How To Fertilize Palm Trees For Maximum Results

When choosing a palm tree, one of the most important elements of keeping your tree healthy is one How To Fertilize Palm Trees of the most overlooked. Most people check the common things like zone tolerance, water and light requirements, size and cost. While these are obviously important in keeping your palm healthy, many people forget that palms also need to be fertilized for the best results.

Knowing how to fertilize palm trees can be tricky as there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Here are a few examples of questions you may be asking yourself…

  • What is the best fertilizer for palm trees?
  • Should I use fertilizer spikes?
  • How often should I fertilize?
  • Can too much fertilizer kill a palm tree?

Over the next several paragraphs I hope to shed a little more light on not only how to properly fertilize a palm tree, but being able to spot nutrient deficiencies ahead of time so proper care can be taken.

Why Do I Need To Fertilize Palm Trees?How To Fertilize Palm Trees

Much like people need a healthy diet to operate efficiently, palm trees need proper nutrients to thrive as well.

Due to the varying soil types around our globe, some soils can be void of critical nutrients that can make a huge difference in the overall appearance and health of the palm. Being able to recognize these deficiencies early on can not only give you an idea of what the palm needs, but you will also be able to thwart off any long term damage from nutrient neglect.

One of the most common problems in palm trees is potassium deficiency. This one in particular is easy to spot since the fronds will start showing yellowish spotting on older fronds and will eventually start spreading to newer fronds. If not properly addressed, death could eventually follow. Some other nutrients that palms will need include manganese, iron and magnesium.

How Can I Tell If My Palm Needs Fertilizing?

Luckily, there are obvious ways to tell if your palm is suffering from a particular deficiency. Here is a list of the three most common deficiencies and how to tell if your palm may be suffering from them.

Manganese

Manganese deficiency is evident in new growth and can cause yellowing fronds, reduced leaf size and if not treated properly, the palm may die.How To Fertilize Palm Trees - Yellowed Fronds

Potassium

Potassium deficiency targets old growth and will develop yellowing spots on the fronds.  If the condition is severe enough, new fronds can be affected. Like manganese deficiency, if the palm is left untreated, the palm may die. Treating the palm for potassium deficiency will cause magnesium deficiency, so make sure that both of these nutrients are part of your fertilizing formula.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency affects older growth causing yellowing at the tips of the leaves while the center remains green. It affects most species of palms and will need to be used together with potassium to balance out any loss of magnesium.

Slow Release vs. Quick Release Formula

Not all fertilizer will be ideal for fertilizing palm trees. Not using the right formula or strength of fertilizer, such as a quick release lawn fertilizer, can severely damage and even kill the palm.

It’s always best to use a slow release fertilizer a couple of times a year during the spring and summer months to ensure the palm will keep receiving proper nutrients during the growing season.  In areas where temperatures remain mild year round, fertilizing a few times throughout the year will be necessary since the palm will be putting out new growth on a regular basis.

You will also want to pick a fertilizer with a balanced ratio of nutrients.  Having too much or too little of vital nutrients can do more harm than good.  If you are unsure of how much fertilizer to use, it is better to underfertilize as overfertilizing can cause more problems.  So, how do you know which nutrients to look for and how much to use?

NPK Method

NPK Formula
NPK letters made of mineral fertilizers background. N – nitrogen, P – phosphorus, K – potassium (kalium)

When choosing a fertilizer, you will want to go with a 3:1:3 ratio of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium.  Keep in mind that this 3:1:3 ratio is a guide and could be listed differently, such as 12:4:12 or 15:5:15, however the ratio remains the same.  Many of these fertilizers include micro nutrients, such as manganese, to assist in new growth and aid in the overall health of the palm.

You will also see slightly different ratios with higher or lower numbers of nitrogen or potassium that are also effective, such as a 2:1:2 or 3:1:2, but sticking as close to the 3:1:3 ratio will give you the best balance of nutrients.

One thing I would like to mention is that once you find a method or nutrient ratio that works for you, STICK WITH IT!  Some species of palms have slightly different nutrient needs depending on their ideal soil and growing conditions, so keep using what works!

Fertilizer SpikesFertilizer Spikes

For a more hands-off approach, fertilizer spikes have grown in popularity for their quality and ease of use.

While a more convenient method, using spikes can be a challenge since they are only able to cover a limited area of the root system.

In places such as Florida this can be a challenge since the abundance of sandy soil combined with regular rainfall can flush the nutrients away from the root system in a short amount of time.  In these conditions, using more spikes or using granular fertilizer instead would work best for better coverage.

However, in most conditions fertilizer spikes are an excellent choice since all of the nutrients are self contained in the spike, leaving no mess to clean up afterward!  This can be a huge time saver for folks that want healthy looking palms, but don’t have the time or space to use granular fertilizer.

