There’s an area of my yard I’ve been itching to grow a 2-3 palm trees in, but it’s right by a concrete border, and reasonably close to my house.
Out of concern over growing palms in a spot that would potentially give me serious trouble later, I decided to do some digging (the pun was a happy accident!), researching what palm tree roots look like, how they grow, and whether they get wide or deep enough to create any damage if I planted them in the spot I had in mind.
I also was curious about the difference in root systems between a palm planted in the ground versus a palm kept in a pot.
Particularly in case keeping a palm tree in a pot in the area I was considering was a better option.
Essentially, some of the questions I wanted to learn the answers to were the following:
Is there a downside to a palm tree’s root system being constrained by a container?
Are they stunted in terms of growth while potted and are there certain palms that do better in containers than others?
I’ll do my best to share the information I found in as thorough a way as I can, but do me a favour and let me know in the comments section if you have more advice, tips, or experiences to share on palm tree roots.
Not only would you be helping me, but others who stumble across this article looking for a better understanding of the root systems of palm trees.
Also, please don’t hesitate to correct any information in this article you think is incorrect. I’d like for this to be as accurate a resource as possible.
Let’s get into what I found browsing the net.
Roots of Palm Trees That Grow in the Ground
The quickest and easiest way to for me to not just tell you, but show you, how palm tree root systems look when palm trees grow in the ground rather than in containers/pots is to refer you to the Google image search for exposed palm tree roots.
Browsing around that results page, it’s easy to tell that there are a plethora of different looking palm trees with an assortment of visually unique looking root systems – yet all of them seem to be relatively small, especially when you compare them to the height of the palm tree.
In each case, the roots appear to be far wider then they are deep, not because they’re exceptionally wide, but more or less because they’re incredibly shallow, again considering the height of the full tree.
This is the way all palm tree roots happen to grow.
This article on Garden Tabs describes the way palm tree roots grow, and why, quite well:
[…] palm trees have hundreds of small roots that grow from the root-initiation zone at the bottom of the trunk.
Roots of palm trees grow in thin strands from the base of the tree’s root ball. The roots grow along with the tree by spreading themselves horizontally across the soil. It’s common for these roots to be visible above the ground. The roots stay thin and regularly regenerate. All the roots feed on the soil and expand to find sources of water.
So palm tree roots are not thick and since they stay thin and regularly regenerate, the root ball doesn’t tend to grow too large in comparison to the height of the full palm.
Amy Rodriguez sheds more light in this Home Guides article:
Formed from the tree’s base called the root-initiation zone, roots continually grow and die off from this specialized area. Because of their regular regeneration, roots do not typically grow as wide or long as their mother plant, unless it is an immature tree or small species.
Thus, even very large palm tree roots will not grow as wide or long as a mature mother plant that’s grown in the ground, the exception sometimes being if it’s a small palm tree species or a young plant.
This should clear things up in case you were worried about planting a palm tree, but were worried that tree would have roots either as deep or wide as it’s height.
To reiterate, while a palm tree’s roots might be as wide or deep as the full height of the tree if the palm is still young and small, as the palm tree matures and grows (so long as the palm is large and not stunted by a container) it’s roots will not match it’s size.
The root system’s size – both it’s width and length – will be much smaller than the height of the palm in mature, not-so-small palms planted in the ground.
What About Taproots?
If you know about parts of plants and have experience with taproots from your knowledge of other plant species, you might be wondering if palm trees have taproots.
If you don’t have experience with taproots, or you have an inkling as to what they are and want clarification, Wikipedia’s definition of a taproot is very clear and helpful: “a large, central, and dominant root from which other roots sprout laterally.”
Taproots look like this in case you’d like to see a visual representation.
Though many other trees and other plants have taproots, palm trees do not have a taproot system. Even very tall palms, over 50 feet in height, don’t have a taproot.
Size Approximation of Palm Tree Root Systems
All this may be helpful, but without actual numbers, it’s going to be hard to determine whether the palm tree roots are going to interfere with other things they’re planted near.
So here’s the size approximation section of palms that are grown in the ground.
Once again, the article on Home Guides by Amy Rodriguez sheds light: the root systems of palm trees “densely populate the top 40 inches of soil surrounding the palm’s base.”
So palm tree roots grow roughly one meter or 3 and a third feet deep and wide.
What about smaller palm trees? What are their roots like? Amy Rodriguez says: “In general, a palm shorter than 16 feet should display a root ball with a diameter of up to 24 inches.”
That means a roughly 5 meter high tree will have a root system that’s roughly 60 cm or two feet wide and deep.
Not large at all!
Potential Problems Roots of Palm Trees Can Cause When Planted In the Ground
Some trees have invasive roots that damage their surroundings as they grow into mature plants. What about palm trees?
Do Palm Tree Root Systems Damage Concrete?
It’s unlikely for a palm tree to damage concrete.
Why? It all comes down to those thin roots.
Since the roots are small and not thick, they typically don’t push hard enough to create issues when being planted near concrete.
The following paragraph from the previously mentioned Garden Tabs article, I feel explains this concept perfectly:
It’s highly unlikely that a palm tree’s roots will damage concrete. The roots for palm trees stay the same diameter for the life of the root. There are many roots but they are thin. Other trees have roots that grow thicker as they mature, which can lead to a crack in a sidewalk or concrete surface.
Thus, there should be no problems with concrete, if you’re willing to chance it.
Does that mean you’re free to plant palm trees next to concrete?
Yes, although if you’re more conservative about your approach and really don’t want to risk damaging the concrete, you should try planting the palm some ways away from the concrete.
