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You can grow any type of palm trees in pots, and it’s a great way to grow them, especially if you don’t have room or live in a climate where they cannot be grown in the ground. While many hardy palm trees do well planted directly in your garden, the non-hardy types should be in pots so you can bring them in throughout the winter months in colder climates. This could be as simple as keeping them in a cold greenhouse or even a more sheltered position.
Growing palm trees as houseplants do take a bit of work but nothing too involved. I’ve been growing palm trees in pots for over 20 years, so I’m hoping to pass on my experience in my guide below.
Here’s what you need to know.
Which palm trees should you grow in pots?
Choosing a palm tree that is suitable for growing in pots is the first step. Try to choose a smaller growing variety. Here are a few of my recommendations for palm trees that grow well in pots:
- Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii): This small palm tree has feathery fronds and a slender trunk, making it a great choice for containers.
- Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei): With its attractive fan-shaped leaves and cold-hardiness, this palm is a popular choice for growing in pots.
- Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta): Although not a true palm, the Sago Palm is a popular choice for container gardening due to its slow growth and unique appearance.
- Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa): This palm has delicate, fan-like leaves and can be grown in a range of light conditions, making it a versatile choice for container gardening.
- Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis): This palm is a popular houseplant, but it can also be grown in containers outdoors in warm climates.
- Areca Palm (Dypsis lutescens): With its feathery fronds and tropical appearance, the Areca Palm is a popular choice for container gardening.
Choose the right pot for your palm tree
Select a sturdy pot for your palm tree. It can be plastic, ceramic or terracotta. Consider the decor of the room where the plant will be for much of its time and choose a pot to match. The most important element of the pot is the drainage holes. You may need to make more, which is easier to do in a plastic or fibreglass pot. I usually use ceramic pots as there heavier and help keep the pot upright, as palm trees can be a little top-heavy. If you have a hardy variety that can be kept outdoors all year round, ceramic pots are also the most frost resistant, when compared to terracotta pots.
Choosing the right soil for palm trees
Use a compost to grow your palm tree in, don’t use garden soil. John Innes No. 2 or No. 3 compost is a good choice as it retains some moisture but not too much to waterlog your tree, it’s also free-draining. Alternatively, use a multi-purpose peat-free potting medium formulated for indoor plants. John Innes soil is also heavier, so also helps add some weight to the pot and keep it upright. It also needs watering less than using multi-purpose compost.
When you need to repot your palm tree to a larger container, change the soil completely. On the years when you don’t repot it, remove some of the top soil from the pot and replace with fresh soil to add in fresh nutrients.
Pot up your palm tree
Prepare the pot
Place some broken crockery or terracotta pieces at the bottom of the pot to stop the soil from clogging up the drainage holes. This is super important, don’t skip this step!
Fill the pot three-quarters with whatever soil or compost you’re using.
Remove the palm tree from the original container
You want to grow the palm tree in your pot, so remove it from the disposable pot it came in. Carefully cut the original container open (if it’s plastic) and gently pull out the palm tree. Otherwise carefully pull the tree from the pot.
Pot the palm tree
Place the tree in the pot so that the top of the root ball is just under the soil level. (Palm tree rots sit shallowly in the soil.)
Backfill the pot with soil so the root ball ends up about 5cm under the top of the soil.
Tamp down the soil gently.
Water the palm tree well, making sure that the excess water is draining out of the bottom of the pot.
Where to position a potted palm tree
If growing indoors, place your palm tree somewhere out of the way of kids and pets, perhaps in a corner near a window where it gets plenty of light. Some palms are sensitive to being touched, and physical trauma can harm or even kill the plant. Growing palm trees in pots indoors means that you need to protect them from all traffic around the home.
If growing outdoors, position in a sheltered position in a sunny position, protect from cold winders.
Give them bright but indirect sunlight
Provide bright but indirect light for your potted palm in the summer, at least six hours daily is ideal. You may need to move the palm to a brighter window (such as a south-facing one) in the dimmer winter days.
Different varieties of palm trees have different light requirements and some prefer to be in a more shaded space. If it looks as if the palm leaves are turning yellow and crisp, the plant may be getting sunburned by too much direct light. Move the plant to a more shady space.
If you don’t get much daylight in your home, consider buying a low-light variety of palm. This kind of palm can tolerate dim light conditions, even during the winter, without harm.
As palms each have their own individual needs, I can just give you a rough range of suitable temperatures for these trees. A daytime temperature of around 20˚C in the summer should be fine, with a night-time temperature of around 10˚C. The temperatures inside a central heated home are usually ideal. Non-hardy palm trees can be placed outdoors once the risk of cold weather has passed.
Some hardy palm tree can be left outside over winter with a little extra protection. Learn about winter care for palm trees here.
Using a tray, pebbled and water to control humidity
Palm trees like a fairly humid environment. This is alright when they spend the summer in your garden, but difficult when they’re indoors in the winter, especially if you have central heating. You can mist the plant to provide the needed moisture. A humidifier placed in the room will also increase the palm’s comfort.
Or you can make your own humidity tray which is what I usually do. Place some rocks on a tray or large saucer and then put some water in it. Stand the tray near your palm tree or, if the tree’s not too big, put the pot actually on the tray filled with pebbles. Just make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot as this would throw off your watering plans.
Watering palm trees
In summer, the key to good watering is to not let the compost dry out. Remember that plants in pots dry out quicker than those in the ground so keep a close eye on your palm tree. In winter, when the palm is indoors, you can allow the top 3cm of the soil to become dry before you water the plant.
Watch out for over-watering. This leaves the soil soggy and water-logged which encourages root rot and other diseases into your palm tree. Even though you may be watering just the right amount, your plant can become waterlogged if the excess water isn’t draining away from the bottom of the pot.
If you find that the soil in your palm’s pot is always soggy and wet, then you need to do something about it quickly. Read my article Phytophthora Root Rot – prevention and treatment to learn what needs to be done.
Feeding palm trees
You don’t need to fertilise your palm for eight weeks after you plant it. Then fertilise it every fortnight from April to mid-September with a palm fertiliser. This contains the extra potassium and manganese that the palm needs, as well as all the regular micro-nutrients. Or you can use a general-purpose liquid fertiliser.
Remember that, when growing palm trees in pots, watering the plant tends to wash away the fertiliser in the soil, so it needs to be replenished on a regular basis.
My advice on pruning palm trees is simple – Don’t. All the growth in these trees comes from the crown at the top of the tree. Cutting this area means that the tree doesn’t produce any new foliage and probably dies. Leaves will naturally fall when they need to.
That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule. Read How to trim and prune a palm tree for details and instructions.