10 Best Steps For Transporting Palm Trees (And How To Do It)

Small green palm tree surrounded with bright blooming flowers growing on grass covered lawn in tropic hotel yard.

Looking around your yard, you might consider planting a palm tree in order to brighten your outdoor aesthetic. Or, you might ponder transplanting a palm tree to a different location in your yard for a practical purpose. Either way, these musings lead to a question: how do folks transport and plant a palm tree in their yard as well as reduce the transplant shock?

Here are 10 simple steps to transport a palm tree:

  • Dig around the root ball of your palm tree
  • Dig out the palm tree
  • Remove old leaves
  • Prepare for transport
  • Prepare the planting location
  • Plant the palm tree
  • Untie the fronds
  • Water the palm tree
  • Add mulch
  • Support the palm with timbers

Keep reading to learn about the root system of a palm tree, the steps in transporting it as well as helpful tips in reducing the tree’s experience of transplant shock.

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How To Transport A Palm Tree

Palm trees are some of the least complicated trees to transport and plant. This is because they have a sizable, fibrous root ball instead of a deep, extensive root system. The root ball is fairly easy to dig out, and palm trees can usually have a speedy recovery after transporting and planting.

To safely transplant an adult palm tree, you must prepare the planting location. Afterward, plan to dig out the palm tree with minimal damage to the root ball, successfully transport it to the planting location, and care for the palm tree after it is securely planted in the ground. Remember that a palm tree grown in the field experiences more severe transplant shock than a palm tree grown in a container, which correlates to the amount of damage on the root ball.

A palm tree grown in a container is not cut like a palm tree grown in the field, even though the root ball is still exposed to the air during transportation. Transplant shock occurs when a tree copes with the stresses of its new environment, which include different soil and sunlight exposure. Lessening the severity of transplant shock in a palm tree is discussed in the section, “How to Reduce Transplant Shock in a Palm Tree.”

A quick note before we get started, did you know that you actually can grow certain types of palm trees in New York? Not tropical palm trees, however. You can read more about that in our piece: Here’s Why You Can’t Grow Tropical Palm Trees In New York

Step #1: Dig Around The Root Ball Of A Palm Tree

Small palm tree and flawers in a exotic garden, popular plants for decorating and creating exotic gardens

As previously mentioned, palm trees have a root ball that is composed of small compacted roots. The roots of broadleaf trees, like oaks, grow in diameter and also plunge deep into the soil; this is untrue of the roots of palm trees. The root ball of a palm tree remains the same size, and the small compacted roots stay closer to the surface of the soil.

A University of Florida study discovered that various palm tree species respond in different ways to the cutting of their root systems. The sabal palmetto’s roots, for example, die after cutting and are replaced by new roots; so, it does not make a difference if the roots are cut close to the palm’s base. For the coconut palm, 50% of its cut roots survive and keep growing regardless of how close they are cut to the palm’s base. 

With this in mind, the root ball can be kept small for the sabal palmetto and coconut palm trees when digging out these species. For palm trees that are up to 15 feet in height, dig a one to two feet radius from the trunk and dig one to feet into the soil. If you are in doubt about the sensitivity level to root cutting for your palm tree species, dig a larger radius around the trunk.

Step #2: Dig Out The Palm Tree

After digging around the palm tree, you will cut some of the roots. Root cutting happens regardless of how large the radius is around the trunk.

Cut the soil and palm roots with a spade that goes in a circle around the palm tree. This circle is about 12 to 24 inches away from the trunk of the tree, and it creates space for the root ball. Cut the palm tree’s roots about 12 inches underneath the surface of the soil.

Digging out the palm tree requires lifting, which usually requires multiple people depending on the palm tree’s size. For palm trees that are between 20 and 25 feet in height, a crane or a tractor is required in order to successfully move the tree. Palm trees can be monstrously heavy; in fact, a 20-foot palm tree is approximately 1,000 pounds.

Step #3: Remove Old Leaves On The Palm Tree

Palm leaf - the palm is an unbranched evergreen tree with a crown of long feathered or fan-shaped leaves, and typically having old leaf scars forming a regular pattern on the trunk. Palms grow in warm regions, especially the tropics.

Many nurseries remove up to two-thirds of old leaves on palm trees to minimize the level of water stress in the trees. Some homeowners will even remove all of the leaves. 

The amount of leaves that are removed depends on the particular palm tree species that is being transported. For example, since the sabal palmetto species’ roots all die and regrow during transplanting and planting, completely removing the leaves is the best option to help ensure the tree’s survival.

