Palm trees nutritional deficiencies are easily prevented by following a yearly fertilization program. The right combination of the main elements like nitrogen, phosphate and potassium is the most important in a palm’s diet.
Deficiencies of one or more nutrients can cause numerous health problems and affect the overall appeal of tree.
As a general rule, fertilize palm trees 2-3 times a year, during growing season, with a fertilizer specially formulated for palm trees. The best way to apply the fertilizer is to broadcast it around the entire root zone of the plant avoiding getting too close to the trunk.
When To Fertilize Your Palm Tree
While the fertilizing schedule depends on the product you use, the best time to fertilize palm trees is during growth season (end of March through end of October). If you live in warm climate with temperatures that don’t go below freezing, you might need to apply it up to four times a year.
Since palms can be grown not only in tropical climates, there are some areas where the temperatures drop below freezing. If you live in one of those areas, stop fertilizing a few months before the first cold snap.
Now, some palm enthusiasts believe that fertilizing during winter season will help the plant to maintain strength and be ready for growing season in the Spring. I disagree. I think it promotes growth at the wrong time which weakens the tree before cold weather.
If you have a newly planted palm, don’t fertilize it until after it puts out a new spear, I would say about 2 month after planting. Mature palms are different and should follow their normal fertilization schedule.
How To Fertilize a Palm Tree Step-by-Step
Fertilizing palm trees is not much different from fertilizing any other type of plants. You want to have the right quality fertilizer, follow the schedule and apply the correct amount to avoid over-fertilization.
Consider spending a little more money on continues release formula because it is less labor intensive and will provide more benefit to the plants.
Step 1: Get a good quality slow release fertilizer
In this example we have Miracle-Gro Palm Tree Food. It has a slow release formula specially designed for palm trees with NPK ratio of 8-4-8 and other added micronutrients.
Step 2: Water the soil thoroughly
Don’t fertilize on a dry soil. Water the area thoroughly first.
Step 3: Apply fertilizer
Don’t put all fertilizer in one pile. Scatter it all around the root area of the tree, which is approximately the extension of the canopy. If there is mulch, move it to the side before adding fertilizer.
Step 4: Work fertilizer into the soil
If the soil is not too hard, work the fertilizer into the 1-3″ of the soil.
Step 5: Water again thoroughly
Water the soil again and you are done. The Miracle-Gro Palm Tree Food lasts up to 6 weeks.
Here is a great step-by-step video that you can follow.
How Often Do I Need To Fertilize a Palm Tree
In reality, the frequency of fertilization greatly depends on your soil type and the amount of rain your area is getting.
In Florida, where the soil is sandy and the rains are heavy during the growing season, the reservoir of essential nutrients is very low. Nutrients are quickly leached from this type of soil by heavy rains. So, you will need to fertilize it 3-4 times a year to keep up adequate nutrient levels.
In California, on another hand, rainfall is lower and soils are generally much better quality. Therefore, you can probably get away with 2-3 fertilization a year.
What Nutrients Does My Palm Need
Providing the right combination of nutrients for your palm is one of the secrets to growing healthy and beautiful palms. And, if you hated chemistry in school as much as I did, this might be a struggle for you, but I promise to make it as easy as possible.
The three most important elements that your palm needs are Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P), and Potassium (K). In addition, it requires micronutrients like Magnesium (Mg), Manganese (Mn) and Iron (Fe) which are also important.
Potassium, also known as Potash, is the most important element for the palm trees. Nitrogen and Magnesium are also needed in relatively large amounts. The micronutrients Manganese and Iron should also be present but less important. Phosphorus which is required by most palms in large amounts is relatively unimportant.
As you can see, there are only five elements to worry about. Let’s talk about proportions. When buying a fertilizer, you will see three numbers on the front or the back of the package like: 12-4-12 or 15-5-15 or 3-1-2. It’s the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium) ratio. The higher the number, the stronger the fertilizer is.
