Growing Coconut Palms as a House Plant

Cocos nucifera (Coconut Palm Tree), green leaves on long stems growing from coconut
Peter Chadwick/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Be warned; this is a ridiculously impractical plant profile. For a multitude of reasons, the whole idea of growing a coconut inside borders on insane. First, they are hard to propagate. Second, there's no way any home grower can provide even an approximation of their preferred cultural conditions, which are moist, warm and very sunny. Sort of like the tropical beaches where they are naturally from.

Finally, in their native environment, coconuts can easily reach 100 feet or more, depending on which variety you're growing. And yet…I have no doubt that somewhere, some foolhardy romantic will decide to sprout and grow a coconut. No doubt this same gardener has a home full of strange things like wind chimes made from bicycle wheels, banana plants, and antique candelabra. If you recognize yourself in this description, then this profile is for you.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: Coconuts require full sun to grow properly. Give them as much sun as possible.
  • Water: Keep the soil continuously moist with warm water, but do not soak the plant. In winter, should your plant survive, mist it frequently or provide high levels of ambient humidity with a humidifier.
  • Soil: Coconuts are not particular to their soil, but do prefer a very well-drained, sandy soil. A standard palm mixture is a good idea.
  • Fertilizer: Feed year-round with a weak liquid fertilizer or palm fertilizer, and increase feeding during the summer months when it's actively growing. Nevertheless, don't be surprised if your coconut palm only lives for a year or so.

    Propagation

    Unless you live in zone 10 or higher, it's highly unlikely you'll find a coconut palm for sale in your local garden center. Still, they can be sprouted from the nuts (unfortunately, not the ones sold in the grocery store, which has been stripped to their inner core). To sprout a coconut palm, bury the nut halfway in moist peat moss and keep it warm and moist for up to six months.

    If all goes well, eventually you'll see a small green sprout emerge from the top of the nut. For the first year or so, the coconut plant will continue to draw nutrients from the nut itself. Unfortunately, few temperate zone coconuts can outgrow this initial burst of nutrients.

    Repotting

    Sprouted coconuts can be potted in 3-gallon pots, or about 12". Their root balls are fairly small and, like many palms, they are shallow rooted. As a result, they don't need a tremendous quantity of soil in the early growing months.

    Varieties

    There is one species of coconut, the Cocos nucifera. However, there are many varieties of coconut palms in cultivation around the world, where the coconut is one of the world's most valuable plants. The very tall coconuts seen throughout the Caribbean are 'Tall Jamaican' coconuts. Smaller coconut species include 'Golden Malayan Dwarf,' which has yellow nuts; 'Maypan,' which is a thicker palm that grows quickly; and 'Panama Tall,' which is a tall tree.

    Grower's Tips

    Coconut palms are the very essence of tropical gardening, and having one in your foyer or living room is a conversation piece no matter where you live. That said, it's highly unlikely these plants will live much beyond the seedling stage when they are likely to be three or four feet tall.

    Keep in mind also that coconuts can withstand cooler temperatures, even down to 55˚F, but the cold will slow its growth and weaken the plant. In their native habitats, coconuts are fairly resistant to insect predators, but in the home, you might see thrips or spider mites on the leaves. Give the plant plenty of light, water, and heat and enjoy it while it lasts.