Small Palm Trees Guide: Types That Grow 4 – 20 feet tall {PRO Tips}

small palm trees

Whether it’s neighborhood height restrictions or personal preference, there are plenty of small palm trees to suit a variety of landscaping needs. There are types that can stay short for decades but the palm trees on this list reach about 20′ or less in height at maturity.

Note that some of these palms prefer shade as they typically grow under the canopies of larger trees in the wild.

Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)

Cycas Revolta, Sago Cycad Palm, Entry Garden at Art Museum, Huntington Library

Considered a fantastic house plant for beginners, the sago palm also does well in container gardens and planted directly in soil outdoors. While they can tolerate low light, bright light is preferred. Take care not to overwater them as root rot is their enemy.

It’s a member of the cycad family so not a true palm, but we’ll include it here anyway since they are popular in Southern California and easy to find in local nurseries. Be mindful that the leaves can be sharp and that it is an extremely slow growing plant (often at only 1″ per year).

  • Height: 3-20′

Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

We’re going out a limb, pardon the pun, to say that the pygmy date palm is the most common short palm in San Diego gardens. They are elegant and slender (with a crown of up to 3′ wide per trunk) either growing in multiple trunks or a single trunk depending on how you buy them. These palms are happy with partial to full sun and in a variety of watering conditions (soggy soil being an exception). Note that the base of the fronds have thorns on them.

  • Height: 6-10′

Pindo palm (Butia capitata)

Butia capitata (Butia odorata)

The pindo palm has long feathery leaves in a blue-green color that arch toward the ground from a 12-18″ trunk. The tree produces bright orange fruit known as pindo dates which are used to make jelly because of their naturally high pectin content (some people use these dates to make wine). These palms need good drainage and can handle full or partial sun.

  • Height: 15 – 20′

Ravenea hildebrandtii

Now this is a pretty and compact palm with a full head of cascading leaves that should probably be considered more for use in Southern California gardens. The skinny trunk (4-6″ wide) of Ravenea hildebrandtii rarely grows more than 8′ tall. It’s a tree that can withstand full sun on the coast but will need some shade inland. This is a tree perfect for residential gardens with height restrictions where the pygmy date palm might seem too short. It’s usually found at specialty palm growers.

  • Height: 8′

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

Chamaedorea elegans

The Parlor Palm makes an amazing, low maintenance house plant that is tough to kill but as you can see, it does well outside, too. It’s pretty much sold everywhere but tends to prefer filtered sun indoors and shade outdoors in sunny Southern California. This palm likes regular water but can tolerate periods of drought.  It’s a slower-grower originally from Mexico.

  • Height: 4-6′

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)

needle-palms

This palm has a similar look to the lady palm (below) but with much longer leaves and a bushier growing habit. It’s a fast-grower and very shrub-like with a suckering habit as it does not grow a proper trunk. Each stem carries about twelve deep green leaves that can grow up to 4′ long. These palms prefer nutrient dense soil and plenty of water at first (they are drought tolerant once established) in addition to full or partial shade. You can mass plant them for a hedge but note that there are thorns near the base of the plant.

  • Height: 6′

Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

starr-110209-0654-Rhapis excelsa-habit-Resort_Management_Group_Nursery_Kihei-Maui

Lady palms are perfect additions to gardens attempting to mimic those in Southeast Asia or other tropical places. The leaves look like hands with long fingers and are most often grown indoors in Southern California or in shade. However, these palms can handle partial or full morning sunshine if they are properly acclimated to the sun prior to planting. They do require regular watering (to mimic tropical rain) but can handle drip irrigation. Leaves with turn a lighter green color when planted in sun.

  • Height: 14′

Triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi)

starr-071024-8834-Dypsis_decaryi-habit-Enchanting_Floral_Gardens_of_Kula-Maui

A striking member of the palm family, the triangle palm has long (up to 15′) leaves that branch off of the trunk in a triangle shape. The tree also blooms with long white and green flowers. Its low maintenance and water needs make it a drought tolerant plant and choice for those new to palm trees though many hobbyists grow it because of the shape..

  • Height: 20′

Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)

Chamaerops humilis, Arecaceae

A very popular choice for San Diego gardens, the Mediterranean fan palm has a multi-trunk habit and attractive blue-green leaves. Its low water requirements make it a drought tolerant choice and it can do well even in frosts or while planted in large container gardens. Place it in partial or full sun.

  • Height: 10 – 15′

Mazari palm (Nannorrhops ritchiana)

Nannorrhops ritchiana 86-09

The Mazari palm is a bit hard to find but growing in popularity due to its unique look and ability to adapt to many types of soil. It’s originally from Afghanistan and Parkistan and grows with multiple stems from a base—there is no proper trunk on this tree so it looks more like a shrub. Choose between varieties with blue or green fronds.

  • Height: 10 – 15′

Baby Queen Palm (Chamaedorea plumosa)

This is a really attractive palm that can be grown in single or multi trunk forms. Experts say it tends to look best when planted in groups. Chamaedorea plumosa grows well in Southern California gardens and is another variety that should be considered more than it is. Feathery leaves cascade off of skinny trunks. They can tolerate full sun or filtered sun and grow in a very compact habit. This palm can also be grown as a house plant.

  • Height: 12′

Your Turn…

Which small palm trees do you have in your garden?

 

Photo credits: Top Photo by Maja Dumat – CC BY 2.0 on Flickr; sago palm, Flickr/[email protected]; pygmy date palm, Flickr/starr-environmental; pindo palm, Flickr/[email protected]; parlor palm, Flickr/[email protected]; needle palm, Flickr/[email protected]; lady palm, Flickr/starr-environmental; triangle palm, Flickr/starr-environmental; Mediterranean fan palm, Flickr/jccsvq; Mazari Palm, Gabriele Kothe-Heinrich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons