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>>Palm Trees >>Palm Tree Help & Advice >>Potting Soil For Palm Trees

POTTING SOIL

For Palm Trees

by Phil Bergman

 

This articles describes the soil that we use at our nursery.  We use it on all of the palms we grow.  We amend it for certain species but use the formulae below for 90% of the palms.  Note, this article is about a potting soil, i.e. a soil to used in pots.  It's not about "garden soil" or soil you'd import to put in garden areas. 

Introduction

Over my more than thirty-five years as a nurseryman, I have surveyed many palm growers to obtain their formulas for potting soil.  And, I inquired about their results with their soil.  I would like to recap a few of the conclusions drawn at that time, most of which I still agree with today.



Is There Just One Perfect Palm Potting Soil?

First, there was no single formulae that everyone used. And yet, most growers were growing successfully. Secondly, it depended on what area you were doing your growing. It also depended on whether it was for greenhouse or outdoor culture. Finally, it depended upon whether you were growing seedlings or large plants. The one thing that almost everyone had in common was the use of sand. Only one grower used the classical peat moss/perlite combination.  I can say after talking to so many others that there is not perfect, "must contain these things" type of potting soil.  Rather, many soils will work and you have to experiment a bit and see what works for you and your area.

 

One must also remember that not all palms like the same sort of mix. It would be ludicrous to assume that Brahea armata and Nypa fruticans would like the same soil. Yet, most growers try to use a universal mix for the majority of their palms. This is certainly a practical approach, but not the most scientific one.

potting soil palm tree
Our potting soil



Perlite for potting soil
perlite




Sand for potting soil
#12 grit sand



pumice for potting soil
pumice for potting soil

What Should a Potting Soil Do?

A potting soil should offer the plant a substratum for both stability and obtaining its needed water, nutrients and aeration. If a soil is too porous, it will dry out too rapidly and the plant either has to be watered daily or suffer the consequences of desiccation. If it is too dense, it may become waterlogged and lead to rot. Thus, there is an ideal soil that offers drainage but adequate water retention and root support. I like to guarantee good drainage by the usage of perlite, sand, and pumice in my mix.  One will find the needed frequency of watering with experience with their soil.

 

What Should a Good Potting Soil Contain?

As mentioned above every grower has his own formulae for potting soil.  Potential components might include:

Topsoil
Bark or wood chips
Shredded organic material
Perlite
Peat moss
Pumice or lava stone
Sand
Fertilizer (slow release)
Dolomite to balance out excess acidity
Microelements such as iron, magnesium, manganese, etc.

Below I will describe which of these components above we utilize.  As examples, a mix of only topsoil and sand may stay wet for some time and not work for you.  A classical a cheap soil would be half peat moss and half perlite.  This is probably ok for greenhouse seedlings but doesn't do well over the long run.  Also, the classical Hawaiian mix of lava stone and peat will tend to dry out very quickly and succumb to our dry hot winds in Southern California without frequent watering. As a consumer, a palm grower must try his soil(s), be willing to alter or change them and then come up with what works the best for him.  Also, he must know to adjust his watering according to how fast his soil dries out.



Dolomite powder 

fertilizer for palm tree potting soil
Fertilizer for potting soil

Soil Acidity and Alkalinity

With the usage of peat moss, humus and bark, soils can tend toward being acidic, i.e. a pH lower than 7.  These three components result in  be on the acidic side. We use dolomite powder to increase the pH.  Remember to crush up the rocks you find in the bag.  The soil I describe below has a pH of about 6.3 to 6.5. This seems to be acceptable to most palm species, especially the more tropical ones. It is rare indeed that I have to adjust the pH on the soil formulae below to accommodate a particular palm. However, I do use some dolomite in my mix during preparation to offset the very acidic organic material.

 

If one has alkaline water in their municipality, salts can build up leading to a higher pH. A soil too alkaline can lead to various nutritional problems and microelement deficiencies. Thus, adjust the amount of dolomite to your soil's pH.  You may find, on the contrary, that your soil is too alkaline if which case you may need to add sulfur and certainly not use dolomite.

Availability of the Components to Make Potting Soil

Additionally, a palm grower has to use what is available to him. Every locality has different supplies for making the soil. This gets back to the idea that there are many good potential soils, whether you are using ground up macadamia shells, rice husks, or coconut fiber. You just have to experiment with what's available and talk to experienced growers.  And, you must use what you can acquire in your area.  It's super expensive to have materials shipped to you from out of state.

palm trees

Jungle Music's Potting Soil for Palms

The potting soil I have been using for many years is below.  But, believe me that I've altered it and changed a few things many times.

10% amended topsoil (has about 1/3 high quality topsoil and 2/3 humus)

15% pumice #2

15% 0 - 1/8 inch pine bark

15% nitrolized redwood shavings

20% perlite #2

10% coarse washed sand, #12

15% coarse peat moss

To this I add per cubic yard: one lb. Dolomite, one lb. Osmocote (14-14-14), and lb. of a microelement mix called Micromax Plus. The entire mixture is turned many times before using. I use about 100 yards of this mix a year and have it professionally mixed in batches of ten to twenty yards each time.

greenhouse palm trees

 

Adjustments to a Potting Soil

For brand new seedlings or very young plants, I may amend this mixture with more redwood shavings and perlite to open it up. Very young plants like good root aeration (lighter soil) and also require more attention and watering. Older plants (2 gallon and larger) seem to thrive in the above mix. For larger plants such as 20 gallon and above, I like to add more topsoil or sand.  This keeps the roots well hydrated. 

 

In the greenhouse, I have found that most mixes seem to age quicker, getting more dense and retain more water with age. The same thing happens outdoors but not quite as quickly. The above mix seems to be adequate in most environments for about 2 years. After that point, repotting into a larger pot with fresh mix around the existing rootball is needed. 

Remember that new mixes tend to repel water and adequate care must be taken to ensure that the soil is thoroughly and adequately watered during the first watering. Penetrating agents can be used but are not necessary if one waters multiple times on the new mix. My rule is to water at least three times, each time bringing the water to the top of the pot.

 

The small amount of fertilizer in the mix above is to theoretically offset any nitrogen loss from the large amount of organic material in the mix. It is not meant to replace a regular fertilization program. The microelements I feel are important for overall plant health as very little topsoil is being used. If plants yellow in time in the above mix, I will top-dress with blood meal and this seems to green them up. 

palm trees

 

CONCLUSION

Remember, there is no single perfect potting soil. That magical and scientifically formulated soil may or may not be best. If one works for you, then it works for you. Be willing to experiment a bit to find the best working soil in your area.  Remember that most palm trees like good drainage and some organic material.  You are welcome to try out mix above.  We do sell in in bags at the nursery but not in bulk.  And, feel free to email me if you have any questions. 

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Last modified: March 20, 2014