Small palm trees are a great addition to your patio or garden landscape if you live in a sunny, warm climate. However, some small palm trees are also surprisingly cold-hardy. Dwarf palms fall under the palm classification if they stay under 20 feet tall at full maturity. Most small palm trees grow from a single trunk, but you can find some with multiple trunks. A dwarf or small palm is identified by the fan-shaped or feather-like fronds or leaves.
The benefit of planting these smaller plants in your back or front yard is they don’t take up a lot of room. The short stature means that they won’t block out the sun, and some smaller varieties even thrive in containers. Although small palm trees can reach up to 20 feet high, the pygmy or dwarf palms are roughly five feet tall at full maturity.
Of course, palm trees, no matter the size, have strong links to tropical climates. But, you’ll be happy to learn that many small pal tree varieties grow very well in more temperate climates. In this article, we’ll go over 19 of the most popular species of small palm trees. Shorter palm trees grow in warm climates like Florida, and there are also dwarf palms that are cold-hardy and can even withstand freezing temperatures. You’ll find them all on the list.
Facts About Small Palm Tree
The smallest types of outdoor palms like dwarf palmetto might only reach three feet tall. The tallest types of small palm trees like the spindle palm can reach 20 feet high. While a 20-foot palm seems tall at first glance, they’re actually very small compared to the bigger palm trees that get up to 100 feet tall.
Small palm trees are very popular growing in gardens for the aesthetic appeal they bring to your landscape. The compact size makes them the perfect addition to plant in your front yard if you want to add a tropical twist to your landscape. Most small palm varieties have a smaller root ball, and this allows you to grow them close to the house. Also, when you grow them in warm conditions, they can produce delicious fruit.
Small Palm Tree Identification
Identifying small palm trees is usually done by the fronds or leaves and the type of trunk it has. Palm trees have fan-like frondes (palmate) or feather-like leaves called pinnate. Some dwarf palms have smooth, slender trunks, and other small palm trees offer husks that give a spiked look.
There is a broad appearance range for different palm species. Some palms have more slender trunks with a bushy crown of arching fronds while other types have hairy, thick trunks that are very rough to the touch. Some species offer a bush-like, clumping growth habit that seems to grow straight from the ground without any trunk visible.
19 Types of Small Palm Trees
Below, you’ll find 19 of the best small palm trees that you can incorporate into your garden landscape.
1. Arikury Palm (Syagrus schizophylla)
Arikury Palm is also called the Parrot Beak Palm or the Parrot Palm, and it’s a great addition to your smaller tropical garden. While this small palm tree is the cousin to the Queen Palm, this is a very distinctive tree that stands out due to the more narrow, shorter trunk with an eruption of big six foot fronds.
These miniature palms will only get up to six feet tall, and it has upright growing fronds. However, the fronds won’t usually take up more than three feet of space in your yard or garden. The unique palm is a very slow grower that doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. You won’t have to worry about pruning the spent fronds the large majority of the time. This plant needs plenty of water, twice a week during the drought, but they don’t do well in soggy soil.
2. Bottle Palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis)
The Bottle Palm is a small palm tree that is native to the Mascarene Islands, and it’s considered to be currently critically endangered. The very unique bottle-like trunk is where it gets the common name. This trunk is rounded when the tree is younger, but it will elongate as it matures. These unique palm trees will top out at 10 feet tall, but the fronds will get up to 12 feet wide and offer leaflets that are two feet long.
This tree requires protection from the frost. During freezing temperatures, you’ll gently tie the fronds up and use a frost cover or blanket to insulate the tree. Caring for this tree is relatively easy as long as you give them plenty of sunlight, put them in well-drained soil, and they have moderate moisture.
3. Christmas Palm (Adonidia merrillii)
The Christmas Palm is also called the Manilla Palm, and it produces clusters of very showy red berries during the fall and winter months, as this is where the common name comes from This palm is slightly larger than many of the small palm trees on the list, and it gets up to 25 feet high and offers and 8 foot spread. A lot of gardeners will plant this palm tree in groups of two to four because grouping them close allows the trunk to grow and form a soft curve.
Although this palm will grow well in partial shade, they prefer to be in a spot that gets full sun. This is a self-cleaning palm that will drop the spent leaves by themselves, and this reduces your needs to prune them. Despite being more low maintenance, they are very prone to Lethal Yellowing, and this is thought to mimic a primitive virus.
4. Coontie Palm (Zamia floridana)
Coontie palms are a very low-growing tree that is native to Florida. This is actually not a true type of palm tree, but it’s a cycad plant that features palm-like growth and looks. Coontie palms are more like bushes instead of actual palm trees. It produces multi-branched clusters of palm-like fronds that grow from the ground. This bush palm-like tree grows up to three feet tall with a rounded growth habit and fern-like foliage. Coontie palms are an excellent option for ground cover or edging to add greenery to shaded areas of your yard.
5. Dwarf Majesty Palm (Ravenea hildebrandtii)
Dwarf Majesty Palms are a single-trunk small palm tree that doesn’t get over eight feet tall. It forms green pinnate leaves and a slender trunk that is only three inches thick. It’s a very popular ornamental palm with wide, large arching fronds. The wide arching look very majestic as a focal point of your ornamental, subtropical garden. The bright green leaves can get up to three feet long and have 100 leaflets growing along the stem. It’s one of the best potted palm trees to grow indoors.
6. Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor)
Dwarf Palmettos are a great groundcover to have in warmer climates, and this short palm usually has a growth habit that tops out at three feet. This tropical palm has fan-shaped leaves that can get up to six feet long, and it tends to thrive in humid, hot conditions, but it’s also cold tolerant down to 0-degrees Fahrenheit. This is a Florida native palm tree, and you can easily plant them together in the backyard to create a very bushy privacy screen. You can also grow them in containers on your patio to add a subtropical feel to your space.
7. Dwarf Sugar Palm (Arenga engleri)
This is a multi-stemmed small palm tree, and it has a clumping growth habit that gives you a very bushy mature palm tree that looks more like a big shrub. It gets around eight feet tall, and you can identify it by the pinnate, green leaves that look like they grow out of the ground. Many consider this tree to be one of the best landscaping palms, and this is a miniature fern-like bush that grows best in zones 10B to 11. You can use this palm as a specimen tree in your tropical garden, or you can plant the low palm bushes in clusters to create a nice privacy screen.
8. Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lamerei)
Again, this isn’t technically a palm tree, but it’s a deciduous succulent. As they grow, you’ll see a wide gray trunk with greenish-blue foliage with thorny stems. It blooms in clusters of yellow, white, pink, or red flowers during the summer and spring months. The four-inch flowers are unscented, and they typically only bloom when they’re growing in their native environment. This unique palm-like cultivar will only need bright light and regular watering when the soil dries out. As winter approaches, you’ll need to water it enough to keep the soil from drying out.
9. Mazari Palm (Nannorrhops ritchiana)
This is a shrubby, small palm tree that is very cold hardy. It has palmate leaves that grow in clusters along the stems. The fan-shaped leaves can measure from one to four feet long, and they are a silvery-blue or silvery-green coloring. The tapering, long leaflets it produces give the small shrubby palm a very spiky look. Like other types of cold-hardy palm trees, this one needs hot summers to grow and thrive. However, it can survive temperatures as low as 10-degrees Fahrenheit without any damage.
10. Mediterranean Dwarf Palm (Chamaerops humilis)
This is another very low-growing clumping small palm tree that has three or more trunks at the base. This is a multi-trunk, bushy tree that can get between 10 and 20 feet tall at full maturity. It produces a compact crown of rounded fan leaflets on top of the small trunks. This is a very popular choice for landscaping palms in countries that have hot summers. But, this is also a cold-hardy choice that can survive when temperature dips to 10-degrees Fahrenheit. Planting this tree in containers can help you control the final height if you want to add a Mediterranean flair to your decking or patio area.
11. Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)
The needle palm is a shrub-like small palm tree that has several short trunks that grow out of the ground. You can identify this palm cultivar by the needle-like, long spines it produces. The needle palm is one of the most cold-hardy palms you can get, and it can survive temperatures as low as five-degrees Fahrenheit. This cultivar works well for security or privacy screens, and the bushy palms grow very well in containers as a low-growing, ornamental tree. It gets between three and six feet tall and eight feet wide at full maturity.
12. Pindo Palm (Butia capitata)
Pindo Palms are a slow-growing tree with a single thicker trunk, and the attractive feature of this tree is the large crown that produces greenish-blue fronds that arch to create a pretty weeping effect. The fat, short stem has a very rough appearance from the stubs of the old leaves. It’s also called the Cocos Capitata or Jelly Palm, and it’s a hardy tree that is heat, drought, and salt tolerant. It’s a very attractive small palm tree that is great in coastal landscapes, and it’s cold hardy to 14-degrees Fahrenheit.
13. Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
Sago Palms aren’t a true palm tree type, but it’s also actually a cycad plant that features palm-like growth and looks. Sago palms have shaggy, short trunks that produce green, long, feather-like fronds that grow in a rosette pattern. This is a cold-hardy small palm tree that can tolerate temperatures down to 14-degrees Fahrenheit, and the tolerance for colder temperatures makes it a popular small landscaping plant.
14. Saw Palmetto (Sereona)
Native to Florida, this small palm tree is a bushy-type of plant that produces fanning leaves. They get between 7 and 10 feet high, and they tend to grow in clusters. The greenish-silver fan-shaped leaves will help you identify this type of tree. The edges of the leaves are serrated, and this is where the common name of the saw palmetto comes from. Since this is a type of clustering palm, it has several stems growing from the ground. You should plant them close together to get a tropical privacy screen or you can put them in a container to get a more dramatic look.
15. Short Bottle Palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis)
This small palm tree gets the name from the fat, short trunk that looks like a pear-shaped bottle. You can identify this tree by the way the stem tends to swell near the base. It grows up to 10 feet high at full maturity, and it’s a miniature plant that has four to six arching fronds that grow up to 12 feet long.
As this small palm tree matures, the trunk will elongate slightly and develop a husky exterior. Short bottle palm trees commonly grow in southern California and Florida, and this gives them a warm planting zone all year-round. This is an ideal cultivar to grow in a compact residential garden In cooler climates, you want to grow it in a container and bring it inside to protect them from the frost and snow.
16. Spindle Palm (Hyophorbe verschaffeltii)
Spindle palms have slender, short, gray trunks with a crown of green, curved, pinnate leaves. This small palm tree also flowers, and it gets up to 20 feet high. Spindle palms are very similar to bottle palms, and the main difference is that this palm tree has a trunk that bulges in the center instead of at the base. You can grow them as a specimen plant in your backyard or front yard, and you’ll want to put them in containers if you live in a more temperate climate.
17. Triangle Palm Tree (Dypsis decaryi)
This palm falls into the small to medium-sized category, and it’s one of the larger options on the list. It’s better known as the triangle palm, and you can tell it apart by looking at the leaves. This one will have unnaturally long pinnate leaves that can get up to eight feet long. The leaflets also have an unusual property where they stretch roughly 120-degrees, and this lends a triangular cross-section to them.
Another reason for the common name comes to mind when you look at photos of this tree. The leaves form a triangle shape as they branch out from one fibrous stalk. This is a pretty palm tree that does well in subtropical and tropical gardens. It’s a great choice for backyard landscaping too.
18. Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)
Windmill palms offer large fanned leaves on short, slender, hairy trunks. This is a very slow-growing palm tree that will get between 10 and 20 feet tall at full maturity. The name comes from the windmill form that the splaying fronds create from the crown of the trunk. They’re hardy in zones 8a to 11. This tree looks very decorative when you plant it in the backyard or front yard. These palms are very stunning specimens to help create a focal point in your landscape. You can also plant them in containers for a deck or patio area, and it’s best to plant them in a protected part of the garden in partial or full shade.
19. Yellow Butterfly Palm (Dypsis lutescens)
The final small palm tree on the list is near threatened, and it has a bamboo-like appearance. They have golden-hued, smooth trunks with full and narrow fronds, very similar to bamboo leaves. It’s a very commonly used privacy barrier in tropical regions of the world, and they’re best planted in the spring to support their slow to moderate growth habit. They prefer to be in filtered sunlight, but they’ll also grow in full sun. They need slightly acidic, rich soil that drains well but stays evenly moist.
How to Care for Your Small Palm Trees
Palm trees are great for adding a tropical touch to your garden, but it’s essential that you nail the care from the start to keep them looking nice. When it comes to successfully growing small palm trees, there is no one way to do it. It all depends on the type of tree you pick out and where you live. The first thing you want to do is pick out a place for your new small palm tree and then use this quick guide to help determine if it’ll thrive there. The better you can make your space, the happier your tree will be.
When it comes to light, palm trees can be very picky, so knowing your small palm trees preferences is key. If your palm prefers to be in full sun, planting it in a shaded area will result in a very weak plant that has a thicker trunk and fronds that are stretched out from reaching toward the sun. Likewise, if your palm tree loves the shade and you put it in direct sunlight, the leaves will brown and burn until they die.
The soil under your palm tree is just as important as the sun is. A lot of palm species do well in alkaline or acidic soil, and others are slightly fussier when it comes to their soil. However, this is one piece of advice for your small palm trees: Make sure that your soil has great drainage. Any excessive moisture in the soil can lead to frond browning or rot issues.
Small palm trees are found in several different planting zones, and some of them originate in places that are hot all year-round with temperatures routinely hitting 95-degrees Fahrenheit by day and below 78-degrees Fahrenheit by night. In more mountainous regions, you may see daytime highs between 70 and 80-degrees Fahrenheit with nighttime lows around 40. Some species can survive the occasional snow, and others survive temperatures over 100-degrees.
So, choosing the correct palm tree for your environment comes down to knowing what your tree can tolerate, especially at night. Taking into account the temperature swings of your area all year-round will help you narrow down which small palm tree species is best for you.
Moisture is key for any plant, including small palm trees. Some prefer to have moisture once a week, and other cultivars may prefer to have water five times a week. If you’re going to mix palm species in your landscape or garden, make sure you group them by water needs. If you don’t, you could weaken one plant while the other does well.
Pruning Palm Trees
Pruning your small palm trees is usually very simple. Remove any old fruit stems or dead fronds as you see them. Once the old fronds turn 100% brown, it’s safe to prune them from your tree. Just ensure that you wait until the frond is 100% brown. Use a hand pruner for smaller pams and a sharp pruning saw for larger ones. Whatever pruning tool you pick out, treat it with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide between pruning different palms as this helps prevent disease spread from plant to plant.
When you remove a leaf, cut it as close to your trunk as possible. The leaf you leave on the tree will eventually fall off, but it can take several years. If you try to strip it before it’s ready to fall, you’ll scare the trunk. If you have a big palm tree and you can’t reach the old leaves with a pole saw, decide how important pruning really is for your tree. Eventually, it’ll shed the old fronds, but if you don’t want to wait, you can hire a tree climber or cherry picker.
Even though the psalm on this list can be small, they can make a huge statement. Small palm trees have a very distinct look that will make your garden stand out. Each of these palm trees are great to feature in a small garden, and you can purposely keep them short if you prune them regularly. With a little care and maintenance, there’s a small palm tree on this list that will give you the tropical feeling you’re after.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.