Palm tree roots don’t branch and get smaller like the roots of true trees. Instead, the roots grow straight from the base of unbranched trunks to form a ball. This difference requires slightly different techniques for transplanting palm trees than for trees with branching roots.
Palm Transplant Basics
The best time to transplant palms is from late spring through early summer, when soil temperatures are above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The acceptable root ball size varies by species. For example the roots of the queen palm (Syagrus romazoffiana) need only extend 6 to 12 inches from the trunk, while the roots of the African wild date (Phoenix reclinata) should extend 4 to 6 feet. Most palm trees need roots that extend 12 inches deep and 12 inches out from the trunk. Larger root balls are typically better than small ones. Pruning palm tree roots, as you might do with other trees, is unnecessary. Queen palm grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8a through 11, and African wild date palm grows in USDA zones 9a through 11. Although most of the 1,500 palm species need a subtropical or tropical climate -- USDA zones 9 through 11 -- at least 100 species will grow in USDA zones 6 through 8a.
If you remove the palm tree from light, sandy soil, wrap the roots in burlap to keep the soil around the roots from crumbling and falling apart. Newly dug palms lose water from transpiration, a form of evaporation, through stomata or pores in their leaves. To keep water loss at a minimum, remove at least one-half of the older leaves when you dig up the palm tree. Do not prune the growing tip of the palm. Use biodegradable twine to tie the rest of the leaves together. When pruning, use shears that have been wiped with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. This helps prevent the spread of disease.
Prepare the Hole
Dig a hole roughly twice as wide as the container or root ball in the new spot. The transplant hole should drain well with no standing water at the bottom. If the soil won’t drain, build a raised berm to raise the root ball above the level of the standing water. This will collect and hold water until it can work its way down to the roots. Do not amend the backfill soil. If the soil around the hole is different from the soil in the hole, the roots may remain inside the backfill. Palm tree fertilizer adds magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Enrich the soil removed from the planting hole at the rate of 2 ounces for each 1 inch of trunk diameter of 8-2-12-4 palm tree fertilizer, which has added magnesium.
Planting the Palm
Plant a container-grown palm so that the tops of the roots are about 1 inch below the top of the soil. If you plant it at the same level, the palm might topple over. Do not plant a palm deeply so it won’t fall over. After you fill soil around the roots, tamp it down to remove pockets of air then flood the area several times to settle the soil. Mound soil around the roots to help the roots anchor the palm. If the palm threatens to topple over or if you live in an area with high winds, brace the trunk. To do that, wrap asphalt paper or burlap around the trunk then strap short lengths of two-by-four lumber on top of this covering. Lean two-by-four or four-by-four braces against the strapped lumber. Secure the braces by driving nails into the strapped lumber, not the palm's trunk.
Watering the Transplant
Transplanted palms need rain or watering on alternate days, but require water every day for the first two weeks in hot weather. Keep the root ball moist but not soggy. Water a transplanted palm for six to eight months, the time it takes for it to get established. Reduce the frequency of watering once the palm is established. Eventually, you can stop watering if you get enough rainfall in your area.