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How to Care for a Needle Palm

By M.H. Dyer ; Updated September 21, 2017

Needle palm, (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), is valued for its lush, shrubby appearance and its ability to a tolerate cold temperatures. Although it's a tropical tree native to the coastal areas of the American southeast, needle palm is hardy enough to survive even subzero weather. Needle palm, named for the black needlelike protrusions that grow along the palm's trunk, will grow to a mature height of about 8 feet and will be equally as wide. Needle palm is a drought-tolerant tree that will grow in any soil type and requires very little care once established.

Plant needle palm where it will have plenty of space to spread out to its full width. Because of the sharp needles on the trunk, needle palm shouldn't be planted near walkways and areas where children play. Although needle palm can be planted in sun or shade, in hot areas the tree will benefit from shade during the hottest part of the day.

Keep the soil damp for the first year. After that time, needle palm is drought-tolerant and will need to be irrigated only occasionally during hot, dry weather.

Feed the needle palm twice yearly, using a fertilizer formulated specifically for palm trees. Apply the fertilizer strictly according to the manufacturer's directions.

Prune any yellowing or brown fronds as needed. Never remove fronds by pulling them off, which can leave a wound on the tree. Needle palm is a shrubby palm that requires very little pruning. However, if you determine that the tree needs severe pruning, contact a professional, as incorrect pruning can cause damage that can take years to recover from.


Things You Will Need

  • Palm tree fertilizer
  • Pruners


  • Always purchase needle palms from reputable growers who sell nursery-grown trees. Wild needle palms are endangered in many areas.

About the Author


M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.