When you think of palm trees, what images surface in your mind? For most of us, we see the tropical, single-trunk, iconic coconut palm trees. Have you ever wondered how to grow them and how long it takes to grow a palm tree?
Most palm trees grow about 6 inches to 2 feet per year and can reach heights up to 100 feet tall. The coconut palm tree starts producing coconuts after 6 to 10 years, but they don’t become prolific fruiters until they reach 15 to 20 years old. Palm trees have a lifespan between 60 to 80 years.
If you’re looking to grow your own coconut palm your search is over. In this article, we will also go over what to expect during growth stages and any hiccups that could be in store for your palm tree along the way!
Choosing The Best Palm Tree Speices For Your Area
While most of us think of the tall, tropical palms that line the boulevards in California, New Orleans or Florida, others may conjure visions of tropical islands in the middle of the ocean. Did you know there are thousands of palm species?
You may have some potted palms inside your house like the parlor palm, or paradise palm. There are even shrubs and vines that reside in the Arecaceae Family of plants. Some palm trees even grow in Canada and Great Britain, so they aren’t only found in tropical regions. Tropical pine trees can’t grow in cold areas, like New York for instance.
Since there are so many varieties of this versatile plant, we will focus on the coconut palm tree. Depending on which hardiness zone you live in, you too can grow your own palm tree!
Palm trees aren’t just about aesthetics, either. Check out what things palm trees are good for and why they’re important to sway your decision on growing one!
Check Your Local Nursery For What Pine Trees They Recommend For Your Area
Even if you live in very cold regions, there are palm trees that can grow outside. The Dwarf Palmetto for one can survive winter temps that get down into the negatives!
If you’re looking for that tropical feel, but live in a cold wasteland, check your local nursery. They may have the palm you’re looking for.
There are also plenty of varieties and species that are sold as small houseplants. Some palm trees can even be grown as bonsai trees. Whatever your situation, there are at least a few types of palm trees you can enjoy inside, and possibly even outside!
First Step: Propagating A Palm Tree
Now let’s get into the meat of it. You can grow a palm tree from a coconut you buy at the store. Just stay away from the typical, brown, dried-out coconuts you’re most likely going to see.
You may need to find an organic store, an ethnic grocery store, or one that specializes in whole foods. The coconut you’re looking for is one straight from the tree with the thick, green husk still on it.
Most stores sell coconuts, but they are processed to make it easier to get to the meat and the juice (coconut milk/water) inside. But these coconuts aren’t viable seeds. They have been dried out and have been sitting in a warehouse, in a truck, or on the shelves for weeks.
Palm Trees Can Only Grow From Seeds
Palm trees don’t take to asexual propagation like many other plants. They don’t graft, and can’t be grown from cuttings.
You also can’t grow more palms by division, which leaves growing them from seeds as the best way to get a palm tree.
It’s one of the reasons purchasing palm trees can become so expensive. The other reason is it takes a long time for most palm seeds (or pods as they are often called) to germinate. We’ll get more into that very soon.
Palm Seeds Are Very Perishable
Whether you’re looking at palm nuts, little red seeds that resemble holly berries, or coconuts, palm tree pods are very perishable. Often they only last a few weeks before they dry out too much to be viable.
Where Can You Get Palm Tree Pods/Seeds?
You can purchase various types of seeds from certain nurseries, online, or you can gather your own. Silver Date Palm Set of 50 Seeds are hardy up to zone 5 and will provide you with years of tropical beauty in your landscape.
This is why you need the freshest coconuts you can find. They also need to be very ripe. If you pluck them straight off the tree, they may not be ready to grow a new tree.
If you are foraging for your own palm pods, look for ones that have fallen off the tree. And then gather as many as you can. Even ripe palm pods only have about a 20% germination rate.
How To Tell Good Palm Pods From Bad Ones
Finding the right palm seeds/pods isn’t that straightforward, but you can narrow it down reasonably. You want to look for solid, dense-feeling seeds and pods.
When choosing coconuts either from the store or you are gathering them, you want the coconuts with the green, fibrous husk still on them. If they are brown or dried out, they have been sitting too long.