Garden Tabs recommends a 12 foot distance away:
Even though it’s unlikely that a palm root will cause a crack in the concrete, you should consider planting or transplanting a species 12 or more feet away from a hard surface. The distance will allow the roots to spread at a healthy rate and prevent unwanted concrete damage.
Let me know if you think that spacing approximation is right, and how far you would place a palm tree away from concrete if you wanted to make absolute sure nothing would happen to the concrete!
Can Palm Tree Roots Damage Pipes?
The same is true for pipes – while it may be unlikely that palm tree roots will damage pipes because of their soft roots, it’s still possible.
Home Guides recommends leaving 11-12 feet between any large palm trees and your pipes, just to be certain there won’t be problems in the future:
To be cautious, large palm cultivars, like cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto), should be located between 11 and 12 feet away from known pipe work. This wide spacing provides a large enough growing area for sturdy root establishment without harming your pipes.
Home Guides also points out a potential problem regarding pipes that are leaking:
With roots that typically extend outside of the palm’s drip line, these horizontal feeders naturally grow toward moist soil for nourishment. If you have leaking pipes within the ground, your palm’s roots will gravitate toward that area. Although not thick-rooted, like ficus trees, palm roots may grow into established pipe cracks and breaks if moisture is plentiful. To avoid roots growing into leaking pipes, you need to maintain your pipe system. Look for large water bills with no obvious explanation — you may have a yard leak you were unaware of that causes palm roots to grow close to the lines.
So be careful and vigilant!
Should I Plant a Palm Tree Close to My House?
While it’s unlikely, as you’ve likely put together yourself, that a palm tree root system will create problems for a house if it’s planted nearby, it’s still possible for a palm tree roots to cause problems in theory, and it’s certainly possible for palm trees to cause problems in other ways, which is why it’s advisable not to plant a palm tree too close to your home.
One potential issue? The palm tree falling over.
While palm trees are normally very sturdy plants that rarely topple over, this can and does happen, especially in cases like the following:
• A tall or large newly planted palm without structural support
• Palms that are rooted in shallow soil that gets washed away in a storm
• Trees infected with crown drop where the trunk decays on the inside
• A borer beetle can carve tunnels inside the truck and cripple the palm’s core
• Low or freezing temperatures can damage or kill a palm
Can you think of other potential issues with planting palm trees (or any tree to be honest) close to your home?
Ever had any problems like this yourself or known someone who had these problems?
Please leave a comment down below with your thoughts, experiences, & stories! You could really help out a fellow gardener.
Palm Tree Roots When Planted in Pots & Containers Rather Than In-Ground
Palm trees absolutely can be grown in containers like pots, though they will grow far more slowly in containers than they will in the ground.
Eventually, the root ball of the palm tree will grow to be the size of the pot, and the root ball will become rootbound. At this point, it’s advisable to move your palm to a pot that’s 2-4 inches larger than the current pot.
Because some palm trees grow to be quite large, you’ll likely want to grow smaller varieties of palm trees in containers to prevent stunting the growth of the palm:
[…] some palm species grow very rapidly and their roots quickly outgrow their containers. Such a plants roots will demand more than the container can provide. Such a plant can become stunted if not repotted into a larger container.
Sensitivity of Palm Tree Root Systems & How to Transplant Container-Grown Palms
Unlike with many plants, that benefit from disturbing roots and even at times cutting them up when they’re transported to a new container to encourage growth, palm tree root systems benefit from being disturbed as little as possible when they’re transported.
Gardenia.net points out:
When you remove the container from the root ball of your newly purchased palm, make sure you handle with care the root ball. Some palms suffer from having their roots cuts or bent and could undergo severe shock.
Florida Palm Trees also mentions that it’s helpful to try to keep the soil around the root ball when transplanting a container palm, as keeping soil from the old container reduces the amount of shock the root system has in its new container.
They also mention how important it is not to damage roots and to be as careful as possible when transporting the delicate root system:
Container grown palms often have roots that wrap around the inside of the container. Those roots don’t need to be cut like in broadleaf trees. Also, try to keep the old soil around the rootball. That will help minimizing the transplant shock. Be careful not to damage the roots when transplanting.
Your Thoughts on Palm Tree Roots?
Did you stumble across this article looking for information about whether a palm tree already on your property might become problematic for you?
Were you looking for information because you were thinking of planting a palm in a specific location? Or planting in a palm in a container?
Do you have any advice for those interested in palm tree root systems and whether or not they can be invasive? Any stories to share?
Very good article indeed. Thank you for compiling all the info and research
Many thanks; i have no correction as i m new to “this”
I have below a shallow sandy top soil of about 15 inch deep very tight and deep clay.
Does anybody know if the root will penetrate normally into this clay or if that might pose a problem?
I m concerned because of the hurricans
Thank you for this article… it was so helpful! Really appreciate you taking the time to compile this. I don’t know anything about palm trees and have 2 very huge ones right outside my window and am contemplating bringing them down but was unsure of anything until now. Thank you very much!
Eric McColough says
Thanks for the information. On the topic of which palm to plant, I’m going small so as the foliage is more relevant in my small yard than the trunk. The Lady Finger Palm, the Bottle Palm, the Christmas Palm and the Dwarf Date should all stay below 5m or 16′ and it was great to read those rootballs should be 60cm or 2′ round.
I’ve also planted a Dwarf Jacaranda which looks brilliant with the palms and while the full size species has aggressive roots, I’m taking a chance that the Dwarf will behave….time will tell I guess.
Elise Xavier says
Time will definitely tell, you never know!
Good luck, hope it works out as you’re envisioning!