Chinese fan palms (Livistona chinensis) are popular landscape plants in warm, humid climates and are also fairly suitable as indoor potted palms. These palms are also known by the common name fountain palm due to the way their fronds arch up and then spill downward like water from a fountain. Each frond can grow 40 to 60 inches long.
It is best to plant Chinese fan palms in the spring. These slow-growing palms have a bushy appearance when they are young. But in roughly a decade, their single, slender, grayish-brown trunk will have grown tall enough to be classified as a tree.
|Botanical Name||Chinese fan palm, fountain palm|
|Botanical Name||Livistona chinensis|
|Plant Type||Palm tree|
|Mature Size||30-50 ft. tall, 10–12 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full to partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Flower Color||Creamy white (not showy)|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
Chinese Fan Palm Care
Chinese fan palms are fairly hardy and are not overly particular about their growing conditions, which makes them a good choice for beginner gardeners. Still, providing the right amount of light, warmth, and water is a must for growing a healthy plant. Whether you grow these palms in a container or in the ground, they require good soil drainage.
Chinese fan palm is listed officially as an invasive plant in Florida, Hawaii, and Bermuda, as well as in other wet, warm areas around the world. It can readily escape gardens and colonize to form thickets that block out native plant species. Use caution when planting this palm in these regions or in any environment that is extremely favorable.
Chinese fan palms grow best in full sun to partial shade, meaning that they need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight on most days. Young palms prefer some shade, especially from the hot afternoon sun. Indoors, these palms do best located by a bright window with indirect light.
These palms can tolerate a variety of soil types, including sandy and clay, if there is good drainage. They thrive in rich loamy soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. For container-grown plants, use a quality potting mix made especially for palms.
Lightly moist but not soggy soil is ideal for Chinese fan palms. Overwatering can cause root rot and other diseases, which can ultimately kill the plant. Established Chinese fan palms do have some drought tolerance, but you must water them during dry spells and/or very hot weather. During the winter months, allow the soil to dry out for container-grown plants because the palm isn’t actively growing. Increase water during the spring, summer, and fall.
Temperature and Humidity
Unlike many other palm species, Chinese fan palms actually have some resistance to cold and frost. They can survive temperatures as low as 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, though this will likely damage some foliage. They thrive in warm, humid weather. To raise humidity and prevent foliage from drying out, regularly mist the palm. Indoors, protect your palm from drafts as well as airflow from heating and air-conditioning vents.
Fertile soil will promote faster and healthier growth on these palms. Apply a palm fertilizer two or three times from late winter to early fall (the plant's growing season), following label instructions.
Types of Fan Palm
Here are several other plants that also use the common name of fan palm:
- European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis): A native of Europe, this palm is known for being quite hardy with fairly good cold tolerance. As a houseplant, it is perhaps an even better choice than Chinese fan palm.
- California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera): Also known as the desert fan palm, this plant can grow 40 to 60 feet tall and is the largest native palm in the United States.
- Real fan palm (Hyphaene petersiana): Also known as the makalani palm, this palm is native to subtropical regions in Africa and is used as a source of food and materials by both the people and wildlife in the area.
Chinese fan palms typically don’t require much pruning. They will develop their cascading shape on their own. However, to keep your palm looking tidy, it’s a good idea to prune off the dead fronds at the bottom of the crown once a year or as often as you wish. Wait until the fronds have fully turned brown before removing them because fronds that are in the process of depreciating are still providing nutrients to the plant.
Propagating Chinese Fan Palm
Although Chinese fan palm is relatively easy to grow from seed, it is a long process, so most people propagate it by taking cuttings. This is best done from a medium-size plant growing in a container. Here's how to do it:
- Carefully remove the palm from its container. Shake off the excess soil and look for a sucker stem growing near the base of the plant.
- Use a sharp, sterilized knife to cut this sucker away from the mother plant.
- Prepare a medium-sized container and fill it with a mixture of 1 part perlite or sand, and 2 parts palm potting mix.
- Plant the sucker into the pot and firmly press down the potting mix around it. Water well, then place the planted cutting into a loosely secured plastic bag.
- Place the covered cutting in a bright, warm location that is out of direct sunlight until roots develop. At this point, the plastic can be removed and you can move the plant to a sunny location to continue growing as a new potted palm.
How to Grow Chinese Fan Palm From Seed
Although the process is very slow, it is possible to grow Chinese fan palm from seeds collected from the small fruits left behind after the inflorescence fade. (These flowers, which appear in spring, are not showy and are sometimes not noticed behind the huge leaves.)
The seeds from the fruit can be planted in a rich mixture of potting mix and perlite or sand. Just barely cover the seeds. Kept moist and warm, the seeds should eventually germinate and develop into seedlings you can transplant into individual pots (see above). But be patient, as developing a mature plant from a seed is a years-long process.
Potting and Repotting Chinese Fan Palm
If you want to grow your Chinese fan palm in a container, select a pot that is slightly larger than the plant's root ball. The pot also should have ample drainage holes. An unglazed clay container is ideal because it will allow excess moisture to escape through its walls and drainage holes.
You won't need to re-pot these slow-growing palms often, which is ideal because their roots are fragile and can easily be damaged in the process. You’ll know it’s time for a larger container when you see roots growing out of the drainage holes and up above the soil line. When this occurs, select a larger pot that provides more space for the root ball. Gently ease the palm’s root ball out of its old container, and plant it at the same depth in the new one. Fill around it with fresh palm potting mix, and firm up the soil. Then, water the palm thoroughly.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
These plants generally don’t have any serious issues with pests or diseases. However, they are susceptible to scale insects and spider mites, which can damage the foliage and potentially kill a plant. Insecticidal soap or neem oil spray can be an effective treatment to treat infestations.
Common Problems With Chinese Fan Palm
Aside from susceptibility to some insects (see above), the Chinese fan palm sometimes develops discolored leaves. This is usually a sign of some kind of nutrient deficiency (usually, a lack of potassium). Changing the fertilizer used to one formulated for palms will usually help.
How long does a Chinese fan palm live?
A 40-year lifespan is typical for garden specimens. Such longevity is less likely for indoor plants which are more susceptible to problems, but by periodically propagating through sucker cuttings, you aren't likely to ever need to buy another Chinese fan palm.
Can I use this tree as a landscape plant?
Yes, in fact, it typically looks better as a landscape specimen. It can be grown this way in USDA zones 9 to 11. It makes an excellent landscape specimen, though it may experience some dieback during cold winters in zone 9. Be alert to its ability to escape gardens in warm, wet climates.
Are there better palms for indoor growing?
The Chinese fan palm typically looks better as an outdoor plant, since it does not usually develop its attractive crown if grown as an indoor potted plant. For a plant with similar fan-like foliage that is better suited to indoor use, consider pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) or European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)