How to Plant and Raise The Tropical Icon

One of the wonderful things about gardening is that so many plants grow outside of their natural environment. As long as the conditions are right, you can get amazing results growing all kinds of things that may not be native to your area, and coconut trees are one such plant.

With their iconic shape and famous fruit, these trees recall beach vacations, tropical cuisine, and rest and relaxation. You can bring that vibe to your garden, and not only do you get a beautiful tree, but delicious coconuts as well.

What is a coconut tree?

Coconut tree (cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm family. In fact, it is probably most recognizable among trees in the tropics. It is native to the tropics in the Pacific, but you can find it in many other places.

It is known in some areas as the tree of life because all its parts are useful. The coconut tree provides an endless supply of food, fuel, building materials and cosmetics. The flesh of the seed, as well as the milk, is a staple of many people’s diets.

The coconut tree spread around the world without the help of humans as the fallen coconuts swam in the ocean currents. It was also spread by explorers as they visited new lands and took coconuts with them.

best varieties

There are over a dozen different palms that produce coconuts.

‘Malayan Dwarf’ stays under 60 feet tall and ‘Fiji Dwarf’ under 20 feet, so they are a good choice if you want a tree that you can manage a little more easily. ‘Chaughat Santra’ grows just 16 feet tall and features beautiful, fragrant orange coconuts. ‘Raja’ reaches a height of about 30 feet.

‘Jamaicia Tall’, ‘East Coast Tall’, ‘West Coast Tall’ and ‘Panama Tall’ are at the highest end of the spectrum. They easily grow up to 100 feet tall. The latter is one of the most cold-resistant out there and can survive in zone 9. ‘Miyapan’ is disease resistant and tops out at about 60 feet.

how to plant coconut

Coconuts grow well in USDA growing zones 10 and 11. You can even give them to zone 9, as long as you can provide protection during cold snaps. outside those areas? Try growing indoors.

Coconut despises cold weather and needs consistent temperatures above 72ºF and plenty of sunlight. Temperatures between 85ºF and 95ºF are even better.

Aim for a soil pH of 5.0 to 8.0. Areas with rainfall ranging from at least 30 inches to about 50 inches per year are perfect. If you don’t have it naturally then you have to provide water. Trees need sandy, loamy soil that drains well.

seed germination

Coconut is the fruit and seed of a tree, which reproduces and makes another tree grow. There are a few methods when it comes to planting coconuts, but here is the method I have used to successfully grow many coconut trees. It takes time, but it’s definitely worth it.

Although some methods require the coconut to be in the husk, this method is best done by separating the coconut from the husk. Look at the coconut at the store, which usually has the husk, to see an example of what it looks like.

Choose a coconut that has plenty of water. If it seems full, use it. If it seems mostly empty, choose another.

  • Put your coconut in a bucket and fill it with lukewarm water. To keep the coconut submerged in water for about three days, gently place a brick on it. You are basically softening the coconut to aid in germination.
  • Find a large plastic bag that you can seal. Pour in 1 cup of water and place the coconut inside. Keep it inside in a dark, warm place.
  • Check once a week for germination. Once the roots are out, wrap them in a paper towel and put them back in the bag.
  • Once the roots are about 6 inches long and the seedling is tall enough to your index finger, it has sprouted enough to plant. If you’re not ready to plant it, wrap the roots gently in a fresh towel and place the nut back in the bag until ready. Keep an eye on it so that it stays moist.

Another way is to take a coconut with the husk and soak it for three days as mentioned above. Place it in the prepared soil with the pointed end down and two-thirds in contact with the nut.

to plant trees

You can also buy started trees. These usually contain sprouted coconut whose trunk is one or two feet long.

For planting, dig a small hole in well-draining soil. Place the coconut inside, leaving it two-thirds above the ground. Fill with soil and water well around the seed. Be careful not to damage the roots and place them in the hole.

If you want to avoid the long wait, you can always buy a tree as there are few nurseries where you can get them. However, coconut trees are fun to grow.

growing indoor

If you grow indoors, plant in a pot as large as possible. Choose a dwarf variety and plan to move it outside if it overhangs your ceiling, although most plants live small indoors.

