Planting palm trees is not much different from the way you would plant any other kind of trees. Nursery-grown palms should be potted, balled or burlapped at the root. Try to plant your palm tree shortly after buying it.
If there is going to be a delay between purchasing and planting, make sure root ball is kept moist but not soaking. Palm Trees cannot live in pots for an indefinite period of time.
Typically, a palm can grow for two or three years in a pot. After that, the palm tree needs to be planted in the ground or re-potted in a larger pot with fresh soil.
Choosing The Right Palm
Before getting into the actual steps, I would like to talk about palm selection since this is one of the most important steps in planting a palm. When choosing a palm for you garden, you want to make sure you have the right environment for your tree to thrive.
Because different species prefer different conditions, think about the: cold tolerance, light requirements, water needs, growing rate, and soil type.
- Cold Tolerance. I would start with your Hardiness Zone. Do you live in the area warm enough for the palm you’ve selected? While most palms prefer a warm climate of the USDA Zones 9-11, there are some species that can tolerate cold temperatures of Zone 8 and even Zone 7.
- Light Requirements. Light is another important factor. If the selected spot is in the shade, I wouldn’t plant a palm that requires full sun.
- Water Requirements. If your palm prefers wet location, consider planting it closer to the sprinkler or in a low area. Palms that prefer dryer conditions may do better on a hill. I would also recommend planting it with other plants that have the same water requirements. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for you to control different amount of water in the same area.
- Room. Make sure palm has adequate room to grow. Measure the area to be sure the palm won’t be cramped by structures or other plants. If you have utility wires overhead, avoid planting tall trees in that area.
- Soil. What type of soil do you have? Is it sandy or is it clay? No matter what soil you have, you want to provide good drainage.
Transporting The Palm
Be careful when transporting and handling Palm Trees. Fragile bark is very easily damaged. Damaged areas will leave the tree vulnerable to insects and fungus.
Also, the heart, the area from which all the leaves grow, can be delicate. If the palm is shaken too much during the ride from the nursey, this heart can crack or shatter.
The damage may not become apparent for days or weeks afterward. As the result of such damage, the palm might die.
When Is The Best Time To Plant a Palm
When to plant a palm depends on where you live. In South Florida for example, you can plant all year-round. However, avoid planting during extremely hot months because watering a newly planted palm might be an issue.
If you live in the area where temperatures can drop near-freezing or even freezing, I would definitely plant it during Spring to Fall when the weather is warmer. Keep in mind, newly planted palms are more sensitive to low temperatures so you want to give them more time to establish before that cold snap comes.
Now, some palm enthusiasts believe that planting palms when it’s cold will provide roots with more time to develop before the fast Spring growth. I would say it depends on the area and type of plant.
Some species are pretty sturdy while others are a little more sensitive. I wouldn’t risk it after all the money I spent on the plant.
BTW, I also wanted to mention that it’s best to plant the palm later in the day when it’s a little cooler. That will give the tree all night to recover from transplant shock and replenish the moister it has lost during transplanting.
Why It’s Important to Acclimatize Palm Before Planting It
Another important step before planting your palm is acclimatization. If you’ve purchased a palm tree from the greenhouse or shade-grown environment, it is not used to full sun.
Palm trees that require partial shade should be fine in a shady spot, but what do you do if your palm tree requires full sun? Your palm tree will get sun burned if you plant it in the full sun right away.
Even if it was growing in full sun, your sun might be hotter and brighter. You need to slowly acclimatize your palm tree to the higher levels of sun light. It usually takes around four to six weeks and can be done in 2 ways:
- Put it in the pot, if it’s not in the pot already, and place it in the shady spot outside. Keep increasing light level a little bit every week till your palm tree gets used to the sun. After that, you can plant your palm in the full sun.
- Plant your palm in the full sun and cover it with plastic cover. You can put 4 sticks in the ground with a plastic cover on top. Every few weeks put more holes in the plastic cover to expose your palm tree to more sun light.
You need to acclimatize your palm tree slowly because it will be already in shock after transplanting and it doesn’t need extra stress from the sun.
