How to Grow Coconut Palms Indoors
If you’re looking to transport yourself to the beach—even if only in your mind—then you should consider trying your hand at growing a tropical varietal, like a coconut palm. Word of warning, though: Unless you do actually call a beachside bungalow home, this pesky palm will probably give you a run for your money.
Characterized by a tall, grey-brown slightly curved trunk, sprawling palm frond, and, of course, coconuts, this plant is native to many tropical regions (think: the western pacific islands, Florida coast or Caribbean islands) and loves all things, well, tropical. Even with unlimited space and resources, it can be tough for a home gardener to replicate the moisture, temperature, and sun levels needed for the coconut palm to thrive indoors—not to mention that mature plans (between four and 10-years-old) can sprout to be up to 100 feet tall!
Besides acting as a charming backdrop to every island paradise dream out there, coconut palms are an extremely valuable plant, regularly harvested to provide food and oil, as well as material for clothing, construction, and more. While it’s built up a tough reputation as a house plant, we’re all for encouraging you to give coconut palms a shot—even pint-sized palms can be a great, summery addition to any home.
|Botanical name||Cocos nucifera|
|Common name||Coconut palm|
|Plant type||Tropical evergreen|
|Mature size||50–100 ft. tall, 20–40 ft. wide|
|Sun exposure||Full sun|
|Soil type||Sandy, loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Hardiness zones||10–12 (USDA)|
|Native area||Western pacific|
Coconut Palm Care
Native to tropical islands in the western pacific, the coconut palm is probably what comes to mind for many when you say the phrase “palm tree.” Once mature, coconut palms can reach a staggering height of up to 100 feet, and boast 10 to 20-foot palm fronds and a rotating collection of fresh coconuts. In their more juvenile form, however, they can be found in many local nurseries as sprouted coconuts with just one or two immature seedlings visible, and no stipe. They need lots of sunlight, heat, and water to thrive, which can often make them difficult to grow and frustrating for gardeners looking for immediate results.
Coconut palms thrive in full, bright sunlight. Even those found in nature can fail to proper if 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, you may have to move your plant’s location throughout the day to “chase” the sun and ensure proper exposure. As a good rule of thumb, you should aim for at least six hours of full sunlight each day.
Coconut palms are used to growing in a variety of soil conditions and are therefore not terribly picky about their planting mixture. That being said, a combination that closes mimics the coconut palm’s natural environment is always your best bet. Typically, this means mixing a neutral to acidic potting soil with a bit of sand or vermiculite to maintain a well-draining environment (you could also skip the sand and opt instead for a drier cactus mix). Additionally, you can add a few layers of mulch to the top of the soil to help it retain moisture. Be sure your pot is at least 12 inches deep to start, in order to provide plenty of soil for the palm to take root in. Once roots have sprouted, you’ll want to graduate it to a planter that holds at least 10 gallons of soil.
Like many tropicals, the coconut palm is one thirsty plant. Keep the soil consistently moist by saturating with warm water once to twice a week. As long as you’ve chosen a well-draining soil (see above), you really can’t overwater a coconut palm—after all, they’re used to between 40 and 60 inches of annual rainfall in their natural environments.
Temperature and Humidity
Keep your coconut palm nice and cozy at all times. It can survive in temperatures that are at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and up (though they grow best in temperatures between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit) and may fail to thrive if its surrounding climate dips below 64 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 with warm water. Your plant may also benefit from the addition of a mini greenhouse while still in infancy (you can remove once the palm is approximately 12 inches tall).
Feed your palm year-round with a weak liquid fertilizer, and increase frequency during the summer months when it’s actively growing. 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 in order to supplement these losses.
Propagating Coconut Palm
If you can’t find a coconut palm at a nearby nursery or store, 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 (without allowing it to sit in water) every three days or so. With the right environment, you should see a seedling appear through the shell of the coconut within three to six months.
Potting and Repotting Coconut Palm
Sprouted coconuts can be potted in three-gallon pots (about 12 inches of soil). Their root balls are fairly small and shallow to start and, as a result, they don’t need a ton of soil in the early growing months. However, once your coconut palm’s roots grow to be about six to eight inches long, repot the plant into a vessel that holds at least 10 gallons of soil.
Common Pests and Diseases
In their native habitats, coconut palms are fairly resistant to insect predators, but in the home, you might see mealybugs or spider mites on the leaves. Additionally, it’s common for coconut palms to be plagued by “lethal yellow,” a fungal 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.
Bring the tropics to wherever you live with this comprehensive how-to guide for growing coconut palms indoors.
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Coconut palm as a houseplant
Success With the World’s Worst Houseplant
Underpotted sprouting coconuts sold as houseplants were all the rage 6 or 7 years ago. Photo: gardengoodsdirect.com
Back in 2014, I wrote a blog which I entitled Possibly the World’s Worst Houseplant, in which I suggested the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) might just be the worst houseplant ever. It was, at the time, being sold as an easy-to-grow houseplant in the form of a sprouted coconut with a few grasslike juvenile leaves.
Sprouting coconuts generally decline very quickly under average indoor conditions. Photo: Capnspleen, reddit.com
My experience is that such plants inevitably fail fairly quickly, unable to thrive under the poor light, insufficient heat, dry air and subsequent spider mite infestation (spider mites, Tetranychus urticae, come out in droves on palms grown in dry air) that occurs in the average home. Besides, who has the room for a plant with 13 foot (4 meter) fronds? Even botanical gardens fail with this species in their tropical greenhouses. What hope could such a plant possibly have in the average home?
Damien Lekatis’ happy coconut palm. Photo: Damien Lekatis
Well, wouldn’t you know someone would prove me wrong? Damien Lekatis, of Montreal, recently sent me a picture of his 7-year-old coconut palm, repotted into a large pot, obviously doing very well, with fronds even starting to split and look palmlike.
Daniel attributes his success to watering with aquarium water, then adds. “I think that the constant movement caused by the ceiling fan (it’s on all the time) and the humid heat from the old-school radiators are helpful. Electric radiators would probably dry it out.” He lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where “our winters are crazy brutal and last about 5 months. Summers are humid and hot.”
I’d like to add the huge sunny window likely didn’t hurt, either, nor did removing it from the confinement of a small pot and replanting it into large tub!
Three-year old coconut palms in the tropics typically have fully formed pinnate fronds and have started to form a stipe. Photo: http://www.touristmaker.com
Do note the palm has remained in its juvenile form. The original coconut is still visible at the base and the fronds, which start out simple on a sprouting coconut and should be fully pinnate at seven years, are just transitioning to that form. Plus, there is no visible stipe (trunk) while a coconut palm of age of 7 years growing on a sunny tropical beach would normally have a thick stipe some 6 feet (2 m) high and would likely be producing a few coconuts.
So, Damien, you have proved me wrong. But I still don’t think that coconut palms make good houseplants. Damien has been very lucky and proven himself very skillful!
The period when sprouted coconuts in pots were being sold cheaply everywhere seems to be over. If you want to try Daniel’s method without breaking the bank, you might have to obtain a still-husked coconut and sprout it yourself.
Posts about Coconut palm as a houseplant written by Laidback Gardener