The recommended formula should have the same amount of Nitrogen (N) and Potassium (K). Make sure that N and K rates are equivalent.
BTW, it’s critical to use fertilizer in a slow-realease form. If the nutrients are released too quickly, the roots can absorb only a portion of them while the rest of the fertilizer is wasted.
That is why it is important to use a good quality continuous release formula that will maintain the right level of nutrients over time even during heavy rains.
Here are some great examples of my favorite slow release fertilizers. Jobes has (NPK) 10-5-10 formula with micronutrients is a perfect combination for palm trees.
Another one with NPK of 12-4-12 and the micronutrients.
5 Best Palm Trees Fertilizers
Providing your palm tree with a quality fertilizer or plant food “supplements” is important, so it can maintain its good “health.”
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s better to use fertilizer that has continuous release formula that feeds your palm tree for few months rather than using a cheap fertilizer that will wash away after 2-3 rains.
While there are a lot of different products on the market, here are my five favorite fertilizers. All of them have slow-release formula and the best NPK ratio for your palm.
1. Jobe’s Palm Outdoor Fertilizer Spikes
If you are looking for an easy to use fertilizer that has a slow release formula, Jobe’s Palm Fertilizer will be your best pick. This product promotes root development and the long-term vitality of all types of palms.
It has a slow release formula with NPK 10-5-10 that is design to effectively fertilize your palms while protecting them from the common deficiencies of Manganese, Magnesium, Potassium and Iron.
When placed underground near the feeder roots of your palm, the spikes release their nutrients where the tree can best use them. Special binders ensure that the fertilizer dissolves slowly and safely and feeds your tree for up to 6 months. Here is Jobe’s Outdoor Palm Fertilizer and Jobe’s Indoor Palm Fertilizer.
2. Jobe’s Organics Palm Tree Fertilizer
With over 4,000 five star reviews on Amazon, it is safe to say that Jobe’s Organics is one BEST fertilizer on today’s market. Made by the same company, it delivers long term benefits without synthetic chemical and toxic ingredients.
What’s in it? It contains Biozome which is a combination of healthy bacteria, Mycorrhizal fungi and Archaea. This unique and proprietary blend of beneficial microorganisms with NPK of 4-2-4 improves soil quality, increases root mass, while promoting plant growth and helping your garden resist disease, insects, drought and other unfavorable conditions within a growing season.
More importantly, it is safe for use around kids and pets. Since it comes in granular form, you will need to measure it before application. Lasts up to 3 months.
3. Miracle-Gro Palm Tree Food
If you are looking for an easy to apply fertilizer, Miracle-Gro is a great one. Formulated specially for palm trees, it has slow release formula with NPK of 8-4-8. Added magnesium, iron and manganese help prevent fronds from yellowing and curling while slow release nitrogen helps prevent overfeeding and burning.
This is one of the best palm tree fertilizers on today’s market. It is fast, efficient, long lasting method of fertilizing palm trees and has all the nutrients your palm trees need. Each bag contains 15 feedings (based on 10 ft tree). Lasts up to 6 weeks.
4. Carl Pool Palm Food
Another great option is Palm Food by Carl Pool. Although it’s not an organic formula, it contains the extra levels of magnesium and manganese. Also, it has 3 different nitrogen sources that give your palms both immediate and longer feeding. Because it uses insoluble nitrogen, it resists leaching and won’t contaminate groundwater.
This is a very affective fertilizer that many professionals use. Its slow-realeas formula has NPK of 12-4-12 ratio with 5% of Magnesium and 2% of Manganese. Lasts up to 3-4 months.
5. Dr. Earth Exotic Blend Palm, Tropical & Hibiscus Fertilizer
Last but not least, the Organic Dr. Earth Exotic Blend is the only Non-GMO Project Verified fertilizer in US. It can be used not only for palms, but also for other tropical and sub-tropical plants. Its organic formula has no synthetic chemicals or other toxic ingredients and is people and pet safe.
