting.
However, most palm species depend on the existing root survival. If you are not sure how sensitive a particular palm species is to root cutting, leave enough distance from the trunk. I would recommend leaving at least 3 feet. Since rootball is three-dimensional, you will also need to dig 3 feet down.
It is a little more traumatizing for the palm being transplanted from one location to another than from the pot into the ground, since when you are moving the palm from the pot, you can just slide it out and put it into the ground without damaging the roots. Be prepared for your palm to undergo so called “transplant shock”. Transplant shock happens when palm tree experiences number of stresses after being recently transplanted. Those stress include new soil, new sunlight levels, new temperatures.
Step 1. Leaf Removal. To reduce amount of water stress in transplanted palms, a lot of nurseries remove ½ to ⅔ of the old palm leaves. I’ve also seen some people removing all of the leaves. From my personal experience and by looking at the recent research, leaving some leaves on the palm will significantly improve regrowth and survival rate. If you’ve visited Florida during spring months, you’ve probably seen a lot of just planted palms all looking like a rooster.
Step 2. Get the soil moist. Since palms lose some of the roots, they are often stressed by lack of sufficient water. So, prior to digging, get the soil moist around the palm. If the palm is small, it can be dug out by hand or with mechanical tree spades. If the palm is over 30 gallon, you will need a tractor or a crane depending on the size supporting and lifting the palm.
Step 3. Tying up the fronds. Before lifting the palm with a crane, tie the fronds together to prevent leaf damage. Also, slender palms can easily snap. To avoid that, attach 2 splits to the trunk on opposite sides and the leaf bundle.
Step 4. Lifting the palm. Since the bark can be easily damaged and damaged areas leave the tree vulnerable to insects and fungus, never attach chain, ropes or cables directly to the trunk. Wrap a nylon slings around the trunk and then attach it to the crane.
Step 5. Palm Transporting. To transport a larger palm tree you will need some heavy equipment. If transported by a pick-up truck make sure to wrap the entire palm with a damp tarp. This will not only protect from damaging roots, bark, and fronds, but will also help to prevent roots from drying out from the wind during the trip.
Step 6. Planting the palm. Try to plant it as soon as possible. If you can’t, place it in a shady spot and keep the roots moist. Dig a hole twice the diameter for the root ball. Since palms require a good drainage, add some sand to the soil mix. I like to use three parts of native soil with one part of organic soil mix and one part of sand.
The palm should be planted on the same depth at which it was growing before. Planting it too deep may result in water stress and nutrient deficiencies. Planting the palm too high is also a not a good idea. Since roots of the palm have not established yet, wind can actually blow it over. Saturate the soil with water before planting. Center the tree in a hole, then backfile the soil making sure there are not air pockets.
Step 7. Soil barrier. After you are done backfilling, create a soil barrier on the perimeter of the tree to retain the water.
Step 8. Watering. Leave a water hose with slowly dripping water for 20 min to make sure soil around the root ball is moist. It takes time for the soil to absorb water.
Step 9. Untying the leaves. There are a lot of arguments about this one. Recent research shows that keeping the leaves tied up will not improve the growth, but might provide a favorable environment for plant diseases. I would strongly recommend untying the palm fronds right after planting.
Step 10. Creating support. Tall tree should be supported by timbers. Never nail anything directly into the trunk. Attach short lengths of lumber to the trunk and nail four or five support timbers into these pieces. Leave the support for 1 year.
Step 11. Adding mulch. Add about 3″ layer of pine straw, compost, or pulverized bark around the tree.
Step 12. Fertilization. Do NOT fertilize the palm until you see new growth. I see a lot of articles on Internet recommending to apply a fertilizer right after transplanting the palm. Until the palm grows a new root system there is really no need to fertilize it. In about two months apply slow release fertilizer.
After transplanting, it will take your palm some time to develop a new root system. During this time, it will be suffering from water stress. That is why you should establish a frequent watering schedule. Water the palm every 2 days for 2-3 weeks. After, you can go to the regular schedule. Be prepared for your palm to experience a “transplant shock”. There is little you can do. The palm needs to get used to the new place and grow new roots. It might take up to 4 months for the palm to get acclimatize. Be patient.
How to Transplant Large Palm Trees From One Location to Another
I found a great video that shows how to transplant large palm trees using a heavy equipment. The few things I would do differently is I would leave more space around the trunk for the roots, remove 1/2 of the fronds before digging and tie remaining fronds together to avoid the damage.
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