Can You Bonsai A Palm Tree?

Palm trees and bonsai are not two things you often see together and I think that is for good reason. While you can try and bonsai a palm tree, it is not easy and the results are not great.

There are hundreds of different varieties of palm trees, so I’m sure you will get better results with some, compared to others, but in general they are not ideal for bonsai. They just do not have what you need for a good bonsai. 

Is A Palm Tree Good For Bonsai?

Palm trees are a tropical plant, so they are not easily found outside of these regions and if they are, they are usually some sort of houseplant.

This would usually be a good thing, as trees that can grow in posts are usually suited for bonsai, but you will find that palms have problematic roots as well as large leaves.

Of all the attributes you would want from a tree to make a good bonsai, a palm has very few, if any.

While they are beautiful trees, trying to tame them into a bonsai pot is a bit of a losing battle. It’s not impossible, but it’s certainly not easy and you will probably find a lot more success with a different species when it comes to growing bonsai

Is the Foliage Of A Palm Tree Good For Bonsai?

Even though there is hundreds of varieties of palm trees, pretty much all of them have less than ideal foliage. 

I’m desperately trying to think of one example where the foliage is okay, but nothing is coming to mind. It is always too large, or just too wide or long. It’s never the ideal shape or size.

Some species will reduce in size, but it still can look very out of proportion and just look too big. 

The growth pattern of the leaves is also usually quite different from trees that are more commonly used in bonsai, such as deciduous trees.

Palm leaves often sort of grow from one spot, like a clump and there isn’t the usual internodes that you would find on other trees.

The foliage is often fantastic looking, it just isn’t great for bonsai.

Growth Rate Of Palm Trees

Given the right climate, a palm tree can be very fast growing. Coming from more tropical areas they enjoy the heat and plenty of light. It can be hard for many of us to provide this, so often we may not see great growth rates.

Response To Pruning

In general, palms do not respond to well to pruning. This will really be dependent on the species, but really you should proceed with caution.

Some palms will produce back buds and the branches will divide, but it is not always the case and you can often find that they will die back very easily when you prune them. They just seem a little fussy and awkward, which is not ideal.

I feel trying to build a branch structure would be quite hard. You are not going to be able to get the reliable back budding that you can expect with a deciduous tree.

Ramification is also quite hard to develop. Palm trees tend to grow quite coarsely and you are never going to get super fine branching or foliage.

Can You Style A Palm Tree As A Bonsai?

Palm trees are palm trees, they are never going to be able to be styled like a conifer or deciduous tree.

Pretty much all bonsai styles fall into the conifer or deciduous look, so classic bonsai styles are not going to work with a palm.

Basically you would need to just make them look like a palm. While I have said above that their growth and response to pruning is not great, this is in the context of traditional bonsai. These factors may actually be beneficial to make your palm, look more like palm.

There are no real styling rules when it comes to palms, this is something you would need to experiment with and work out yourself.        

Can You Wire A Palm Tree Bonsai?

Wiring is probably not something that is going to work with palms.

They often haven’t got the same sort of branch structure, although for those species that do, then wiring could be an option.

You also need to consider the style, most palms are fairly straight in nature. Trying to add movement into them may not make sense.

However, this will really come down to the individual tree and what you are trying to achieve. In some cases wire will make sense, in other situations it will not be needed.   

Fall Colours

Palm trees are evergreen, so you will not get any change throughout the year.

What Is Palm Tree Bark Like?

The bark on palm trees is pretty cool. Each variety will be slightly different, but they usually have a nice light brown colour to them. The bark is usually quite thin, but not always

I actually think the bark is one the best features of palm tree, I just really like it.

Deadwood Opportunities

Unfortunately deadwood is not an option on a palm. The wood is quite soft and will rot off very easily. It also wouldn’t really suit the look, so if anything did die back, you are best to just remove it. 

Are The Roots Of Palm Trees Good For Bonsai?

The roots of a palm tree are the real reason why they do not make good bonsai. If we think where a palm tree grows, their roots make sense.

They live in dry hot environments and therefore have long deep roots that search for water. This is fine when they are growing in hot climates, but it’s not ideal for a shallow bonsai pot.

They also usually do not respond well to being pruned. This can then make it quite hard to develop a good root ball and also make it hard to get a flat set of radial roots, which would fit nicely into a shallow bonsai pot.

If you are growing a palm as a bonsai, you will quickly find that the roots are your downfall. You can very easily find you kill your tree if you work the roots to hard.

Are Palm Trees Easy To Care For As Bonsai?

Caring for a palm can be easy, but it can also be hard. It really depends on what type of palm you are growing and what type of care you can provide.

Really they need a tropical environment so they will usually need to be cared for inside and may need a grow light to give them the light levels they are more accustomed to.

They are probably going to need more care than a lot of other trees you could use for bonsai.

Conclusion

Palm trees are beautiful, but they are really not ideal for bonsai. Every step of the way is a battle. They need extra care to grow well, and then when they do, the leaves are too big and they don’t respond well to pruning.

They want to grow big and they like thick coarse growth, they do not want to be miniaturised. 

Then you have the issues of the roots, which make it almost impossible to bonsai.

I really like palms and there are a few varieties where you can get some okay results, but in general, I would suggest you don’t bother with them. You will get much better success using other trees that are more suited for bonsai.