Chinese fan palms (Livistona chinensis) are popular landscape plants in warm, humid climates, and they can make good houseplants as well. These trees also go by the common name of fountain palm due to the way their fronds arch up and then spill downward like water from a fountain. Each frond can reach around 6 feet long. Chinese fan palms are best planted in the spring. These slow-growing palms have more of a bushy appearance when they are young. But in roughly a decade their single, slender, grayish-brown trunk will have extended enough to make them distinctly a tree. They can live for around 40 years.
|Botanical Name||Livistona chinensis|
|Common Names||Chinese fan palm, fountain palm|
|Mature Size||10–30 ft. tall, 10–15 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
Chinese Fan Palm Care
Chinese fan palms are fairly hardy and not overly picky about their conditions. This makes them good for beginner gardeners. Still, providing the right amount of light, warmth, and water are a must for growing a healthy Chinese fan palm. Plus, whether you grow these palms in a container or in the ground, they need good soil drainage.
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. An insecticidal soap or neem oil spray can be effective treatments to get rid of infestations.
Chinese fan palms grow best in full sun to partial shade, meaning al least four hours of direct sunlight on most days. Young palms prefer a little shade, especially from the hot afternoon sun. Indoors, these palms do best by a bright window with indirect light.
These palms can tolerate a variety of soil types, including sandy and clay, as long as there is good drainage. They thrive in a rich loamy soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. For container plantings, 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 they should still be watered during dry spells and/or very hot weather. For container plants, allow the soil to dry out a little more over the winter when the palm isn’t actively growing than you would from spring to fall.
Temperature and Humidity
Unlike many other palm species, Chinese fan palms actually have a little resistance to cold and frost. They can survive temperatures down to around 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, though this will likely damage some foliage. They thrive in warm, humid weather. To raise humidity and prevent the foliage from drying out, regularly mist the palm. Indoors, protect your palm from drafts, as well as air flow from heating and air-conditioning vents.
Fertile soil will promote faster and healthier growth on these palms. Apply a palm fertilizer from late winter to early fall, following label instructions.
Fan Palm Varieties
There are several other plants that also use the common name of fan palm, including:
- European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis): This palm is known for being quite hardy with fairly good cold tolerance.
- California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera): Also known as the desert fan palm, this plant can grow more than 60 feet tall and is the largest native palm in the United States.
- Real fan palm (Hyphaene petersiana): 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 all 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, as ones that are in the process of depreciating are still providing nutrients to the plant.
Potting and Repotting Chinese Fan Palms
If you want to grow your Chinese fan palm in a container, select a pot that is slightly larger than its 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 along with the drainage holes.
These slow-growing palms won’t need to be repotted often, which is good 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 new pot that will give the root ball some breathing room. Gently ease your 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 the soil. Then, water the palm.