How To Grow Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.

The Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens), is one of the most popular palm trees. Native to Florida and southeastern United States, this slow growing palm can be used as a a screening plant, focal point or as a filler for planting bed.

It has green  fan shaped leaves with saw-like teeth on the leaf stems, hence it’s name “Saw Palmetto Palm”. It is drought tolerant, salt tolerant, cold hardy, and low maintenance. 

While it can tolerate cold down to 22F, making it a perfect palm for landscape in USDA zones 8-11, it is also known to survive in zone 7 with the temperatures dropping down to 0F.

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Quick Facts:

Scientific name:Serenoa repens or Sereno repens
Common names:Saw Palmetto, Silver Saw Palmetto Palm, Scrub Palm
Origin:Native to Florida and grows all over southeastern United States
Growth Rate: Slow. Up to 3 – 6ft tall and 1-5 ft wide.
Cold Tolerance:USDA Zones 8a (10 – 15 F) to 11 (above 40 F).
Light Req:Light shade to full sun.
Water Req:Drought tolerant.
Soil Req:Widely adaptable.
Fruit:Yes. Blue black berries.
Propagation: Seed, germinating takes months.

Saw Palmetto Identifying Characteristics

Serenoa repens is a slow growing shrub with stems occurring below the ground or running along the ground, creating a dense ground cover. Stems gradually bury to form rhizomes.

Stems sprouted from rhizomes can measure up to 10 feet in length. Occasionally, it develops erect or arching trunk that is covered with old leaf bases.

Each clump has about 20-25 large palmate, fan shaped, leaves, that are supported by 2ft long, petioles. Stems are armed with very sharp spines. This srub can spread up to 10ft or more in diameter, but mostly stays around 4 – 5 ft.

Leaves are evergreen, stiff, about 3ft across, covered with waxy film, with 18-20 leaflets. While the common Saw Palmetto has green leaves, there are also some silvery-green leaved types.

Saw Palmetto Palm Flowers and Fruits

Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens) fruits
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.

During spring the Saw Palmetto Palm produces small, yellow-white, fragrant flowers that are growing in dense clusters. Flowers are supported by 3ft long branched inflorescence emerging from the leaf bases.

The Saw Palmetto Palm flowers are a great source of a commercial high-grade honey. This is actually honey made from Palmetto Palm. I haven’t tried it but it has great reviews.

Honey made out of Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)

Flowers are followed by yellowish green fruits that gradually turn blue-black as they ripen August through October. Fruits are small, berry-like, oval and fleshy. These berries are an important food source for many mammals and birds. They are not poisonous.

These berries have also been used for medicinal purposes helping to treat some prostate and urinary problems. I also found this Saw Palmetto supplement that claims to reduces frequent urination urges, fights hair loss, and supports prostate health. With over 400 five star reviews it might be worth trying.

Medicine made from Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)

Where to Plant Saw Palmetto Palm

As I’ve mentioned above, they are perfect for a backdrop, filling up a planting bed or as a shrubs in light shade under tall trees. A large tree can be even be used as a handsome focal point. The only thing I would recommend is to plant it away from play areas, driveways, walkways or any other place where saw-like teeth of the palm would cause harm. 

On the picture above, you can see Serenoa repens is used as a shrub with some smaller plants next to it. While it look beautiful, it will take a long time for this palm to reach this size.

Here is another picture of a beautiful landscape idea where Serenoa repens is planted under a taller palm tree. I think this is an ideal location for this plant since it is very slow growing. I also love the combination of Silver Saw Palmetto leaves and other smaller brighter tropical plants. They compliment each other very well and create a nice contrast.

Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens) in the landscape under a taller palm
Saw Palmetto Palm (Serenoa repens) growing under a taller palm tree.

Keep in mind, established Saw Palmettos do not transplant easily so it’s important to pick the right spot. Also, it’s better to plant them from the containers.