Pick them up and shake them. You want to hear the water sloshing around inside the nut. Leave behind any that don’t you can’t hear the water inside of.
If you are collecting smaller palm nuts or seeds, discard any that appear rotten, have holes in them, or are very light (in weight) compared to others.
Once you get them home, one way to check for viability is to do the float test. Fill a bucket with water and drop your palm pods into the container. The ones that float are probably not going to germinate.
I say “probably” because this process of elimination can be somewhat unreliable. Some palm pods are supposed to float so they can cross the ocean and grow new trees. If they all float, then it’s likely you still have viable palm pods.
Second Step: Germination (May Take Up To 4 Months)
You’ll need patience for the germination game. Palm pods can take months or even years to germinate depending on the species. Luckily you don’t need to stratify them.
Stratification is the process of artificially overwintering the seeds. For some seeds, you have to store them in a refrigerator, or in a cold (not freezing) area for several weeks. Many tree seeds need a cold winter season to force them to germinate.
Palm seeds will not make it if they go through a cold winter, so you can skip the stratification process and plant them straight into the ground. That is after you give them a good soaking.
If you’re using a coconut to grow your palm tree, it may take up to four months for it to start sprouting. So you will definitely need some patience here.
Spend A Few Days Soaking
Once you have your coconut, or a few you want to plant, you’ll want to soak them in water. Coconuts will float, so you’ll have to use rocks, bricks, or weights of some sort to keep them completely submerged.
Soaking helps to soften the tough husk and tells the coconut that it’s time to sprout. You’ll need to let them soak for three to four days.
Next, you need to either put the soaked coconuts in resealable, zipper bags or a container that will hold the coconut and a cup of water. Then find a dark, warm place and store until you see sprouts coming out of the coconut.
If you have space near a water heater to store it, that would be a perfect place with proper warmth to store your coconut until it starts to germinate. Be sure to check on it weekly. This can take a few months for it to show growth.
Once you see sprouts coming out of the top and bottom, don’t move it yet. You’ll want to keep it in the “incubator room” until the shoot is about the size of your finger, and the roots are six to eight inches long.
While you’re waiting for it to reach these measurements, wrap the roots in damp paper towels. This keeps the roots damp and protected while they continue to grow just a little bit more.
Third Step: Time To Plant Your Palm Tree
Now you will need a place that has sandy, well-draining soil. Coconut trees need a lot of water and nutrients, but they can’t stand soaking their roots in water. You can also start your coconut tree in a container as long as it has plenty of drainage holes.
Your pot should be able to hold at least ten gallons of soil. You can purchase well-draining soil such as 10 Quart Hoffman Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil. It comes in a set of four, so you’ll easily have ten gallons full of fast-draining cactus soil, perfect for your coconut sprout.
You can also make your own mix by using a regular potting mix, a bit of gravel, and sand.
You need one part potting mix, with one part sand, and then add in a few handfuls of fine gravel per every ten gallons. Mix it well so everything is evenly distributed.
Let The Top Show
Whether you’re planting your coconut in the ground or a container you need to leave the top third of the coconut exposed.
Don’t plant the entire coconut in the ground. You don’t want the sprout to start rotting.
Out in the world, coconuts usually start in the sand and stay partially exposed until the tree has used all the nutrients around the pod. It’s best to keep the coconut pod growing as naturally as possible.
If you’re planting it outdoors, putting it in a raised bed will help with drainage issues. Especially if your ground has a lot of clay, is dense, holds a lot of water, or you’re in a low-lying area.
You will want to minimize movement during this critical growth phase. If you’ve changed your mind about the placement of your palm tree and feel like moving it, however, check out the best steps for transporting palm trees.
What To Expect During The First Year Growing A Palm Tree
Palm trees need lots of sun, so plant them (or move the container to an area that receives) all day sunlight.
For extra protection, if you’re planting them directly into the soil, you can put up a temporary greenhouse. Push three to four stakes into the ground around the coconut. Bamboo stakes work great here if you have access to them.
Then wrap it with thin, clear plastic wrap to create a greenhouse environment. Be sure to leave yourself a way to deliver water as you’ll have to water it frequently. Once the palm sprout is a little over a foot tall, you can remove the temporary greenhouse.
