How to Repot a Madagascar Palm
Repotting a Madagascar palm plant (Pachypodium baronii) is not for the faint of heart because the trunk and stems are lined with sharp spines. These showy succulent shrubs grow best outdoors within USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, but they are also grown as houseplants.
Although Madagascar palm plants are low maintenance, they must be repotted occasionally to refresh their soil or to move them to a larger pot.
The process of repotting a Madagascar palm plant is easy, but it requires an abundance of caution because the plant's sharp spines can cause serious injury.
Madagascar palm plants exude a sticky white sap that can cause an itchy, painful skin rash, so you must be careful to avoid breaking the stems or leaves.
About Madagascar Palm Plants
Madagascar palm plants come from the island of Madagascar, particularly from the arid climate of southwestern and southern Madagascar. All Madagascar palms produce slender green leaves at the top of the trunk, which give them an appearance similar to palm trees. However, they are not true palms but members of the dogbane family, or Apocynaceae.
Madagascar palm trees grow slowly and tolerate being potbound better than most other plants, but they still need to be repotted every two to three years to refresh their soil.
Pachypodium lamerei shares the same common name and repotting needs as the Madagascar palm plant as well as the same USDA hardiness zone preference.
Repotting a Madagascar Palm Plant
The right preparation and good timing matter when repotting Madagascar palm plants. They should be repotted in spring or summer when the plant is putting on new growth. Repotting during the dormant season can interrupt the plant’s growing cycle and should be avoided.
- Pick out your pot in advance. A ceramic or clay pot with drainage holes at the base works best for Madagascar palm plants. The new pot should only be 1 to 2 inches larger than the previous pot.
- A good Madagascar palm soil mix contains two parts potting soil, two parts sharp sand and one part peat or coir. Alternatively, you can use potting mix formulated for cacti or other succulent plants.
- Water your Madagascar palm the night before repotting it, because hydrated roots recover faster from the repotting process.
Oversize pots hold so much soil that it will never dry out completely, leaving soggy soil around the plant’s roots. Wet soil can cause root rot.
Madagascar palms are sharp and spiny plants. Wearing long sleeves, heavy gloves and goggles will help protect your skin and eyes from puncture wounds. Wrapping the trunk in two or three layers of bubble wrap can also help protect yourself and the plant during the repotting process.
- Fill the bottom third of the new pot with potting soil. Make a shallow, bowl-shaped depression in the center of the soil. The potting soil should be barely moist and not sopping wet.
- Carefully lay the Madagascar palm plant on its side and slide the rootball from its original pot. Be sure to cradle the trunk and the top of the plant as you remove it from its pot to keep it from bending or breaking.
- Crumble away half of the soil from around the roots. Inspect the roots for signs of damage or rot. If the rootball is coiled, tease apart the roots so that they will spread out into the fresh soil once potted.
- Settle the root ball of the Madagascar palm into the shallow depression in the soil. Hold the trunk upright with your gloved hand while you add soil into the pot. Keep adding soil until the roots are covered and it is planted at the same depth it was growing in its original pot.
- Gently tamp the soil to collapse any air pockets. Add more soil if needed to cover the rootball.
- Wait a week before watering the Madagascar palm plant, which will give the roots time to settle in the soil.
Growing a Madagascar Palm Plant
Madagascar palm house plants are low maintenance if they are grown under the right conditions. Poor growing conditions lead to problems such as root rot, so it is best to keep these sensitive succulents under the best possible growing conditions.
Madagascar palms need bright light and warm temperatures to grow well. Position the plant in full sun near a south- or west-facing window. Partial shade at midday is a good idea if you are growing the plant near a window in a very hot climate.
Watering is the most important part of Madagascar palm care. Water whenever the soil feels dry beneath the surface when probed with your finger. A little bit of water should drain from the base of the pot at each watering so that you know the soil is saturated. Don't water in winter when the plant is dormant.
Fertilizer is rarely needed when growing Madagascar palms, although mature plants sometimes need a boost of nutrients to support their growth when grown as an indoor plant. Feed once per month during the growing season using low-nitrogen houseplant fertilizer applied at half the recommended rate. Stop feeding in late summer so that the plant can go dormant for winter.
- Keep your palm in a sunny and warm location during the summer months. It will reward you with robust growth.
- Wear gloves when handling the Madagascar palm. Even though it's wrapped in a towel, if the spines poke through they can still injure you. The palm contains toxic poisons which may get into your skin if poked by a spine.
Sasha Degnan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Anthropology. Her written work has appeared in both online and print publications. She is a certified Master Gardener and dedicated plant enthusiast with decades of experience growing and propagating native and exotic plant varieties.