Because palms don’t like sudden changes in the temperature and light levels, it is always a great idea to acclimatize the palm first. If you are transplanting it from the pot, leave it in the area for a week before planting it into the ground. This will decrease the transplant shock.

Also, newly planted palms require frequent watering while it’s getting used to the new spot. Ovoid fertilizing newly planted palm to decrease the stress.

How to Care For Saw Palmetto Palm

This low maintenance palm is very easy to care for. It prefers acidic or alkaline soil that drains well. To prevent nutritional deficiency, apply good quality palm fertilizer that has continuous release formula once a year during growing season.

The Saw Palmetto Palm Tree likes full sun, but will tolerate some shade. It is drought tolerant but likes regular light watering. Applying 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch will help keeping the soil moist. When a adding mulch, make sure it is 6 inches away from the base of the palm to avoid rotting.

During periods with little to no rainfall it’s a great idea to pray the foliage with mist to increase the humidity level.

Saw Palmetto Palm is one of the cold hardiest palm tree that can tolerate cold down to 22F and is great for growing in the USDA Zones 8a (10 – 15 F) to 11 (above 40 F). It is also known to grow in a zones 7 which gets cold temperatures in the winter months.

It has very few nutrient problems and diseases are also rare. Sometimes it gets attacked by palmetto weevil which is a minor pest that attacks only severely wounded and dying trees. 

How Fast Do Saw Palmetto Palms Grow

Depending on the growing conditions Saw Palmetto Palm grows only about 1 – 2 inches per year. This is a very slow growing palm that eventually can grow up to 5-10ft tall and 1-5 ft wide.

These specimens have a very long life span and are known to live for over 700 years. Overtime their sprawling stems will often branch out, creating clones of themselves.

How to Prune Saw Palmetto Palm

Since this is a very slow growing plant, you won’t need to do a lot of pruning. Once in a while you will need to trim brown dry leaves.

Do so by cutting horizontally through the base of the stem 1/2 inches above the point where the stem emerges from the soil or joins the trunk. Wear gloves to protect yourself from the “teeth” on the leaf stems.

How to Remove/Kill Saw Palmetto Palm

While it is a slow growing palm, if not managed property it can become invasive, crowding out other plants.

Getting rid of Saw Palmetto, once it’s well established might not be an easy task since it has strong underground stems that not only help them to survive fires, but also provide starts for new plants alongside the original plant. 

In the beginning of the Spring use combination of digging, cutting and herbicide application. You can start by cutting all the leaves and mowing the rest with a brush cutter. Once it starts to grow again use weed killer (I prefer organic) as directed on the product.

If you don’t see any growth after that, you can dig out the stump. For larger stumps I recommend using a stump grinder since it can reach deeper into the ground. Since stump grinder are pretty expensive I would rent it from Home Depot instead of buying it.

How to Protect Saw Palmetto Palm From Cold Weather

Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens) under snow

Since Saw Palmetto is so cold tolerant it usually doesn’t need a protection unless you are growing it in zone 7 where temperatures drop really low. Just like with other palm trees heavy mulching and application of fungicide/bactericide spray will help. Add about 3 – 4 inches of organic mulch around the palm. 

You could also wrap smaller plants with fabric and even put heater cables around trunk and the leaf bases. The problem is that the leaves are very stiff which makes it almost impossible to wrap without extensive damage. 

Propagating Saw Palmetto Palm Tree

Saw palmetto spreads by rhizomes but can also be propagated from the seeds. Since it takes a few months to germinate, most nurseries do rhizome cuttings. If you want to try doing it from the seed, start immediately after harvesting.

First soak it in warm water for 24 hours first to allow moisture to seep through. After it sprouts, which could take a few months, plant into a pot. It will take a few yeas before you can transplant it. As you can see, it’s probably easier to buy a little more established palm instead of growing it from the seed. 

Saw Palmetto Palm Pictures

Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens) with flowers
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree (Serenoa repens). Photo by Flickr.

More information can be found on EDIS and Floridata sites. Buy This Palm Tree »

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