In addition to plenty of sunlight, coconut trees need warm temperatures. They do best when the temps are in the high 70s and 80s Fahrenheit. Coconut palms cannot tolerate cold temperatures, and freezing temps are a game ender.
If temperatures are threatening to reach near freezing, you should cover the tree. Especially if it’s only a few years old. A fabric such as burlap or muslin will help protect from a light frost and protect your tree from the occasional cold snap.
Water The Palm Tree Frequently During Year 1
For the first year, you need to water the sprouting palm tree about two times per week. Give it a good soaking so the water penetrates the roots before it all washes away. The best way to accomplish this deep, draining watering is to use a soaker hose.
For small spaces, this 1/2’’ Soaker Hose 10 Ft is a great choice. It’s only ten feet long, which is just enough space to wrap around your coconut seedling.
Turn it on, let it slowly soak the ground and your palm tree gets a deep drink of water without staying wet too long.
Because of the big husk surrounding the coconut, you don’t have to fertilize it for the first year. The husk breaks down and supplies the tree with all the nutrients it needs for its first growing season.
If you’re planting the palm tree outside, the University of Hawaii reports that coconut palms thrive in areas with more than 60inches of rain, so just make sure you’re watering a bunch!
I highly recommend taking a peak at our guide on watering coconut trees to learn more about properly watering your tree!
Watch Out For Common Coconut Palm Pests
Coconut palms usually don’t have to worry about too many pests. They are hardy trees that can usually withstand insect invaders with minimal damage. While the trees are young though, insects can cause pretty significant damage.
Keep on the lookout for aphids, caterpillars, and the red palm mite that are destructive to palm trees during the first year. Caterpillars are easily controlled by plucking them off the leaves and disposing of them.
Aphids and mites can usually be found on the undersides of the leaves. There they pierce the leaves and suck out the fluids leaving yellow and in large infestations, brown, crispy leaves.
All of these insects can be treated using horticultural oil, or a mixture of water and dish soap. Just spray the leaves—top and bottom—and the insects themselves to get rid of them. You will probably have to spray the tree every couple of days to keep newer generations controlled.
How Tall Will My Coconut Grow During The First Year?
Coconut palm trees are fast, vigorous growers in the first years. They have to grow strong fast because of their native climate. They often have to withstand tropical storms and hurricanes on a yearly basis.
In the first year, with the proper lighting, well-draining soil, and plenty of water, your palm tree could grow more than a foot, to three feet tall.
According to the University of Florida, your palm won’t look like it’s growing very much in the first year so be patient. During this time most of the growing energy is diverted to growing and channeling deep roots. Just be sure to water it frequently during the first months to a year!
How To Keep Your Coconut Palm Healthy For The Next Several Years
After the first year, your coconut palm tree is becoming more established. There may not be as many pests or fungus that affect healthy palm trees, but they still need to be watered regularly. In addition to this, now it’s time to start adding fertilizer to your palm tree.
Keep an eye on the soil around your palm tree after the first year. When it starts to dry out, go ahead and give it some water. As they get older, they will require less frequent watering, unless they are starting to produce fruit, then they will require much more water.
Coconut trees are heavy feeders and will suffer if they don’t get enough nutrients. The nutrients coconut palms need the most include phosphorus, nitrogen, manganese, and boron.
According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, palm trees are susceptible to nitrogen, magnesium, manganese, and potassium deficiencies. Yellowing, spotting, or streaking of the fronds will appear when the plants have these deficiencies.
Using a good quality palm food like this Miracle-Gro Palm Tree Food, 20 lb can take the guesswork out of fertilization. Apply it every two months and spread it around the width of the tree’s canopy to keep it healthy.
A good rule of thumb is to use a pound of plant food for every 100 square feet of ground.
Want to plant something else under your palm tree? Check out some of the most beautiful plants to put under your palm tree!
Will My Coconut Palm Produce Flowers?
Palm trees do produce flowers. Some produce flowers every year, while some will flower only once in their life and then promptly start to die. Most palm tree flowers are small and inconspicuous, so don’t go looking for beautiful, extravagant blooms.
