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Palm Trees 101 – Growing Tips for Outdoor & Indoor
I have a confession to make. I spent my childhood in southern California, where palm-lined streets and swaying palm trees in home landscapes were a common occurrence that I took for granted. It wasn’t until my husband and I moved to the cooler climates of the Pacific Northwest where their presence is much more a rarity that I truly began to appreciate their fascinating foliage and striking silhouettes.
To fill the void of their distinctively tropical flair, I grew them indoors as houseplants. It wasn’t until years later that I made a surprising discovery–not all palms are exclusively destined for tropical or subtropical climates. There are many cold-hardy species that can be grown where winter temperatures dip down to 20 degrees F, and some that will even survive to 0 degrees F or below.
With thousands of species of palms, their water needs and growing conditions vary greatly. But regardless of whether your palm is tropical or hardy, clumping or tree-like, or grown indoors or out, there are certain conditions that they all have in common.
Outdoor Palm Trees
Feeding: As a group, palms tolerate a wide range of soils, but they all thrive in healthy soil rich in minerals and other micronutrients such as potassium and manganese. (A potassium deficiency results in premature yellowing or brownish fronds.) Kmart offers fertilizers both online and in the store that contain these important nutrients to help enhance growth, such as Scotts Palm & Ornamental plant food.
The best time to fertilize palm trees is during the growing season with a slow-release or continual-release formula designed for palms. (About two to four applications, depending on the fertilizer.) Adding mycorrhizal fungi to the soil will enhance growth by helping the roots better absorb these much needed nutrients. You can find this specialty fungi online or at garden centers.
Watering: Most mature palms prefer somewhat moist to moist (not soggy) soil during the growing season, and only periodic watering in colder months. Desert palms vary in moisture needs from somewhat drought-tolerant to moderate. That said, when you do water, be sure to thoroughly soak the base of the palm tree; water all newly planted palms two to three times a week during the growing season of the first year or two.
Pruning: While there are exceptions, you should avoid pruning palms as doing so can affect their tolerance to cold and disease. On the plus side, the tree recycles nutrients from old fronds back into the core of the plant. Most palm trees naturally shed their fronds. The only time you need prune is to remove broken or dead fronds that do not fall along with flower and fruit stalks. The rate at which dead leaf parts fall from the trunks depends on the species and environmental conditions.
Planting: Dig a hole two to three times as wide as the base of the palm tree and deep enough only to accommodate its rootball in the container, or at the same depth as its previous hole. Handle the bark with care as you position the tree in the hole, then refill with soil. Top the soil with a four inch layer of mulch around the roots of the tree.
Indoor Palm Trees
Growing indoors: Bright, indirect light is best for most palms, though some–like parlour and kentia–will tolerate low light; avoid drafty areas. Use a light and fast-draining potting soil. Depending on the size of the container and plant, sprinkle about 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of a time-release palm fertilizer into the potting soil each spring. Keep soil slightly moist in winter and water more often in spring and summer. Indoor palms dislike being disturbed; repot only when the palm is completely pot bound.
Hardy Palms Trees for Colder Climates
- Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) root hardy to 4 degrees F
- Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto) 20 degrees F
- Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) -12 degrees F
- Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) 0 degrees F
- Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) -10 degrees F
- Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) 10 degrees F
Enjoy your growing Palm Trees! - Kris Wetherbee
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