How to Care for Palm Trees

Close up of green palm tree leaves.
You don't have to live in the tropics to enjoy beautiful palms in your home or lawn. Potted in decorative containers or planted in landscapes, palm trees evoke tropical bliss year-round. The secret to stately, graceful palms lies in keeping their foliage healthy and green, not yellow and brown. Choose your palms wisely and meet their special needs, and you can keep them that way year in and year out.
  1. Choosing Palms to Fit Your Goals
  2. Providing the Right Light and Soil
  3. Caring for Palms Indoors and Out

Choosing Palms to Fit Your Goals

Palms comprise a large, diverse group of plants with native habitats that range from deserts to rainforests. When choosing palms, pay close attention to plant tags or nursery catalog descriptions, and keep these two considerations in mind:

  • winter hardiness - When palms spend winter safely indoors, hardiness isn't a major concern. But for landscape palms, matching the tree to your climate is critical. Some cold-hardy palms withstand snow and temperatures several degrees below zero Fahreneheit,1 but others perish if exposed to frost.
  • mature size - Always allow for the tree's eventual height and spread, indoors or out. Containers limit how large plants grow, so even naturally large palms stay manageable in pots. But those same plants can zoom to many times their indoor size when planted in the ground.

By choosing a palm that's suited to its intended space and purpose, you help ensure its beauty and health. You'll cut down on your maintenance as well.

Office space with green plants

Many palms thrive in indoor light levels common in homes and offices.

Providing the Right Light and Soils

Once you've settled on palms to grow, sunlight and soil come next. Palms vary in the amount of sunlight they require to grow well. Palms that naturally grow in the understory beneath taller trees do very well in lower light conditions in homes. Palms with high light requirements need very sunny windows or supplemental lights when grown in pots indoors.

Landscape palms also differ in their light needs. Some thrive in full, direct sun, but others need shady garden spots for beauty and health. Too much harsh sun leaves palm fronds sunburned, much like human skin, but fronds typically don't recover.

As a group, palms adapt well to a wide range of soils as long as the soil drain well. Palms have relatively shallow roots that need plentiful air; they won't tolerate water-logged soil.

For potted palms, choose a fast-draining, yet moisture-retentive potting mix designed for container growing. Choose a large decorative container with drainage holes that is heavy enough to offset your palm's size so it won't tip over easily.

Landscape palms prefer the same slightly acidic, well-draining soil as lawn grasses. A soil test can confirm whether your outdoor palm would benefit from soil amendments to adjust soil pH and optimize nutrient availability.

Lounge chair with greenery.

Container-grown outdoor palms dry out faster than indoor palms.

Caring for Palms Indoors and Out

Despite their differences, palms need fairly consistent basic care. By meeting their special needs, you help ensure they stay healthy and attractive.

Water - Palms prefer soil consistently moist, but never overly wet. Overwatering quickly turns palm fronds yellow and brown. Before you water, indoors or out, check the soil by hand. Water when it's dry about a finger's length deep, but still cool and moist beneath. Water deeply and thoroughly to promote healthy root growth.

Give container palms extra attention. Plants exposed to sun and wind in outdoor containers dry out faster than plants in the ground; they may need daily summer watering. Containers in protected indoor locations hold moisture. They need less water year-round.

Fertilizer - Palms have distinct nutrient needs that call for a plant food designed especially for them. They can be sensitive to higher amounts of phosphorus, relative to other primary plant nutrients.2 Lower phosphorus helps palms use other essential nutrients more efficiently. A fertilizer where phosphorus, the middle number on the fertilizer label, is lower than the other two numbers helps prevent nutrient deficiencies and symptoms such as yellow leaves.

Palm tree leaves

Proper palm tree care and nutrition helps prevent pale, yellow leaves.

Pennington UltraGreen Palm Tree & Hibiscus Plant Food 9-4-9 provides palms with an ideal blend of primary nutrients plus added micronutrients – including iron and magnesium, which are especially important to beautiful green palm foliage. This premium plant food starts feeding immediately and continues to feed palms for up to four months.

Fertilize container-grown palms every 12 to 16 weeks, accordingly to label recommendations for their pot size. Feed landscape palms according to the label rate for their height. Feed outdoor trees in late winter, midsummer and early fall, unless your growing season runs year-round. If so, feed every three to four months. Spread the fertilizer throughout the root zone, from the trunk to beyond frond tips. Mature palm roots can extend horizontally up to 50 feet.2

Snowing in Urban Public Park With Palm Trees

Some types of palms withstand snow and below-zero temperatures.

Winter protection - If your indoor palms move outside for summer, bring them back indoors for winter, once nighttime temperatures fall near 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In spring, wait until all danger of frost passes before you move palms back outdoors.

If any of your landscape palms are borderline for winter hardiness, they may need extra protection before winter comes. Your local county extension agent can help with information on expected frost dates and how to winterize palms successfully in your region so they'll be around to lend that tropical feel next year.

By choosing your palms with growing goals in mind and matching their needs with proper care and nutrition, you can enjoy the breezy beauty of palms, indoors and out, all year. Pennington is here to help with the finest in specialty fertilizers and expert tips to help you create the indoor and outdoor gardens of your dreams.

Pennington with design is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc.

UltraGreen is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

Sources:

1. Wade, G.L., "Cold-Hardy Palms Grow Throughout Georgia," University of Georgia, November 2009.

2. Doubrava, N. and B. Polomski, "Palms & Cycads," Clemson Cooperative Extension, December 2007.

Pennington Fertilizer Resources