Step #4: Prepare To Transport The Palm Tree

Tie together the extra fronds of the palm tree to avoid damaging the leaves, which should be done before using a crane to lift the palm tree. Attach two splits on opposite sides of the tree trunk to prevent the palm tree from fracturing, which is particularly needed for skinnier palm trees. 

A palm tree cannot repair itself if its trunk is harmed, so it is crucial to avoid nailing something to the trunk. Also, any scratches along the palm tree’s trunk can make the tree more susceptible to fungus and insects. 

Wrap the trunk with nylon or polyester slings before fastening ropes, cables or chains. Using soaked burlap, wrap the root ball so the root system stays wet during transportation. 

If you are using a truck to transport the palm tree, then wrap the whole tree with a wet tarp. This shields the tree from damages to the fronds, bark and roots. This also protects the root ball from the wind, which can dry out the roots.

Step #5: Prepare The Planting Location

Test the planting location’s soil to ensure that it is the right spot to transplant a palm tree. Palm trees must be in a location with decent drainage. To begin the test, dig a hole that is two times the diameter of the palm tree’s root ball.

Pour water into the hole until it is filled and wait. After an hour, pour more water into the hole and observe the length of time it takes for the water to disappear. The location has decent drainage if it only takes a few hours for the water to leave; however, if the water has not disappeared after a few days, this indicates a drainage issue.

It is possible to create better drainage in this location by placing stones in the planting hole and drilling several holes at the bottom, which breaks up the soil. You can also install a pipe for drainage.

Step #6: Plant The Palm Tree

It is important to plant the palm tree as soon as you can. If you are unable to immediately plant the tree, then simply keep it in a shaded area and make sure that the roots stay moist. You can even put mulch over the root ball to keep it from possibly drying out.

Plant the palm tree at a similar depth in which it was previously growing. If the palm tree is planted too deeply in the soil, it could experience water stress and deficiencies in nutrients. If the palm tree is planted too shallowly in the soil, this could also be a problem because the wind might blow over the tree.

Before planting the palm tree, drench the soil with water and center the tree in the planting hole. Backfill the area with native soil, water and backfill again. Ensure that there are zero air pockets, and then make a soil boundary around the palm in order to hold the water.

Step #7: Untie The Fronds Of The Palm Tree

Gardeners have different opinions about the placement of this step: untying the fronds of the palm tree. Some think that leaving the fronds tied for several weeks after transplanting the palm tree can reduce water loss and stop the palm from shifting in the wind.

Other gardeners think that leaving the fronds tied does not help the growth of the palm tree. Rather, they think it might make the tree more susceptible to diseases. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether to untie the fronds after planting the palm tree or waiting to untie them at a later time.

Step #8: Water The Palm Tree

Palm trees grown in the field have cut roots, which means they have a tinier root ball in which to take in water. While the palm tree is growing new roots, its necessity for water is significantly larger than a palm tree grown in a container. Whether you have a palm tree grown in the field or one grown in a container, it will need to be watered on a daily basis for three weeks.

Once you have hit the fourth week, you can water your palm tree every other day. To successfully water your palm tree, turn on your water hose so that it drips water for about 20 minutes in the soil around the root ball. After six weeks, you can reduce your watering frequency.

Step #9: Add Mulch Around The Palm Tree

To keep moisture and prevent weed growth, add mulch around the base of the palm tree. Over time, the mulch will break down and enrich the native soil. Add around two inches of mulch, making the area thinner closer to the trunk and thicker directly above the root ball.

While adding mulch around the palm tree, place it about one foot away from the trunk of a tinier palm tree and about two feet away from the trunk of a bigger tree. An overabundance of mulch directly against the trunk can bring about rot in the trunk and even fungal diseases. It can also stop water from reaching the root system of the palm tree.

Step #10: Support The Palm Tree With Timbers

Palm trees grown in the field tend to have tinier root systems in relation to their height; this means that they usually need support after planting. This contrasts with palm trees grown in containers; their root systems tend to be large enough in order to maintain the trees in upright positions.

To stop a freshly planted palm tree from blowing over during storms, support the tree with timbers. Again, avoid nailing to the trunk because a palm tree cannot repair itself if its trunk is harmed. Using burlap, wrap the trunk and attach four short lengths of wood with bands; this will not harm the trunk, and it stops the wood from sliding out of place.

Nail up to five supporting timbers into the larger wood pieces. Maintain this support structure for around one year, or until you have noticed that the tree has grown enough new roots that allow it to stand on its own.

