fan palm

How to Grow and Care for Fan Palms

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Are you interested in learning how to grow and care for fan palms? If so, you’re in the right place!

Fan palms are medium-sized palm trees that can grow upwards of 10 feet tall when grown in containers. The trunks are sleek, can be as wide as 11 inches wide, and are topped with a crown of emerald, fan-like leaves. 

The leaves themselves are rough to the touch, and grow to be 3 feet long. They are attached to the tree via serrated petioles or stems. 

These plants grow creamy and yellow-ish seed pendants, also called inflorescences. 

The flowers develop into oval shaped fruits that start off green, but that eventually turn to a blue-ish gray when they are ripe. Fan palms can either grow with a single trunk, or have multiple, clustering trunks. Often the clustering species turn out smaller than the single trunk species. 

They are popular as houseplants because of the tropical and exotic look they can provide to indoor and outdoor spaces alike. 

And because they can be reliably grown with minimal maintenance. If this sounds like the type of plant you’ve been looking for, then keep on reading. Below you’ll find everything you need to know to successfully grow fan palms on your own.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameVaries 
Common namesFan Palms
FamilyArecaceae
Plant TypeHouseplant 
Height and Width10-20 feet tall and wide, indoors
OriginAsia, Africa, Central and South America, Europe 
Flower colorsVaries
Foliage colorGreen
Sun ExposureVaries – usually full sunlight
Soil Type & pHWell-draining soil
Special featuresCan be grown indoors or outside, tropical plant, easy to propagate from cuttings 

How to Grow a Fan Palm Tree

Single trunk fan palms in the wild can grow upwards of 50 feet tall. However, there are also smaller, clustering varieties that can be grown in containers, and indoors. These species are the ideal option for introducing a tropical vibe to whatever space they are planted in. 

Propagation

There are two ways to propagate these plants. Propagating from seed is not normally recommended for beginners, as the process is very time-consuming, but nonetheless possible. 

If you do choose to propagate from seed, it’s best to start the process in the Springtime. Shallowly plant the seeds in a potting mix optimized for palm trees, and water thoroughly. To speed up the germination process, you may consider storing your seeds on a heated seedling mat, or in a sealed seedling chamber.

You can also propagate by removing a sucker from the parent plant. Carefully remove the mature parent plant from its container. Loosen the soil from the root ball with lukewarm water, trying not to disturb the other parts of the parent plant’s roots.

Using a sharp and clean knife or pruning shears, remove a sucker that is about 10 inches long, and that has healthy roots attached to it. Replace the parent plant to its container, and plant the sucker into a new container. Firm up the soil around the freshly planted sucker, and water thoroughly. 

Soil

These plants thrive in rich, loamy soil types. However, they have been known to tolerate other, less ideal soil conditions, like clay or sand. They prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH level. 

When growing in containers, it’s best to select a potting mix that is high-quality and designed with palm trees in mind.

Pruning

To maintain a good structure, and tidy aesthetic, occasional pruning can be important for your fan palm. When pruning your fan palm, it’s best to focus on removing the yellow, brown and dying lower branches. 

It’s strategic to wait until the fronds are completely brown and dried up, because even as they are dying off, they are still helping provide valuable nutrients to the palm.

Repotting and Transplanting

These houseplants are slow growing, and will not require a ton of repetitive repotting. However, when you bring a fan home from the nursery, you will probably want to repot it into a better cont container. Likewise, if the palm begins to outgrow its container as it matures, and becomes root bound, it’s best to repot the palm tree.

Make sure to select a container that is slightly larger than the current size of the palm’s root ball. Be as gentle as possible with repotting your plants. Their roots are delicate and are easily damaged. 

After you remove the root ball, and transplant it to a new pot, add some fresh potting mix. Firm up the soil so that the palm can stand up straight. And water the plant very thoroughly. 

How to Care for Fan Palm Trees

Caring for your plants is relatively simple. Once you have decided on the species you want to grow, it’s all about providing the plant with the growing conditions it needs to be successful. In the case of these houseplants, the focus should be on providing rich, moist soil, humidity, as well as routine watering.  

Water

These houseplants enjoy moist soil. During the hotter parts of the year, it may be necessary to water more often. It will just depend on the temperature, and how quickly the soil is drying out. 

During the winter months, when the tree has gone dormant, you do not need to water as regularly. The reason is that during this time, the tree is not actively growing. Overwatering your plants may result in root rot, which, when allowed to worsen, may eventually kill your palm tree. 

Mature and well-established plants can tolerate some periods of drought, and minimal watering. However, they should not go extended periods without water.  

Sunlight

Mature plants grow best in full sun, but they can tolerate partial sun as well. Full sun is considered to be 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Younger plants, which are more sensitive, prefer partial shade, especially during the hottest parts of the year. 

You may consider giving your palm’s container a quarter turn every week. This will help expose all sides of the palm to light, and incentivize even growth. 

Temperature and Humidity

These plants thrive in warm and humid temperatures. With that being said though, they are also known to be able to tolerate cold and frost. They can survive in temperatures as low as 15 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit, however, their foliage will become damaged. 

