Ornamental Palms for Central Florida1

Timothy K. Broschat and James E. Davis 2

Palms are often thought of as symbols of the tropics, but fortunately there are a number of palm species that grow in warm, temperate climates, such as that of Central Florida. Palms offer bold-textured foliage and characteristic growth forms that no other plant group can provide. Palms may have feather-like leaves (pinnate) or fan-shaped leaves (palmate) on slender to thick trunks. They may be single or multistemmed (clumping) and range in height from a couple of feet to more than 100 feet.

When choosing a palm for a particular site, keep in mind the species' ultimate size in terms of both height and spread. Are there overhead power lines nearby that the palm will eventually grow into? Will a tall species eventually look out of place next to a single-story house? Is there sufficient space to accommodate potentially large leaves or the broad spread of some clumping species? If the property is close to the seashore, keep in mind that only a few species tolerate salt spray on their foliage, and even fewer tolerate brackish water on their roots.

Planting Palms

When planting palms, avoid sites with very high water tables unless you can build up the site with a sand berm on which to plant. Dig a hole the same depth as the root ball but about twice the diameter. Place the palm in the hole and refill the hole with the soil that was removed from it. Research has shown no benefits from amending the backfill with organic matter (peat, etc.) or any other material. Do not worry about any tightly wrapped roots in container-grown palms. Although wrapping roots can cause serious problems for broad-leaved trees and shrubs, wrapped palm roots will eventually be replaced by larger, straight roots from the base of the palm trunk. A properly planted palm should have about 1 inch of soil covering the top of the root ball. Large field-grown palms require specialized heavy equipment and are best installed by professional landscapers.

Container-grown palms benefit from fertilization with a good controlled-release, container-type fertilizer (an analysis of 18-6-12 or similar would be appropriate) applied to the soil surface over the planting hole during the first 6 months after planting. Field-grown palms may also be fertilized, but with a landscape palm fertilizer having an analysis of 8-2-12-4Mg. This landscape fertilizer should also be used on container-grown palms after the first 6 months.

In order to retain water in the vicinity of the root ball, it is recommended to construct a shallow (6–8 inches high) berm with soil just outside the perimeter of the planting hole. The amount of water to be applied and the frequency of its application depend on the soil type, temperature, humidity, wind speed, light intensity, and other conditions. The point is to apply enough water that it penetrates down to the bottom of the root ball. It should be repeated when the soil about 2 inches down begins to dry. The root ball should never be allowed to completely dry out until the palm becomes well established. For most species, that will generally be about 12 months after transplanting. Any bracing installed for support can be removed at that time. For more information about transplanting palms, see Transplanting Palms in the Landscape (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep001).

Palm Maintenance

Once established, palm maintenance is fairly simple. Completely dead leaves need to be removed if they do not fall off by themselves. However, avoid removing discolored or partially dead older leaves as these are symptoms of potassium deficiency (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep269); removing them removes a supplemental source of potassium for the palms growing in potassium-deficient soils (all soils in Central Florida are potassium deficient for palms). For more information, see Pruning Palms (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep443).

After a year of establishment, most palms do not require supplemental irrigation except under severe drought conditions. However, they do benefit from regular fertilization with a slow-release palm fertilizer having an analysis of 8-2-12-4Mg or 8-0-12-4Mg. For more information about fertilizing palms in the landscape, refer to Fertilization of Field-Grown and Landscape Palms in Florida (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep261).

Palm Problems

Most palms are susceptible to one or more problems that may be important when selecting a particular species. For example, Canary Island date palms (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp139), queen palms, and Mexican fan palms (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp278) are highly susceptible to a lethal disease called Fusarium wilt. Date palms, such as Phoenix dactylifera (edible date) and P. sylvestris (wild date), and cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) are highly susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp163), a Central Florida relative of lethal yellowing (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp146), a disease that does not occur in Central Florida. On the other hand, all palms are susceptible to trunk rot diseases, such as Ganoderma butt rot (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp100) and Thielaviopsis trunk rot (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp143), so there are no species resistant to these diseases from which to select. Planting a wide variety of palm species or mixing palms with hardwood trees helps reduce the chances for a disease epidemic. All palms are susceptible to nutritional deficiencies (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep273), physiological disorders (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep263), and insect pests, but most of these problems are treatable. Finally, when growing palms in less than tropical climates, cold injury is a common recurring problem. For more information, please refer to Cold Damage on Palms (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg318).