Coconut palm trees will start to flower after about 4 to 6 years of age according to the University of Florida. To produce coconuts these flowers need to be pollinated by bees, butterflies, or bats. You don’t need two separate trees to accomplish pollination, you just need a few visitors to transfer the pollen.
After the flowers are pollinated the tree will start to make little coconuts. The first couple of years after the tree starts to produce coconuts, it will produce smaller numbers of fruits until a few years later. They typically produce in peak numbers at the ages of 15 to 20 years old.
Compared to most fruit and nut trees which don’t produce their first fruit until they are 20 to 30 years old, coconut trees are early producers! Even in the early years, you will get dozens of coconuts. Fully mature, prime coconut trees often produce up to 200 coconuts per tree.
Imagine all the things you can do with all that coconut meat. Fresh coconut shrimp, coconut cream pies, pina coladas, and many more!
When To Harvest Coconuts
It can take anywhere from seven months up to a full year for the coconuts to get ripe enough to harvest. They will often ripen at different times as well.
If you want more of the coconut water inside, harvest them closer to the early stages of ripeness. For the most liquid, harvest your coconuts at seven to nine months. If you want sweeter coconut meat, wait until the coconuts have hung on the tree for a year, or harvest them once they have fallen to the ground.
Managing Your Palm Tree Ten Years And Beyond
After your coconut tree has reached the decade mark, you know how to take care of it. Continue to water it as needed, more so when it has coconuts in the canopy. You can also drop back to fertilizing it once every three months because the roots should be wide and deep enough to get more nutrients.
At this age, if the palm tree gets any insect pests, it can usually fight them off without any lasting damage. The only pest or ailment you really need to watch out for is a called Lethal Yellow (LY).
It was very rampant in the 1960s and 70s and caused a lot of damage to many species of palm trees. Signs of LY on palm trees include yellowing leaves, and dropping fruit, which eventually lead to the demise of the tree.
It can be treated by an arborist, but they’ll have to administer the medication every four months. Once you start treatment thought, you’ll have to continue the treatment for the rest of the tree’s life. If your tree comes down with LY, it may be easier and more cost-effective to remove the palm tree.
We do something similar to manage cytospora on the Norway Spruces near the edge of our home.
If you want to transport your palm tree incase you didn’t like your initial planting spot, take a look at our guide with steps for transporting your palm tree!
How Long Do Palm Trees Live?
If you’re keeping a coconut tree indoors you will not see any coconuts from it, and it will only live for about five to ten years. They truly thrive outdoors in the tropical heat and humidity. Planted outdoors your coconut palm tree will last up to 80 years.
Some species of palm trees only live to be 25 years old, while some can live over 100 years. Whichever type of palm you grow, you will have that tropical feeling whenever you see it for many years.
Wrapping It Up
While palm trees can be a little difficult to start, it’s the only way to propagate them. They grow in a way that makes cutting and grafting nearly impossible.
While you can occasionally find them already growing in a nursery, there’s a certain satisfaction in starting a tree from a seed. Just think of the bragging rights you’ll have when you show everyone you grew your own coconut palm from a grocery store coconut.
Now that you know how to grow your own coconut palm, and what to expect through the years, give it a shot. Your patience will be rewarded.
Barot, Sébastien, Jacques Gignoux, and Jean-Claude Menaut. “Demography of a savanna palm tree: predictions from comprehensive spatial pattern analyses.” Ecology 80.6 (1999): 1987-2005.
Hairuddin, Muhammad Asraf, Nooritawati Md Tahir, and Shah Rizam Shah Baki. “Overview of image processing approach for nutrient deficiencies detection in Elaeis Guineensis.” 2011 IEEE international conference on system engineering and technology. IEEE, 2011.
Adib, NAN Mohd, and S. Daliman. “Conceptual framework of smart fertilization management for oil palm tree based on IOT and deep learning.” IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. Vol. 842. No. 1. IOP Publishing, 2021.
Al-Deeb, Mohammad Ali. “Date palm insect and mite pests and their management.” Dates production, processing, food, and medicinal values (2012): 113-128.
Tsai, James H. “Lethal yellowing of palms.” Plant Diseases of Viral, Viroid, Mycoplasma and Uncertain Etiology. CRC Press, 2019. 83-94.
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