Transplanting Palms: A Guide To Successful Palm Tree Relocation

By: Ken Wilson

Some palm trees can grow up to three feet per year. While that is speedy compared to most other trees, it may not be fast enough to give your home an instant tropical feel. Palms are forgiving about being transplanted, so with some know-how, you can enjoy the silhouette of your favorite tall palms waving in the breeze sooner than you think.  

Successful palm tree relocation depends on root ball size, how many leaves are removed, the tree’s age, planting depth, and the season. It is essential not to damage the section called the root initiation zone. After relocation, the focus must be to keep the palm roots moist but not waterlogged. 

When moving a palm, there are several things to consider. For the process to succeed, the tree must be carefully uprooted, transported, and replanted in optimal conditions with action taken to reduce shock.

How To Transplant A Palm Tree

Digging up a palm and moving it is one thing, but planting it in its new location and getting it to thrive is quite another. This step-by-step guide will show you how to relocate your tree so it takes root and continues to grow without missing a beat. 

Take The Season Into Account When Transplanting Palms

Before digging up your showpiece palm, check which season is most suitable for transplanting the tree. This is not an exact science since regional climatic conditions make a difference. 

Research by the University of Florida found that palms relocated in that region fared better when moved during the rainy season. In contrast, in Mediterranean climates, including areas like California, palms were more likely to survive when they were transplanted during the drier months. 

Prepare The Hole At The New Location Before Digging Begins

To facilitate speedy removal and relation to its new position, start by having everything ready to receive the tree at the new location. Ideally, the entire process should be completed in a day, as the faster the palm can be put back into the ground, the better its chances of survival. 

Wet The Soil Around The Palm Before Digging It Up

Wetting the soil a few days before digging begins ensures the tree is fully hydrated when removed. Wet soil also helps to keep the rootball intact during the digging process.

Dig Around The Rootball 

The minimum rootball size that must be saved varies between palm tree species. Some, like queen palms (Syagrus romazoffiana), require a relatively small rootball, while varieties like Senegal date palm (Phoenix reclinata)  need a minimum rootball radius of at least 3 feet. 

The bigger the rootball that can be removed, the better the tree’s chances of survival. Dig down as far as possible to excavate below the palm’s root initiation zone without damaging it. This is the area at the base of the plant where new roots are formed. 

Digging can be done by hand or using mechanical equipment. For tall trees, ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent the tree from falling and causing injury or damage during the operation. 

Transport The Palm To Its New Location

To prevent leaf damage during transportation, it helps to tie them together. Do not remove too many leaves. Only take off a maximum of one-half to two-thirds of the oldest leaves to facilitate transportation.

Avoid lifting the tree using chains or anything that could damage the trunk. Damaged areas are prone to developing conditions like Thieaviopsis trunk rot

When a palm cannot be replanted on the same day as it is removed from the ground, the rootball should be wrapped in damp burlap to keep it moist. It also helps to keep the tree in an upright position if there is a delay before planting. 

Plant The Palm In A Shallow Hole

It can be tempting to want to bury the rootball and half the palm trunk underground to ensure that the tree remains upright and takes root quickly. However, this is unnecessary, and burying the rootball too deep would be detrimental to the plant. 

The planting hole should be at least twice the diameter but doesn’t need to be much deeper than the rootball. The palm should be planted at about the same depth as it grew in its previous position. 

Applying rooting hormone to the root initiation zone of the palm can be useful to stimulate the development of new roots in some palm species. Not all species respond to it, but it is worth trying as it has no detrimental effects.  

Backfill the hole with soil similar to where it came from. Adding too much fertilizer immediately after transplanting can cause the tree to experience transplant shock

For tall palms, it may be necessary to provide support using poles or lines. It also helps to keep the tree from moving until the plant has developed new roots. Ensure that the supports do not damage the palm’s trunk, and always use padding if necessary to protect the transplanted tree. 

Keep The Soil Around The Palm Moist

A critical step in the process is to keep the rootball of the relocated palm uniformly moist but not saturated for four to six months after transplanting. Irrigating the tree’s crown is unnecessary, and watering can be restricted to around the tree’s base.  

Add A Layer of Mulch To The Palm’s Base 

A small amount of organic mulch can help to keep the rootball moist during the first critical few months. However, it should only be a couple of inches deep, as locking in too much moisture can result in the growth of root fungus. 

How To Reduce Transplant Shock In Palm Trees

After being moved from one place to another, palms often experience what is known as transplant shock. While a certain amount of deterioration is expected from being transplanted, it can help to take swift action to remedy signs as they occur. 

Since the roots were disturbed and exposed to air and sunlight when it was dug up, the plant may be unable to absorb enough nutrients and water with what is left. Fronds may start turning brown, and trees take on an unhealthy appearance. 

There are some things you can do to minimize transplant shock when relocating palm trees: 

  • Acclimatize the plant before transplanting it. This is especially relevant when moving a potted palm outside. Place the pot in the spot where the plant will be planted a few weeks before you move it. It will get used to outside temperatures and light levels. 
  • Try not to disturb the roots too much. Remove as much of the rootball as possible. 
  • Leave some of the old soil on the roots. Wet the ground before digging it up so that the soil stays close to the roots during the removal process. 
  • Don’t add fertilizer immediately after transplanting. First, give the tree time to send out new roots before fertilizing. 
  • Keep the palm well-watered but not waterlogged. It is essential to keep the rootball moist after transplanting the tree. This will go a long way to reduce transplant shock. 
  • Transplant your palm in the cool evening hours rather than at the hottest time of the day. 


Palms are considered hardy transplants; with some care and attention to detail, even the tallest specimens can be successfully relocated. Thorough planning and taking steps to reduce transplant shock are essential to transplanting your majestic palm to a new position where it can be enjoyed. 

About the author 

Ken Wilson

Long time career in the home services industry from remodeling to patio construction. Currently residing to in SWFL and active contributor to multiple home & garden publications.