Place it in full sun and fill it with good potting soil. Keep moist continuously. You likely won’t get coconuts, but if you give the plant enough sun and heat, you can.

coconut care

Look for a fertilizer with good amounts of manganese, magnesium and boron in addition to phosphorus and nitrogen. Fertilize every two months and in the spring after the first year. Before this, the tree would obtain nutrients from the seed.

Always keep the soil moist. The goal is to create a humid environment, as is the case in their tropical lands. Water deeply weekly, unless the weather is particularly hot and you need more water.

With leaves up to 17 feet tall, coconut trees may require trimming or pruning twice a year.

Remove limp, yellow leaves and any diseased or dead ones. This is relatively easy when the tree is small. Once it gets tall, you may need an arborist to do it, as some of these trees grow up to 100 feet tall.

If you do it yourself, cut the long stem in half first, then cut it where it attaches to the tree. It is important to keep an eye on the fronds because they can fall to the ground if damaged and are heavy enough to injure someone under the tree.

Companion Planting for Growing Coconuts

There are many plants that can be combined with coconut, depending on the area you live in. try:

  • banana
  • Aloe
  • ginger
  • yakono
  • Chilli

Common coconut growing problems and solutions

Unfortunately for such a potentially long-lived and majestic tree (they can live up to 80 years), coconut palms are plagued by a number of pests and diseases.

lethal yellowing

At times the disease has spread around coconut trees, both commercial and domestic, destroying them. Spread by insects called planthoppers (Haplexius Crudus), the disease is particularly a problem in southern Florida, but it is progressing north.

There are three stages of this disease.

  • Nuts fall off the tree prematurely. They have a black color where the walnut was attached to the tree.
  • Male flowers turn black at their ends and this prevents the tree from fruiting.
  • Pieces turn yellow and die. It starts from the lower fronts and climbs up the tree.

Unfortunately, trees affected by this disease need to be removed, although you can try treatment using the antibiotic Oxytetracycline HCl.

Before planting, see if this is a problem in your area and ask about varieties resistant to deadly yellowing. ‘Malayan Dwarf’ and ‘Maypan’ are cultivars that have shown good levels of resistance to this dreaded disease. You should also wear your vest to keep planthoppers away.

fungal bud rot

This fungal disease can affect coconut trees of any age. This can often happen after long bouts of heavy rain or when you plant a tree in soil with poor drainage.

The first thing you notice is discoloration and wilting of leaves, although this can often happen after a cold. You will also be able to smell the rot as the disease progresses, and you can easily pull the leaves off the tree.

It is spread by spores so careful watering, especially when the plants are young, is important. This means watering at soil level, not leaves or stems. Spores can also be spread by insects, so keep pests under control.

If the tree is young and the leaves are accessible, a copper fungicide or Bordeaux mixture may help. If the tree is large and tall, you can remove it and destroy the leaves and branches, as the disease cannot be cured at this point.

ganoderma root

When the old fronds that lack combined vigor, yellow and die before moving on to the young fronds, you may have a problem with ganoderma root. Look for that travel yellow pattern.

This fungal problem is transmitted through wounds in the trunk or from cutting wounds. Avoid them as much as possible.

Make sure you keep your coconut trees outside or, if you only have one, make sure there is plenty of airflow. If your coconut tree is stuck under an umbrella or in several other trees, this fungus can take a foothold.

coconut scale

It is a fairly rare pest in North America, but has spread worldwide on infected coconuts and bananas. This scale insect feeds mainly on plant sap from leaves and stems. Some people know this as the Bourbon scale.

You will see yellowing and die-back. The scale has a lifespan of about 35 days, but there will be overlapping generations that cause constant damage. It is spread by birds, bats, insects and wind.

As with most scale infestations, they stick to the plant and are difficult to remove. Remove any infected leaves and branches and dispose of them properly.

coconut harvesting

If you want coconut milk cut it in about 7 months after fruiting. If you want to eat meat, add another six months.

If you want to eat meat, wait for the coconut to fall from the tree. Just make sure that as the tree gets taller, everyone knows they will fall from a solid blow, so be careful.

Alternatively, you can climb the trunk and retrieve the fruit using a machete.

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