With how tall palm trees get, you might be inclined to think that they need root systems that go deep into the ground to keep them standing in high winds.
In reality, palm trees have some of the most shallow roots of any tree – with their root system typically not going more than 3′ deep.
How Deep Do Palm Tree Roots Grow?
The roots of palm trees are fibrous, which means they do not grow deep into the ground – they do not grow deeper than 36 inches in depth and can grow as shallow as 12 inches. This is because palm tree roots are fibrous, and they grow outwards in length rather than horizontally in depth.
These fibrous roots pose fewer problems when planting palms near buildings or sidewalks than trees with more traditional root systems like Oak trees. When planting a palm tree near concrete structures, it is less likely that their root system might damage the foundation of your house or push up sidewalks.
Palm trees are unique in the way that their roots grow. They have a compact root system because they absorb nutrients from the top layer of soil rather than deep underground like trees that use taproots. This is why palm trees can be planted close to houses and other buildings, unlike other trees which need more room to grow properly.
How Far Do Palm Tree Roots Spread?
Palm tree roots grow out from the tree and are spread around the trunk and through the surrounding soil. The roots of some palm trees – such as royal and coconut palms – can grow as far as 50 feet out from the trunk.
For the most part, however, palm tree roots don’t spread that far out. They will generally extend beyond the canopy, though.
How Thick Are Palm Tree Roots?
Palm tree roots are very thin and fragile. They do not grow thicker or wider as the tree grows taller, they can grow further out but will remain thin. In reality, a lot of palm tree roots won’t get any wider than your thumb.
How Do Shallow Roots Support a Palm Tree?
Palm trees have relatively shallow root systems as compared to other trees, and this seems like a weakness. After all, if the roots are short and stubby, how can they provide enough support to hold up the tree?
Yet the shallow root system of the palm tree is actually an advantage.
Palm trees have very shallow roots compared to other trees or plants because they don’t need a lot of depth to get the nutrients they need. The roots absorb moisture to hydrate the tree, which is especially important during the dry season and droughts in tropical climates.
The roots also absorb nutrients and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and manganese to feed the tree. As the roots grow out further, they can more evenly collect the moisture and nutrients from the soil into the tree.
The longer the roots, the more they help stabilize the tree. The thin roots bind to the soil, holding the soil particles together and making the tree sturdier. Because of how long they are and how many of them there are, the roots keep the tree firmly anchored into the ground even though they’re shallow. This is why palm trees regularly survive hurricanes without being toppled.
Why Do Palm Trees Have Above Ground Roots?
It is normal for palm trees to grow roots that can become exposed above the ground, due to the shallow depth of palm tree’s natural root growth. These roots will become dry and will stop growing. These roots are inactive and do not help the tree, the tree will only feed from the active roots underground.
Can Palm Tree Roots Cause Damage?
Palm tree roots are very thin, long, and fragile. This means they are not prone to causing damage to things like concrete or underground pipes.
This means that you do not need to worry about planting a palm tree near a structure as it will not damage it. Yet you should be careful about planting a palm tree too close to a house in case it is uprooted in strong weeds.
Do Palm Trees Uproot Easily?
Palm trees can uproot in adverse weather conditions such as strong winds and storms due to their shallow and thin roots. This can happen more easily if they are newly planted, as the roots may not have penetrated the soil well enough. As palm trees grow in light, sandy soil, this also makes them more likely to uproot.
That having been said, palm trees survive hurricanes all the time without being uprooted. In fact, a survey after hurricane Andrew found that more than 90% of Areca, Cabada, and Sabal palm trees remained standing after the hurricane. More than 80% of Alexander palms remained standing.
Some palm trees do uproot more easily than others, however. Royal palms, for example, only had 60% that remained standing after the hurricane. Queen and Coconut palms did the worst of any of the varieties looked at in the survey, with only 40% standing after the hurricane.
Considering sabal palm trees, which scored among the best, can grow up to 100′ tall for the largest specimens, it seems unlikely that the difference has to do directly with the height a species of palm can grow to.
What is a Root Ball on a Palm Tree?
Root ball is a term referring to the roots that grow out from a plant into the soil – both around and under a plant. As the roots grow and spread out from the tree, they naturally form a root ball under the trunk.
This term is most often used when discussing potted plants or palm trees that are dug up so they can be moved and planted somewhere else. In this case, the root ball is not only the roots, but also the dirt that is pulled up with the plant.
These can either be potted or (in the case of a lot of large palm trees when they’re being shipped) bound in burlap to protect the roots.
Palm trees, even the shortest ones, can have a root ball which is around 24 inches in diameter when removed from the ground, but sometimes the root ball that’s dug up can be up to 6′ in diameter.