Some palm trees are like works of art in a South Florida landscape. Slow-growing specimens can take up to 70 years to reach a substantial size. Palms like the Bailey palm (Copernicia baileyana) are relatively rare and can cost thousands of dollars to acquire and install. (To give you an idea, one Bailey palm installation we completed cost $25,000.)
On the other hand, common varieties like the Canary Palm are widely available in South Florida. A faster-growing typical palm wouldn’t necessarily be considered a landscape “delicacy” unless the property owner had a particular attachment to the plant.
These are important points to keep in mind when discussing whether to transplant a palm tree. Before you make a decision, consider: the value of the existing palm; the cost of transplantation vs. acquiring a new plant; the type of soil it’s growing in; and overall condition of the tree.
Some palm trees warrant transplantation—like that special Bailey palm—because there is no way to replace growing time and interesting character. Other palms are common and the cost of transplantation and the risk of it acclimating to the new site do not warrant moving the tree.
Any palm tree can be transplanted given enough time and resources. Here is how the palm tree transplantation process works and factors to consider before making the decision.
How Palm Trees Are Transplanted
Palms can be transplanted by hand, or they might require large machinery like cranes. They could be simply dug up and moved, or require months of preparation. It all depends on the size and type of palm tree.
Small palm trees can be simply (yet carefully) dug out of the ground by hand, preserving the root ball and small feeder roots. They can be moved with one or two landscape professionals and do not require heavy equipment. If this describes the palm tree you want to transplant, then the process generally goes quite smoothly. In cases like this, we usually advise property owners to move forward with transplantation because they can preserve the palm and it has a great chance of thriving in the new home. Also, there’s not a whole lot of labor involved in removing the palm.
Large palm trees, on the other hand, require time and large equipment like cranes to move. Most landscape firms are not equipped to transplant large palms—only a few specialists in South Florida can handle the job.
Finicky palms require special care. You can’t rush the move because root pruning must be accomplished first. The purpose of root pruning is to keep roots alive so the plant will be prepared for the new location.
What is root pruning? Draw a circle around the root ball at the soil surface. A clean cut is made 1/3 of the way around this circle, and about 2 to 3 feet deep. Two months later, another third of the circle is “trenched,” cleanly severing roots. By this time, the section of the root ball that was cut first has redeveloped its tiny feeder roots. By the time the last third cut is made, 2/3 of the root ball has established feeder roots. This way, once the palm is transplanted, its root ball has a good amount of healthy roots to absorb nutrients and feed the palm.
Finicky palms must be root pruned and removed gradually, the process taking 4 to 9 months depending on the palm tree size and type.
How Much Will Transplanting a Palm Cost?
This is the question we get most often. Property owners want to know if it makes financial sense to move an existing palm tree to a new location, or if they should just buy a new one. First, go back to the points we made about the palm tree’s size and value. If the palm is rare, interesting, especially large and slow-growing, then it could be worth the time and money to transplant.
Here’s what we mean exactly when we talk about money. Typically, the cost of moving a large palm tree that requires heavy equipment is 75% of the price of a brand-new palm tree. So, if a new palm is $1,000, moving the one you already own will cost about $750.
There is no guarantee on the palm tree if you transplant it. If proper root pruning is completed, the palm tree may or may not “take” in the new location. If the palm fails after relocation, then it’s a loss. However, new plants come with warranties.
Can The Palm Be Transplanted Easily?
Is the palm large or small? Is it rare or common? Is it finicky or adaptable? It takes a horticulturist who is knowledgeable in palm trees to guide you toward the best decision. (The former chairman of the South Florida Palm Society happens to be Manager and Lead Designer of Reef Tropical Landscape, and many of the palm tree photos you see here are from his personal collection.)
We also address the palm tree’s location, soil content and overall condition.
Access: When a palm tree is located within a landscape, transplanting it often means damaging other plants, hardscape and landscape features in order to remove the palm. So, the cost of removing the palm is one thing, but the price of replacing the rest of your damaged landscape is another. Access to the palm tree is a key consideration.
Soil content: You might think that palms growing in rocky soil are harder to remove, but that’s actually not the case. When a root ball is settled into rock, we can use jackhammers, chisels, skid-steer loaders and trenchers to cut out the entire rock. This preserves the root ball without root pruning.
If the palm is growing in loose sand, tiny feeder roots are at high risk of being damaged during transplantation.
Overall condition: How healthy is the palm tree today? Remember, transplantation is a highly stressful activity for plants. It should only be considered for palm trees that are in excellent growing condition.
Weigh the Pros and Cons Before Transplanting Palm Trees
There’s more than one way to value a palm tree. If the plant is truly special to you, or if it’s rare and interesting, then the risk and cost of transplantation might be worth it. Certainly, small palms that can be dug up easily are not complicated to transplant, given that access to the plant and soil conditions allow for a smooth process.
That said, palm trees are widely available in South Florida and a new tree can be acquired and installed without paying much more than you would if you transplanted one.
Before deciding to transplant (or not), talk to a knowledgeable professional with experience transplanting and installing palm trees. This is not a job for just any landscape maintenance firm. A specialist is necessary.
Call us any time and we’ll take a look at your palms. Contact us at 305.367.2005, or fill out this form and we’ll get in touch with you.