Improving Drainage Before Planting a Palm
Good drainage is absolutely essential for growing a healthy palm tree. So it is importation to know what happens to the water when you water the plant or get a rain. And that greatly depends on your soil type. Sandy soil has much better drainage than the clay one.
You can do a simple drainage test by digging a small 15 inches deep hole and filling it with water. Wait for the water to go away and fill it again. If the water goes away in about two hours, you have excellent drainage. If the water flows away within the 12 hours, your drainage is ok. If even after a few days the water is still sitting there, there is a problem.
In that case, you will need to improve the drainage before planting a palm tree in that location. Otherwise, you will end up with a standing water that will eventually cause a root rot and your plant will die.
- You can drill holes in the bottom to loosen up the clay soil and to improve the drainage.
- Add some rocks to the bottom of the hole.
- Install a pipe that will take the water away from the plant.
Preparing Soil Before Planting a Palm
To amend, or not to amend, that is the question… After you dig a hole for your palm, and place the palm inside, you can backfill it with the native soil or your can mix that soil with sand and other materials to improve the drainage.
There are a lot of discussions on soil amendments. Some gardeners think that amending the soil improves the drainage and makes it easier for the roots to develop. Others, say it has little benefit and may cause problems later on.
Several universities have done studies about it and came to the conclusion that it is better for the palms to grow in its native soil. Otherwise, the plant’s roots tend to stay within the amended soil and not venture out into the surrounding soil. The planting hole acts like a container restricting development of the plant.
While I agree that the palm roots will eventually have to get used to the soil of your garden, I also think that mixing it together with organic soil mix will minimize the transplant shock. So, yes. I personally prefer amending the soil. Here is the ratio I recommend:
- Lava rock soil. If your soil is lava rock, a finer grade of lava cinders is a good backfill. You could add one part of organic matter to three parts of your native soil.
- Sandy soil. If you have a sandy soil, also one part of organic matter to three parts of your native soil.
- Limestone rock soil. If your soils is limestone rock, you could use #12 grit coarse sand. Add one part of the sand to three parts of your native soil.
- Clay soil. If you have clay soil, loosen the soil as much as you can by breaking large clods. Then add one part of coarse sand and one part of organic matter to three parts of the native soil.
Speaking of organic matter, you can use any materials available in your local area. It includes: cedar bark, aged leaf matter, bark mulch, ground bark, sawdust, aged lawn cuttings, sawdust and etc.
BTW, the best soil mix is based on Canadian peat moss. I use Sphagnum Peat Moss to make sure my soil has excellent drainage.
Palm Tree Planting Step-By-Step
At this point, you’ve already picked a palm and the location for it. You’ve checked the drainage, decided on the soil mix, and acclimatized the tree. Now it’s time to plant it.
Step 1: Dig a Hole
You need to make a hole wide enough to fit the root ball of the palm tree with plenty of room to spare. Making it twice as wide would be a good idea.
The hole should be just deep enough, so that the palm tree is planted at the depth at which it was grown. Do not plant it any deeper, as this may deprive the roots of nutrients and water.
If you are adding a soil mix, make it 6 inches deeper than needed. Remember to keep the soil dug for backfilling.
Step 2: Remove Palm From The Container
When removing the root ball from the container, be careful to minimize the damage to the roots. Some palms do not take kindly to having their roots cut or bent and will undergo severe shock.
With smaller trees, flip the container upside down and tap it until the root ball slides out. With the larger one, lay the plant down on the ground, loosen the sides a bit, and try sliding it out.
You might find it easier to cut the container away from the root ball and than try pulling it off.
Step 3: Select The Right Depth
Knowing how deep you should plant the palm is very important. I’ve heard some palm enthusiasts recommending plating it a few inches deeper and then creating a so called “water well”. I don’t recommend that.
Palm tree should be planted to the same depth at which they were previously growing. Planting it too deep may result in a root rot development due to nutrient deficiencies and water stress. Some palms might suffer from it for many years and eventually die.
Planting it too high is also a mistake. It will make the tree unstable and a strong wind can blow it over. Sometimes the palm will push up in it’s container, exposing the upper part of its roots. When you plant it into the ground, make sure to position it a little lower covering the roots with with soil.