Palm Species

Table 1 provides a list of palm species that generally grow well in Central Florida. While other species, including foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcata), pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi), and Alexandra palm (Archonotophoenix alexandrae), are sometimes marketed in Central Florida and may survive with damage in some protected locations, they are not reliably hardy in most of the region.

Figure 1. Acoelorrhaphe wrightii
Figure 1.  Acoelorrhaphe wrightii
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 2. Allagoptera arenaria
Figure 2.  Allagoptera arenaria
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 3. Arenga engleri
Figure 3.  Arenga engleri
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 4. Bismarckia nobilis
Figure 4.  Bismarckia nobilis
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 5. Butia capitata
Figure 5.  Butia capitata
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 6. X Butiagrus nabonnandii
Figure 6.  X Butiagrus nabonnandii
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 7. Chamaedorea microspadix
Figure 7.  Chamaedorea microspadix
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 8. Chamaerops humilis
Figure 8.  Chamaerops humilis
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 9. Copernicia alba
Figure 9.  Copernicia alba
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 10. Livistona australis
Figure 10.  Livistona australis
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 11. Livistona chinensis
Figure 11.  Livistona chinensis
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 12. Livistona decora
Figure 12.  Livistona decora
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 13. Livistona saribus
Figure 13.  Livistona saribus
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 14. Phoenix canariensis
Figure 14.  Phoenix canariensis
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 15. Phoenix dactylifera
Figure 15.  Phoenix dactylifera
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 16. Phoenix reclinata
Figure 16.  Phoenix reclinata
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 17. Phoenix sylvestris
Figure 17.  Phoenix sylvestris
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 18. Rhapidophyllum hystrix
Figure 18.  Rhapidophyllum hystrix
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 20. Rhapis humilis
Figure 20.  Rhapis humilis
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 21. Rhapis multifida
Figure 21.  Rhapis multifida
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 22. Sabal causiarum
Figure 22.  Sabal causiarum
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 23. Sabal minor
Figure 23.  Sabal minor
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 24. Sabal palmetto
Figure 24.  Sabal palmetto
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 25. Serenoa repens
Figure 25.  Serenoa repens
Credit: J. E. Davis, UF/IFAS

Figure 26. Syagrus romanzoffiana
Figure 26.  Syagrus romanzoffiana
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 27. Trachycarpus fortunei
Figure 27.  Trachycarpus fortunei
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 28. Trachycarpus martianus
Figure 28.  Trachycarpus martianus
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 29. Washingtonia filifera and W. robusta
Figure 29.  Washingtonia filifera and W. robusta
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Figure 30. Washingtonia robusta
Figure 30.  Washingtonia robusta
Credit: T. K. Broschat, UF/IFAS

Tables

Table 1. 

Selected Palms for Central Florida

Species

Common name

Image

Leaf type

Typical size (H x W)

Zone*

Clumping/ single stem?

Salt spray tolerance

Comments

Acoelorrhaphe wrightii

Paurotis palm

See Figure 1

Fan

20 x 20 ft

9a

Clumping

Moderate

Poorly adapted to alkaline soils; petioles spiny

Allagoptera arenaria

Seashore palm

See Figure 2

Feather

5 x 8 ft

9b

Clumping

High

Shrubby palm with blue-green foliage; good for coastal sites

Arenga engleri

Dwarf sugar palm

See Figure 3

Feather

10 x 15 ft

9b

Clumping

Low

Individual stems die after fruiting

Bismarckia nobilis

Bismarck palm

See Figure 4

Fan

30 x 20 ft

9b?

Single stem

Moderate

Marginally hardy in Central Florida; silver and green forms exist; less wind resistant than most species

Butia capitata

Pindo palm

See Figure 5

Feather

15 x 12 ft

8a

Single stem

Low

Edible fruit; slow growing but extremely hardy

X Butiagrus nabonnandii

Mule palm

See Figure 6

Feather

25 x 20 ft

8a

Single stem

Low

Slow growing; variable in size and form

Chamaedorea microspadix

Hardy bamboo palm

See Figure 7

Feather

6 x 6 ft

9a

Clumping

Low

Requires shade

Chamaedorea radicalis

Dwarf bamboo palm

No photo available

Feather

5 x 3 ft

9a

Clumping

Low

Requires shade

Chamaerops humilis

European fan palm

See Figure 8

Fan

15 x 20 ft

8a

Clumping

Moderate

Extremely hardy; petioles are spiny

Copernicia alba

Caranday palm

See Figure 9

Fan

35 x 12 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Petioles spiny

Livistona australis

Australian cabbage palm

See Figure 10

Fan

40 x 12 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Petioles spiny

Livistona chinensis

Chinese fan palm

See Figure 11

Fan

30 x 12 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Drooping leaflet tips

