Guide to Palm Tree Care and Problems

Homes with Palm Trees

Palm tree care is relatively simple once a palm is established. Many people find that there is virtually no maintenance involved. The key, of course, is to have a healthy palm tree which is largely impacted by its environment and soil conditions. Making an informed choice now will save you aggravation later on.

Choosing a Palm Tree

There are a few things to consider before choosing the right palm tree for your yard. One of those things is the size of the tree at maturity as well as the size of the landscape it will be planted in. Some palm species can get very tall, so you will need to know this if your planned site is under a power line or the eave of your house. Consider too that if you have a small yard, an enormous tree will look a little silly.

Another consideration is the climate that you live in. A few palm species, such as the Queen palm or the Canary Island date palm, are considered "cold-hardy". Cold, in this case, may be temperatures no lower than 20 degrees. This means that the areas that can grow palms are still quite limited; a cold-hardy palm will not grow in Michigan.

Sunlight is also a factor. Some palms like full sun while others enjoy partial shade. You will need to know how much sun your intended planting site will receive as well as what your desired palm species will need.

Keep in mind water as well. Most palms can tolerate periods of drought but prefer to have lots of water. Think of the movies you see of the desert. The palm trees are always next to the oasis of water.

Planting Palm Trees

Planting palm trees is very similar to planting any other type of tree. After purchasing your tree, be sure that the root ball is kept moist. Try to plant your new tree as soon as possible after bringing it home. Palms can be expensive; you don't want to risk losing such an investment because you weren't ready to plant it.

Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the palm's root ball. Do not dig it deeper than the tree was planted previously. You should be able to see a line on the trunk that will indicate its original depth. Slightly shallower is fine, but deeper is not.

Gently place the tree in the hole and fill the hole back in with the removed dirt. Amending the fill dirt is not recommended because it will discourage the roots to spread out, making a weak tree. This is especially important if you live in an area prone to hurricanes. You don't want your lovely palm to be easily uprooted in a strong wind.


Many people feel that a new tree needs to be supported until it is established. Unfortunately, the frequently forget to remove the supports and can cause damage to the tree.

If your palm cannot stand up on its own, you can use braces to support it. Do not keep them for more than six to eight months. Prolonged use of braces will actually cause your tree to depend on the support instead of growing strong on their own. Never use nails to attach supports. These holes will not heal on a palm tree, leaving it vulnerable to insects and disease.


Proper watering is an essential part of palm tree care. It is a good idea to create a barrier of soil around the base of your tree to help retain water. Newly planted trees should be watered frequently. For the first few weeks, your new palm should be watered daily. After it is established, it can be watered twice a month in the hotter months and as little as once every month and a half during the winter.

Mulch is an excellent way to help your palm tree to maintain moisture. Apply a three inch layer around the bottom of the palm tree to conserve water, keep the soil cooler and reduce weeds. Be careful not to mulch against the trunk of the tree though, as this can harbor insects and fungus that will damage or kill your palm tree.


There are specially formulated fertilizers designed just for palm trees. This is because the nutritional needs of palms are different from other plants in your yard. By not fertilizing your established palm, you risk several nutritional deficiencies that can kill your tree.

Look carefully at the bag of fertilizer to ensure that is not only has the right balance of nitrogen and potassium like other fertilizers, but that it also has a balance of other nutrients such as manganese, iron, magnesium and boron. An ideal mix should have an N:P:K:Mg ratio of 2:1:3:1.

Application of fertilizer for proper palm tree care should be at a rate of about one and a half pound of fertilizer per 100 feet of tree canopy, applied four times a year. Use a dry, granular fertilizer and do not apply it against the trunk of your palm tree.

Palm Tree Care: Problems

In addition to nutritional deficiencies, palm trees can be prone to pests as well. Three common pest problems include Lethal Yellowing, the Royal Palm Bug and Ganoderma Butt Rot.

Lethal Yellowing

Lethal Yellowing is spread by a small leafhopper insect. Symptoms include dropping of fruit and yellowing of leaves. There is no treatment for this disease. Infected trees must be removed and destroyed. The best defense is to avoid planting palm trees that are susceptible to this disease. Your local Extension office can help you with this.

Royal Palm Bug

The Royal palm bug feeds on the young leaves of the Royal palm tree. As these leaves mature, they will appear scorched. A drench treatment of the chemical imidacloprid can help control the insect, but it takes several weeks before results are seen.

Ganoderma Butt Rot

Ganoderma butt rot is a fungus that rots the palm tree from the inside out. The main symptom is the fruiting body of the fungus, called conks. Once symptoms are seen, it is too late to save the tree.

Prevention is possible by being careful not to introduce any infected materials to the landscape. This includes mulch that may be made from infected palms. Take care not to plant any palms in an area that once had an infected palm because the fungus can continue to live in the soil.


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Guide to Palm Tree Care and Problems