If you are growing your plants indoors, it’s best to shoot for a 40 to 50% relative humidity level. Getting the right humidity can be finicky at times. To avoid guessing, we recommend you use a humidity monitor. 

To raise the humidity level for your palms, you can:

  • Spritz your palms with water and a spray bottle
  • Use a humidity tray filled with pebbles and water
  • Use a misting humidifier machine

Fertilizer

These plants tend to grow rather slowly indoors. To encourage vigorous growth, you can utilize a slow-release, granular palm fertilizer. But there is no need to overdo it. We normally recommend diluting the dosage of the fertilizer to avoid chemical burn.

If you choose to fertilize your plants, it’s best to do so once during the Spring, and once during the Summer. Fertilizing during the colder winter months when the plant is not actively growing is not necessary. 

If you want to avoid using store-bought chemical fertilizer, you can always add organic mulch around your fan palm to give it a nutritional boost.

Pest and Diseases

In general, these plants are not overly susceptible to one type of insect pest or plant disease. However, they have been known to attract insects like spider mites, whiteflies, and scale insects. 

If you suspect an insect infestation, we recommend washing the palm tree thoroughly before applying an insecticidal product like neem oil. You may continue to apply neem oil in order to prevent insects from returning as well. 

Despite their overall hardiness, palm trees do sometimes get sick. Four diseases that can affect palm trees are:

  • Fusarium Wilt: a fungal disease that creates crinkled, brown, and discolored fronds. The symptoms begin on the bottom of the fronds, and work their way upwards. There is no cure for Fusarium Wilt, but with proper treatment with fungicides and fertilizer, the lifespan of the palm tree can be extended.
  • Ganoderma Butt Rot: a fungal disease that affects root systems and lower portions of palm tree trunks. Butt rot prevents water from moving up the trunk of the tree. First, fronds will wilt, and then a conk will develop from the palm’s butt. There is no treatment for this disease, requiring that sick specimens be removed in order to prevent spreading.
  • Bud Rot: a fungal disease that invades the hearts of the palm trees and prevents the creation of new buds. You can identify bud rot by the lack of new frond development around the crown.
  • Leaf Spot Disease: a fungal disease that creates fuzzy, brown or black spots on the underside of fronds. To treat the condition, you can remove the affected fronds and treat with a fungicide. Most palms suffering from leaf spot disease can recover with the proper intervention. 

Common Varieties and Cultivars

There are dozens of types of fan palms you can grow. Here are some of the most popular. 

Makalani Palm (Hyphaene petersiana)

The Makalani Palm, also known as the Real Fan Palm, is a palm tree indigenous to the low-lying areas of central Africa. In the wild, it has been found growing in woodland flood plains, on the banks of rivers, and along the fringes of swamps. 

This species of palm tree is used by the Ovambo people of Africa to make a traditional palm liquor. The pith is also edible, along with the white endosperm which makes an edible liquid similar to coconut milk. 

Desert Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)

This species of fan palm is also called the California Fan Palm, or the California Palm. It is the only palm tree native to the southwestern United States, and parts of Baja California. Outdoors, it can grow upwards of 70 feet tall. The spread of this tree’s palms can be well over 20 feet wide.

This species of palm tree is an evergreen. That means that its foliage remains green and growing for more than one season. It is also a monocot, meaning it is a grass-like flowering plant.

European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)

The European Fan is a small to medium-sized, evergreen palm tree or shrub. It is a multi-trunk species (with up to 8 trunks), but can also be trained to grow only as a single trunk. It is crowned by beautiful blue green fan-shaped leaves that can grow to be 2 feet long. It is the only palm tree native to Europe.

The European Fan grows well in rich, moist, and well-draining soils in full sun. It can also tolerate poorer, sandier soils. Once it is well established, it can also tolerate drought. These characteristics make it one of the hardier species of fan palm tree. 

Blue Latan Palm (Latania loddigesii)

The Blue Latan is a very rare species of palm tree endemic to Mauritius. The only remaining palms of this type are located on the off-shore islands. Despite its rarity, it is still grown as an ornamental palm tree. 

It is a single trunk palm species that supports two different male and female plants. This means that it has two distinct organisms that create male and female cells. There are two other similar species, the Red Latan and Yellow Latan Palm trees. 

Conclusion

Fan palms are a great way to bring the tropical vibes you loved on your dream vacation home with you. There are a ton of different species to fit your intended growing usage and local climate. 

When grown and maintained in the ideal conditions, fan palms make for a beautiful and relatively low maintenance house plant. And if you want to grow one outside in the yard, you can find a palm good for that also. 

See more: 

References

References:

University of Florida: Washingtonia robusta: Mexican Fan Palm

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST670

University of Florida: European Fan Palm 

https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/palms-and-cycads/european-fan-palm.html

North Carolina State University: Washingtonia robusta

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/washingtonia-robusta/

North Carolina State University: Chamaerops humilis

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/chamaerops-humilis/

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