It contains feed grade ingredients enriched with proteins, multi-minerals, carbohydrates, humic acids & and trace elements that create healthy soil for growing strong, healthy palms.
This is a great organic fertilizer especially if you have other tropical plants growing right next to your palm tree. You don’t want to buy two different fertilizers. It has a NPK of 5-4-6 with 2% Magnesium. Lasts up to 2 months.
Signs Of Nutrient Deficiencies In Palms
This is a very large topic that deserves its own post, but I still want to say a few words about nutrient deficiencies before we talk about the best fertilizers.
- Nitrogen (N) Deficiency – You will notice general yellowing of the leaves. First the older leaves will start to turn light green color. As the deficiency progresses, the entire canopy will become abnormally yellow-greenish.
- Potassium (K) Deficiency – Shows up as yellow spotting on older leaves, which in severe cases can spread to the youngest leaves.
- Magnesium (Mg) Deficiency – On older leaves, the tips on the leaflet will appear bright yellow extending toward the leaf stem. Eventually the newer leaves will be affected as well.
- Manganese (Mn) Deficiency – Also called “Frizzletop”, generally shows up on newest leaves. The new growth emerges deformed with dead, brown areas.
- Iron (Fe) Deficiency – You will notice that the new leaves are turning yellowish with green veining.
If you are new to gardening, this might sound confusing since most of the deficiencies have the same symptom of yellowing, so it is hard to tell them apart. If you suspect your palm is suffering from deficiency, I suggest just applying a good quality fertilizer.
You can read more about nutrient deficiency in palms on the University of Florida site. They have some good examples of deficiencies in different palm species.
Is Epsom Salt Good Fertilizer For Palm Trees
Epsom salt is mineral compound made of magnesium and sulfur. So, you can use Epson salt as a fertilizer for palm trees that are suffering from Magnesium deficiency.
While Epson salt is a great supplement, it can’t replace palm fertilizer because palms also need other elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
For 10ft palm tree you can use around 2 lbs of Epson salt. First, spread the salt around the root area of the palm tree. Ovoid getting too close to the trunk. Next, water the area thoroughly ensuring the salt gets dissolve. Repeat 3 times during growing season.
Homemade Fertilizer For Palm Trees
If you have a lot of trees, fertilizing all of them each year might cost you an arm and a leg. To safe money, many yard owners are trying to come up with homemade fertilizer.
One of the homemade fertilizer recipes I found online was this one:
1/2 can of beer,
1 cup of Epsom salts
1/4 cup of ammonia
1 cup of water
Mix it all together and use 1 ounce per 1 gallon of water. Sadly, this is a scam. It’s not going to work. The first problem is that the concertation of Magnesium is much higher than Nitrogen. Also, there is no potassium nor phosphorus except for a small amount in the beer.
Since this is in a liquid form, it will be washed away with the first rain and roots won’t have enough time to absorb anything. Basically you are wasting your money and your time without providing any benefit to the plant.
Top 10 Palm Tree Fertilization Mistakes
- Fertilizing a newly planted palm. Never fertilize a newly planted palm, even if it says that is safe to do so on the fertilizer package. Give it around 2 months.
- Putting fertilizer too close to the trunk. This can easily burn the palm tree trunk.
- Putting fertilizer too close to the roots when repotting a palm. That will burn the roots.
- Fertilizing during cold weather in the winter instead of the growing season.
- Using a cheap fertilizer that doesn’t have all the nutrient elements.
- Putting fertilizer in one pile instead of spreading it around the entire root area.
- Putting fertilizer on the crown of the palm instead of soil.
- Over-fertilizing a palm after noticing some nutrient deficiency. It’s better to under fertilize the palm than over-fertilize it.
- Fertilizing on a dry soil. I always recommend watering it first.
- Applying only foliar spray fertilizers.