Step 4: Place Palm Into The Hole
Score the sides of the hole with a small shovel. It will loosen the soil, allowing the palm tree roots to penetrate through the ground. Backfill the hole with some of the soil mix (that you’ve made out of the soil you dug and the organic matter) and water it. That will compact the soil.
You don’t need to remove the soil around the root ball. Leaving the old soil around the roots will decrease the transplant shock. Some gardeners might think that loosing up the roots will help the palm to adjust to the new soil better but it’s not the case. Roots can be damaged very easily, so it’s best leaving them along.
Measure the root ball and the depth of the hole one more time. Once the soil is at the proper level, place the palm into the hole and center it. Make sure it is vertically straight.
Also, make sure the “front of the tree”, which is the side that has been exposed to the sun the most, is facing the sun. Some might think that in order to balance it out, it’s better to place it with the front side facing away from the sun.
That way, the leaves will turn towards the sun making the tree look more even. Not the case! Exposing the back of the leaves to the sun might cause sunburn of the leaves.
Step 5: Add Soil Mix
Now that your tree is in the hole and positioned the right way, it’s time to add the soil. Backfill the planting hole around the root ball with loose soil mix halfway and water it.
The loose soil will make it easer for the roots to grow and expand. Backfill the rest of the hole with more loose soil. Avoid compacting the backfill.
Step 6: Build a Barrier And Water
When the palm tree has been planted, next step would be to build a soil barrier around the circumference of the hole. This will form a dam that holds water.
Water the palm thoroughly making sure there are no air pockets around the root ball. At this point you’ve watered it three times, at the bottom, the center and the top, which should be enough.
Step 7: Add Mulch
Mulch protects the soil from drying out quickly and the weeds from growing. Put about 2-3 inches of mulch around the newly planted tree.
Step 8: Brace Your Palm After Planting
Container-grown palms rarely need bracing since their root balls are big enough to hold the palm upright. However, field grown palms might have small root ball in proportion to their height so they might need bracing.
The tree brace consists of three wooden blocks with two adjustable straps that are designed to protect your new tree from storm and wind damage. You can purchase this brace at any home improvement store.
- The brace should be placed around the bark. Three or four braces of 2×4 lumber should be sufficient.
- Make them long enough and position them far enough to provide good support in case of the strong winds.
- Wrap burlap around the trunk to protect if from being damaged, Next, secure the equal number of pieces of wood around the trunk with metal bands.
- Finally, nail the braces into the small prices of wood. Avoid nailing directly into the trunk, since it wound would never heal creating an entry point for diseases and insects.
- You should leave the brace for about one year.
Step 9: Make Watering Schedule
Frequent watering is important for newly-planted Palm Trees. It is important not to allow the soil to dry out as this will severely weaken your new palm. Water it daily for the first week, every other day for the second, and then you can switch to its regular schedule.
Deep waterings work the best. That is when you slow trickle the water instead of dumping it all at once. Use a sprinkler or arrange a hose to slow soak the area around the tree.
At this point you might be wondering “how much water do I need to use?” As a rule of thumb, the amount of water should be 10-20% of the container size for that palm. So, if it’s a 10 gallon container palm tree, then use 1-2 gallons of water.
Step 10: Fertilize Your Palm
Newly planted palms should not be fertilized until after they put out a new spear, I would say about 2 month after planting. Be sure to fertilize only during the growing season.
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.
One of the products that I personally love is Jobe’s Palm Fertilizer. This product is great, because it promotes root development and the long-term vitality of all types of palms. It won’t burn the roots and has all the nutrients your palm trees need.
Here Is a Great Video On How To Plant a Palm Tree
Note: In the video they did not amend the soil. Maybe they had a great drainage. They also did not water before planting the tree nor in the middle of planting that I recommend.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Palm Tree Installed
Of course if you don’t want to plant it yourself, you can hire a landscaping company but it is quite expensive. While the cost of planting on your property may vary, it is usually about $200 for 6-7 ft. 25 gallon container, and about $500 for 45 gallon container (12-14 ft tree).
The price typically includes labor, delivery, equipment, and supplies (soil mix, mulch, brace). So, as you can see getting your palm planted by a professional can be very costly. If it’s a relatively small palm, I would probably plant it myself to save some money.
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