How to Transplant a Cabbage Palm

Updated July 20, 2017

Native Cabbage Palms (Sabal palmetto), or Sabal palms trees grow in Florida, Louisiana and Texas and in portions of the southwest including Nevada and California. Recognise the cabbage palm by its thick, fibrous trunk and dense top spray of deeply palmate leaves. They usually grow 40 to 50 feet in height, but can reach up to 90 feet. In summer cabbage palms produce showy flower stalks of four to five foot long creamy white blooms. Squirrels and birds consume the small green fruits that fall in autumn. Gardeners and landscapers favour the cabbage palm on account of its heartiness. Once established, the cabbage palm is quite drought-tolerant. It is also one of the best trees to stand up against hurricanes and tropical storms.

Transplant cabbage palms in the spring or early summer. New roots require soil temperatures at or above 18.3 degrees C to regenerate and establish root-hold.

Water the soil around the tree. Thorough watering will keep the root ball together during transplanting.

Dig up the tree. Use a shovel to dig around the base of the tree. Begin a shovel's width away from the trunk. This will ensure you include adequate root material. Digging trees taller than 15 feet may require use of motorised equipment such as tractors or powered tree spades.

Wrap burlap around the root ball. If the soil around the root ball easily sloughs away upon extraction, tie burlap around the structure to preserve its integrity. More structurally sound soils may not require this step. Always use burlap if the tree will not be replanted immediately.

Transport the tree to transplant location. Make sure the trunk is well supported during the moving process. To protect the growth bud, gather 1/3 of the palm fronds over the bud and tie them together with biodegradable twine.

Remove all leaves before replanting. Once the tree establishes a strong root system (in 8 to 12 months) leaves will re-emerge.

Replant the tree as soon as possible. This minimises stress and ensures better survival rates. If the tree cannot be replanted immediately, keep the cabbage palm out of direct sunlight. Keep the root ball, trunk and canopy moist.

Choose a transplant location. Cabbage palms are adaptable and do well in full sun or partial shade. They can be planted in sandy, silty soils as well as slightly brackish ones.

Dig a replacement hole in the transplant area to the same depth as it originally grew. Do not dig the hole too deep or the palm could experience root suffocation, root rot disease and other problems. The hole should be several inches wider than the existing root ball. Make sure the hole is well-drained and no standing water appears in the bottom.

Place the cabbage palm transplant into the hole. Back fill with the same soil as removed from the hole. Avoid amending with a different soil type or the roots may not reestablish fully.

Build a berm of soil around the periphery of the root ball and irrigate thoroughly. Fully saturate to let the soil settle. Then during the first 4 to 6 months after transplantation keep the soil evenly moist without complete saturation.

Wait for re-establishment. The cabbage palm may appear to be dead for eight months to a year. During this time its energy resources are channelled into root development and growth. Upon successful re-establishment of the root system new green leaves will emerge.


A 1991 study published in the "Journal of Arboriculture" by Timothy Broschat showed a ninety-five per cent success rate for cabbage palms transplanted with all leaves removed. Trees transplanted using the more traditional method of removing only two-thirds green material demonstrated only 64 per cent survival rate. Large palms will need physical support during re-establishment. This can be attained by strapping short lengths of 2x4 foot lumbers around the trunk approximately 5 feet above the ground. Then brace longer lengths of 2x4 lumbers against the ground and nail them to the shorter support pieces. Never nail directly into the palm tree.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Burlap
  • Biodegradable twine
  • Water hose or bucket
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About the Author

A long-time outdoor educator, Callae Frazier writes primarily about the environment and the natural world. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and environment from Iowa State University.