How to Plant an Oil Palm Tree

Overview

Sometimes called "poor man's Canary Island date palm," oil palms become impressive feather-frond plants suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and warmer. Two species are referred to as oil palms and grow 40 to 60 feet tall with fronds upwards of 20 feet in length: African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and American oil palm (Elaeis oleifera). The former grows considerably faster than the latter in fertile, humus-rich soils.

Step 1

Locate a spot in the landscape where the oil palm will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Tolerant of partial shade, an oil palm's growth and canopy becomes more lush and uniform where light reaches it from all sides.

Step 2

Dig a small hole with a garden shovel in the spot where you wish to plant the oil palm. For the palm to grow well, it must be a fertile soil that drains well. Also, don't dig a planting hole in an area riddled with rocks or compacted soil.

Step 3

Measure the size of the palm's root ball with the garden shovel, noting the approximate width and depth of the palm's root ball in the container.

Step 4

Dig a hole the same depth as the palm's root ball and two to three times as wide.

Step 5

Remove the palm from the container and rest the root ball in the center of the planting hole. Add or remove soil from the planting hole as needed to get the top of the root ball to match the height of the planting hole. Avoid planting the root ball too deeply.

Step 6

Replace the soil around the palm, filling the hole with native, unamended soil. Do not fill the hole with amended, perfect soil and do not add fertilizers. Tamp the soil down gently with your foot. Once the hole is filled, create a low berm around the palm to act as a water catchment basin.

Step 7

Pour irrigation water from a garden hose or watering can into the basin, allowing it to soak down around the palm root ball. Add more soil if considerable settling causes the root ball to protrude in the hole. Add more water after the initial water soaks away so that you are confident the planting hole becomes thoroughly moistened and drains away within 30 minutes.

Step 8

Lay a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch over the planting site. This mulch helps retain soil moisture around the palm's roots and prevent competing weeds from sprouting up at the palm's base. The mulch also breaks down to provide nutrients to the soil.

Tips and Warnings

  • The bottoms of the long fronds bear spines. Wear gloves when handling oil palms, particularly when working near frond bases and the trunk.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden shovel
  • Water hose/can
  • Nylon banding/twine

References

  • University of Florida: Planting a Palm Tree
  • Grounds Maintenance: Planting Palms
  • "An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms"; Robert Lee Riffle and Paul Craft; 2003
Keywords: Elaeis, planting palms, African oil palm, American oil palm

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.