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Palms: The Right Plant in the Right Place

Palm trees are iconic of lush tropical locations around the world. They have long been part of classic gardens in temperate England and the Mediterranean. Palms are also at home along the Carolina Coastal Plain.

Choose the right palm, plant and maintain it properly and you should have no worries about it during cold weather.


Palms grow best in Zones 8 through 10. Cold hardy varieties are suited to our climate. The following palms are reliably hardy along South Carolina’s coastal plain.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is a southeastern US native with a shrubby mounding habit. It grows to 10 ft. tall in sand or clay and in seasonally flooded soil.

Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is a native Asian species with varieties ranging from 3 to 40 ft. It grows in tree form with a slender trunk. The Windmill Palm prefers clay soil but will grow in sandy soil, albeit more slowly. It prefers full sun—shade also slows its growth.

Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) is a clumping palm that forms multiple trunks 10 to 20 ft. high. It is native to parts of the Mediterranean coast and southwestern Europe.

Jelly or Pindo Palm (Butia capitata) forms a stout trunk as it grows up to 20 ft. tall. The fruit is edible and used to make jelly—hence the name, Jelly Palm.

Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) varieties have a shrubby habit and squat trunk. They grow 7 to 12 ft. tall. Scrub Palm (Sabal etonia) which also has shrubby habit but sometimes forms a trunk grows 5 to 7 ft. tall.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a tough palm that spreads as its trunk creeps along the ground rooting and branching along the way.

Palmetto or Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto) forms a tree with a stout trunk that can reach 30 to 40 ft. high. The Palmetto palm is the state tree of South Carolina.

The roots of Sabal palms do not branch; a severed root dies. There is no broad root ball. The root initiation zone at the base of the trunk is not fully developed until a Sabal palm is 10 feet tall. Consequently, it is a worthless endeavor to dig up and transplant a manageably seized Sabal palm, be it in your own yard, from a neighbor’s yard or from the wild.

With all palms transplant success requires water and warm weather.


Site palms in a sunny well drained location that is protected from winter winds. Avoid low areas where water may pool from rain or irrigation.

Plant palms during warm weather, not in fall or winter.

Dig a hole wide enough for the root ball to fit in easily, but no deeper than the root ball. Create a small berm around the root ball to retain water.

Don’t augment or top dress the soil with compost when planting your palm. Don’t use compost around well-established palms.

Mulch under the canopy of your palm. Don’t mulch within in a 6 in. radius of the trunk.

Don’t expect palms to develop a lot of top growth during the first year.


Keep palms moist for the first 4 to 6 months after planting.

Wait 3 to 4 months after planting to fertilize the root area.

Use a fertilizer formulated specifically for palms. Palms need a specific ratio of major nutrients as well as micro nutrients that are not typically in other fertilizers. Broadcast fertilizer evenly under the canopy 4 to 6 times during the growing season, less often during a drought.

Don’t use turf fertilizer around your palm.

Note: Palms are highly susceptible to nutrient deficiencies, so it is essential to fertilize them properly.

Don’t remove old leaves unless they are completely dead. The green part of leaves feeds new growth. It’s okay to snip off the brown parts of older fronds, but leave the green part.

The right palm in the right place is easy to care for. Healthy palms can be a tropical looking and long lived part of your yard.

For more detailed information on palm selection, planting and care google/search Clemson hgic 1019 Palms and Cycads.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.