If you're looking to transport yourself to the beach—even if only in your mind—then consider growing a coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) indoors. But a word of warning: This tropical plant is fairly finicky to keep unless you live in its natural climate. The plant is characterized by a tall, gray-brown, slightly curved, single trunk; sprawling green palm fronds; and, of course, coconuts. And it loves lots of warmth, sun, and humidity. This can be difficult but not impossible to replicate indoors.
The palm has a moderate growth rate. Outdoors it will mature and reach its full coconut production in around 15 to 20 years, and it can live for decades beyond that. Indoors these palms are generally short-lived, they remain small, and they often don’t produce fruit. They can be planted at any time of year.
|Common Name||Coconut palm|
|Botanical Name||Cocos nucifera|
|Mature Size||50–100 ft. tall, 20–40 ft. wide (outdoors), less than 10 ft. tall and wide (indoors)|
|Soil Type||Sandy, loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Flower Color||Yellow, white|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12, USA|
Coconut Palm Care
Native to islands in the Western Pacific, the coconut palm is probably what comes to mind for many when you say the phrase "palm tree." These trees thrive in tropical environments around the world. Thus, it's important to give your palm as much sunlight and warmth as possible when growing it indoors, along with ample humidity and moist but not soggy soil. Coconut palms also need regular fertilization.
In addition, you will have to repot your palm as it grows. It's also ideal to bring it outside as much as possible in warm weather, so it can receive direct sunlight. The palm generally does not require much pruning to maintain its form, but you can remove dead or diseased fronds as needed.
Coconut palms thrive in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Even palms found in nature can struggle in the shade, so it's extremely important that any indoor coconut palm receives ample sunshine. During the fall and winter months, consider placing your palm under a grow lamp or another artificial light source to help make up for the loss in sunlight. Additionally, depending on its placement in your home, consider moving your plant's location throughout the day to "chase" the sun and ensure proper exposure.
Coconut palms are used to growing in a variety of soil conditions and are therefore not terribly picky about their planting mixture. That said, soil that closely mimics the coconut palm's natural environment is always best. A well-draining palm soil mix works well for potted coconut palms. Additionally, you can add a layer of mulch to the top of the soil to help it retain moisture.
Like many tropical plants, the coconut palm is one thirsty tree. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy by saturating it with warm water once or twice a week. Just make sure the container does not become waterlogged, as this can result in root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Coconut palms prefer temperatures that are at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They grow best in temperatures between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and they might fail to thrive if the temperature dips below 64 degrees Fahrenheit. High humidity is an important factor, too. Maintain a moist environment for your palm with the addition of an in-room humidifier, as well as frequent spritzing of the plant with warm water. You also can keep the container on a tray of pebbles and water to raise the humidity around the plant. Just make sure the bottom of the container isn't touching the water.
Feed your palm year-round with a liquid fertilizer. Coconut palms are known to have several nutrient deficiencies, including a lack of phosphorus, nitrogen, manganese, and boron. So seek out a fertilizer blend specifically made for palm trees to supplement these losses, and follow label instructions for the amount and frequency of fertilization.
Types of Coconut Palms
There are several types of coconut palms that range in size and appearance. They include:
- 'Malayan Dwarf': This small cultivar has some resistance to the disease lethal yellowing.
- 'West Coast Tall': This cultivar has good resistance to drought.
- 'Hainan Tall': This palm is known for its cold tolerance.
Propagating Coconut Palms
If you can't find a coconut palm at a nursery, you can still grow one indoors using—you guessed it—a coconut. To sprout a coconut palm, start with a coconut that still has some of its husk on and sounds full of water when you shake it. Place it in a bucket of room temperature water, and soak for up to three days to help jumpstart the germination process. Next, bury the nut in a moist but well-draining soil mixture, leaving the top half exposed above the soil. Move the pot to a warm, well-lit area, and continually water it every three days or so to keep the soil lightly moist. With the right environment, you should see a seedling appear through the shell of the coconut within three to six months. You can start this process at any point in the year.
Potting and Repotting Coconut Palms
Sprouted coconuts can be potted in 3-gallon containers with about 12 inches of soil. Their root balls are fairly small and shallow to start, and as a result they don't need a lot of soil in the early growing months. However, once your coconut palm's roots grow to be about 6 to 8 inches long, repot the plant into a vessel that holds at least 10 gallons of soil. A clay container with ample drainage holes is best to allow excess soil moisture to escape through the container walls and bottom.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
In their native habitats, coconut palms are fairly resistant to insect predators. But in the home, you might see common household pests, including mealybugs and spider mites, on the leaves. They usually can be treated with an insecticidal soap. Additionally, it's common for coconut palms to be plagued by "lethal yellowing," a disease that causes yellowing leaves, dropping fruit, and eventual death. While trees can be given antibiotics, such treatment is not always successful and most palms end up succumbing to the disease. Fortunately, indoors the disease is less common because the likelihood of exposure is low.
Common Problems With Coconut Palms
Like many other palm species, coconut palms are susceptible to certain issues if they’re not in optimal growing conditions. Many of these issues will present themselves in foliage that isn't uniformly green and vibrant.
You might notice your coconut palm fronds are browning at the tips. This is often a result of low humidity. Consider purchasing a humidifier for the room where your coconut palm resides, and regularly mist the fronds with warm water.
Leaves Turning Brown
Brown leaves can indicate several problems, including overwatering, underwatering, too much fertilizer, or cold temperatures. Evaluate your indoor climate, making sure your palm isn't by any drafts from an air-conditioning vent or window/door. Also, adjust your watering or fertilizing schedule if necessary.
Are coconut palms easy to care for?
Coconut palms are fairly easy to care for in their natural environment, but their growing needs are difficult to meet indoors.
How fast do coconut palms grow?
A coconut palm tree grown indoors can reach 5 feet tall in around five years.
How long can a coconut palm live?
Indoors, coconut palms typically only live for five to six years.
What's the difference between a coconut palm and an areca palm?
Both plants are palm trees, but areca palms are much more common (and easier to grow) as a houseplant. Areca palms have more fronds and a fuller, bushier appearance than coconut palms.