Livistona decora

Ribbon palm

See Figure 12

Fan

30 x 12 ft

9b

Single stem

Low

Finely divided drooping leaflets

Livistona fulva

Blackdown Tableland palm

No photo available

Fan

30 x 15 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Undersurface of new leaves tawny colored

Livistona rigida

Red palm

No photo available

Fan

30 x 15 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Seedlings have dull red color; petioles spiny

Livistona saribus

Taraw palm

See Figure 13

Fan

35 x 15 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Green petiole form thought more cold hardy than red petiole form

Nannorhops ritchiana

Mazari palm

No photo available

Fan

10 x 12 ft

8a

Clumping

Moderate

Blue-green foliage; individual stems die after fruiting

Phoenix canariensis

Canary Island date palm

See Figure 14

Feather

40 x 25 ft

9a

Single stem

Low

Spiny petioles; susceptible to Fusarium wilt and Texas Phoenix palm decline

Phoenix dactylifera

Edible date palm

See Figure 15

Feather

50 x 25 ft

9a

Single stem

High

Blue-green foliage; spiny petioles; susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline

Phoenix reclinata

Senegal date palm

See Figure 16

Feather

45 x 40 ft

9b

Clumping

Moderate

Too large for small properties; spiny petioles; susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline; can be invasive

Phoenix sylvestris

Wild date palm

See Figure 17

Feather

40 x 25 ft

9a

Single stem

Moderate

Spiny petioles; susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline

Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Needle palm

See Figure 18

Fan

6 x 6 ft

7a

Clumping

Low

Spines on trunk; does best under shade; very cold hardy

Rhapis excelsa

Lady palm

See Figure 19

Fan

8 x 8 ft

9a

Clumping

Low

Grows best under shade

Rhapis humilis

Slender lady palm

See Figure 20

Fan

10 x 12 ft

9a

Clumping

Low

Grows best under shade

Rhapis multifida

Finger palm

See Figure 21

Fan

8 x 8 ft

9a

Clumping

Low

Grows best under shade

Sabal causiarum

Puerto Rican hat palm

See Figure 22

Fan

50 x 16 ft

9a

Single stem

Moderate

Massive trunk; very cold hardy

Sabal minor

Dwarf palmetto

See Figure 23

Fan

8 x 8 ft

7a

Single stem

Moderate

Rarely forms a trunk, but var. Louisiana does

Sabal palmetto

Cabbage palm

See Figure 24

Fan

50 x 10 ft

8a

Single stem

High

May or may not retain old leaf bases; susceptible to Texas Phoenix palm decline

Serenoa repens

Saw palmetto

See Figure 25

Fan

6 x 12 ft

8b

Clumping

High

Silver- and green-leaved forms exist; develops sprawling underground or prostrate trunks

Syagrus romanzoffiana

Queen palm

See Figure 26

Feather

50 x 18 ft

9b

Single stem

Moderate

Grows poorly on alkaline soils; susceptible to Fusarium wilt; less wind resistant than most species

Trachycarpus fortunei

Windmill palm

See Figure 27

Fan

25 x 7 ft

8a

Single stem

Low

Extremely cold hardy

Trachycarpus latisectus

Windamere palm

No photo available

Fan

25 x 7 ft

9a

Single stem

Low

Similar to T. fortunei

Trachycarpus martianus

Khasia Hills palm

See Figure 28

Fan

25 x 7 ft

9a

Single stem

Low

Similar to T. fortunei

Trachycarpus wagnerianus

Miniature Chusan palm

No photo available

Fan

20 x 5 ft

9a

Single stem

Low

Similar to T. fortunei

Washingtonia filifera

California fan palm

See Figure 29

Fan

50 x 12 ft

8b

Single stem

Moderate

Hardy but poorly adapted to humid climates; susceptible to Fusarium wilt

Washingtonia robusta

Mexican fan palm

See Figures 29 and 30

Fan

80 x 10 ft

9a

Single stem

Moderate

Grows too tall for residential landscapes; susceptible to Fusarium wilt; fast growing, but not as wind resistant as other species

*USDA plant hardiness zone

Footnotes

1. This document is ENH-60, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date February 1982. Revised June 1997, September 2003, and, December 2013. Reviewed February 2019. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Timothy K. Broschat, professor, UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center; and James E. Davis, Extension agent, UF/IFAS Extension Sumter County; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.