How To Reduce Transplant Shock In A Palm Tree

Garden of palm tree on green grass lawn under cloudy sky in good care maintenance landscape of public park

Even though you have done your best to be careful while transporting and planting a palm tree, the tree still experiences stress as it adjusts to its new location. If you observe drooping, yellow or brown leaves on your transplanted palm tree, this is a sign that the tree is experiencing transplant shock.

This might look like the tree is dying, but it is not: transplant shock is when the root ball hardens because it has been cut, moved and directly exposed to sunlight, air and different soil. Mother Nature did not create an organic situation in which palm trees are transplanted, so the tree is forced to cope with these unnatural changes.

It can take one year for a palm tree to fully recover from transplant shock. After three years, a transplanted palm tree is considered to be completely established in its new planting location. 

While transplanting a palm tree, much of its root system is lost or dies. The roots that survive face challenges in bringing in enough water for the palm tree, which causes water stress. In fact, any changes to the root ball of a palm tree causes stress to the tree. Again, this transplant shock is unavoidable, but there are a few tips to follow that allow you to reduce the shock in your palm tree.

To add, at this point you may be interested in another popular palm tree article: 5 Reasons New Orleans Has Palm Trees (Plus Growing Tips)

Tip #1: Transport And Plant The Palm Tree During Warm Rainy Months

The best time to transport and plant the palm tree is during months that are warm and rainy. Depending on where you live, this might not include the springtime. If you live in Florida (a state with a plentiful amount of thriving palm trees), transporting and planting a palm tree should be done between June and November, which is the rainy season. 

If you transplant your palm tree during a time that is warm and rainy, it profoundly assists in your palm tree’s survival and minimizes the transplant shock. In addition, planting in the evening is ideal because the sun is less intense and temperatures are cooler. This provides the palm tree both the evening and the entire night to start acclimating to the new location before its extensive exposure to sunlight the following day.

Tip #2: Acclimate The Palm Tree

If you are transporting a palm tree grown in a container, you can set the palm tree in the general area of its new planting location a week prior to planting it. Doing this offers the palm tree more time to acclimate to the varying levels of sunlight and temperature in its new planting location. 

You can also consider planting the palm tree in its new location and then covering it with a plastic canopy. Every week, you can poke holes in the covering, which slowly allows in more light. 

Tip #3: Leave The Old Soil In The Palm Tree’s Root Ball

Although you might be planning to offer healthier soil at the new planting location, you still want to leave the old soil in the palm tree’s root ball. This reduces the root system’s exposure to the elements, which decreases the tree’s stress levels. When you backfill the planting hole, this is when you can utilize a healthier, better soil around the root ball.

Tip #4: Avoid Fertilizing The Palm Tree After Planting It

Avoid fertilizing the palm tree immediately after planting it because this invites more stress for the tree. Make sure that you allow your transplanted palm tree some time to regenerate its root system. Wait at least two months or until you see significant root growth before you fertilize the palm tree. 

Be mindful of the fact that palm trees grown in containers are accustomed to high nitrogen levels because of the potting soil. This means that they require fertilizer that contains high nitrogen levels in order to thrive. If these palm trees do not receive that nitrogen, they can develop a deficiency in the element and be slow in establishing their root system.

Here are a few other tips you can consider to help reduce transplant shock in your palm tree:

  • Saturate the rootball area with a fungicide between two to four times during the first several months.
  • Between two to four months, apply a slow-release fertilizer to the palm tree. You can also utilize a foliar spray because the absorption by the root system is minimal.
  • Offer protection from the cold during winter until the palm tree has completely established its root system.
  • Frequently check for signs of diseases and insects, the latter of which can be attracted to weaker plants.

That’s A Wrap!

Whether you are purchasing a palm tree from a nursery or intending to transplant a palm tree from one spot in your yard to another, the steps in how to transport and plant the palm tree are the same. Knowing how palm roots grow and react to being cut can prevent damage to the root system. Plus, implementing this knowledge will bolster the likelihood of the palm tree’s survival. 

References

Hinkamp, Dennis. “Transplanting: Think Twice, Dig Once.” (2001).

Hodel, Donald R., A. James Downer, and Dennis R. Pittenger. “Transplanting palms.” HortTechnology 19.4 (2009): 686-689.

Hunsberger, A. G. B. “Tree Planting: A Quick Guide for Homeowners.”

Pittenger, Dennis R., Donald R. Hodel, and A. James Downer. “Transplanting specimen palms: a review of common practices and research-based information.” HortTechnology 15.1 (2005): 128-132.

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