Below is a brief video I came across demonstrating how to easily and properly insert fertilizer spikes…

Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of using fertilizer spikes:

PROS

  • Convenient and compact.  Great for people that don’t have a lot of room to store multiple bags of fertilizer.
  • Spikes are already measured with the proper nutrient balance for optimum health of the palm.
  • Saves time with having to spread around granular fertilizer.  Just spike it and forget it!
  • Fertilizer spikes are time released causing less chance of over or under fertilization.

CONS

  • More expensive than granular fertilizer.
  • Provide nutrients to only a limited area of the root system, so larger trees will require more spikes.
  • Spikes are fragile and can break easily so special care is needed, especially when installing.

 

The Wrap Up (and some general tips)

Fertilizing palm trees can be quite simple and painless.  It’s just a matter of taking the time to correctly apply the nutrients a couple of times a year.

If kept fed on a regular basis, palms will not only look good in your landscape, but can add visual and monetary value to your property.Nutrient Deficient WIndmill Palm

Here are some general tips on how to apply fertilizer to your palm trees…

  • For large trees, apply fertilizer approximately 12-18 inches away from the trunk and spread evenly out to the tips of the fronds, also known as the tree’s “drip line”.
  • Never apply fertilizer directly on the palm.
  • When shopping for palm fertilizer, look for an NPK ratio of 3:1:3, 2:1:2 or similar to ensure proper, balanced nutrients.
  • Always water soil before and after fertilizing to allow nutrients to sink into the root system.
  • Wait approximately 6 weeks or so after transplanting a palm before feeding it, so the roots will have time to establish and to reduce the risk of shock.
  • Always read the directions for the specific fertilizer you plan to use to ensure the best results.
  • Consider organic alternatives such as blood meal or fish emulsion.
  • Once you find a formula balance that works for you…stick with it!

While the process of figuring out which fertilizers work best for palm trees can be a little daunting, once you know what nutrients are required, the ratios of the nutrients used and how to properly apply them, fertilizing palm trees is actually quite simple and not as time consuming as one might imagine.

While I try to provide as much information as possible in my writings, things can get overlooked or missed, so please feel free to leave a comment or question if I may have left something out.

Now…go feed those palms!


6 thoughts on “How To Fertilize Palm Trees For Maximum Results”

  1. I learned something new with a product called wraps that can be used to release fertilizer over time. Do you think that you prefer extended release caps or just instantly putting the fertilizer on? Do you think that these fertilizer wraps or applications would work on fruit trees that I have?

    Reply
    • Hi Jon,

      I’m not aware of wraps for the purpose of fertilizing other than protection from the elements.  Spikes are great for making sure you aren’t over or under fertilizing as well as providing a steady, slow release over several months.  Fruit trees love a high nitrogen, organic mixture, so products such as blood, soybean or cottonseed meal would be an ideal bet for your trees.  However, fruit tree fertilizer is also readily available in granular, liquid and spike form, so it’s really up to you.  I would definitely check out the organic options first as it could be a more cost effective choice and may even give you better results.

      Thank you for your comment and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

      Mike

      Reply
  2. I had a beautiful Roeby Rex palm transplanted about six week ago. The limbs are turning yellow and there are (babies) growing at the base of the tree. Is it okay to fertilize the palm now or should I wait?

    Reply
    • Hi!

      There could be several factors at play involving yellowing limbs. Since it was transplanted recently, it could be something as simple as going through a level of shock as the roots of these palms are quite fragile. Also, is the palm planted in the ground outside or in a pot? Is it brought in during the winter months or are you in a mild climate where they can stay out year round? Does it get full or part sun? This can help in figuring out what action might need to be taken.

      Another possibility could be over or under-watering. Brown leaves usually are a sign of the palm not getting enough water and if yellowing, could be a sign of over-watering. Watering frequency will vary depending on if you are growing these outdoors or indoors. If outdoors during hot summer months, these palms will need a good water a couple of times a week with a good well-draining, sandy soil mix. Cactus mix used half and half with regular potting soil should work just fine.

      A big cause of yellowing could also be from nutrient deficiency. Yellowing is pretty common on old growth with these palms and will continue to use nutrients from the old growth as long as some green color is still present. If you need to fertilize, it is best to do so once every 3-4 months during the growing season. This will vary as people living in warmer, tropical zones will be fertilizing most of the year, whereas folks living in colder climates will not need to fertilize during the winter months since the palms will go into dormancy. Pick up fertilizing again in the spring once the palm comes out of dormancy and new growth starts to appear.

      A nice thing about the roeby palms is that they make great indoor potted palms as well if outdoor growing isn’t an option or if the palm doesn’t seem to be thriving well in certain outdoor conditions.

      I hope this helped and thank you for the comment!

      Reply
    • NPK is the measurement to look for when picking out palm tree fertilizer. The ideal ratio to look for is 3:1:3 of Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P) and Potassium (K) respectively. Palms need slow release fertilizers during the growing months to do their best. Stay away from the quick release stuff such as lawn fertilizer or it could kill the palm. There are several types of fertilizers on the market that are specifically made for palm trees, so those should work just fine for you.

      Reply

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