How to Grow Madagascar Palm Plants (Your Final Care Guide!)
Madagascar palms are fascinating plants that look like a cross between palm trees and cacti. But despite popular belief, these plants are not palms and have their own growing requirements—which I’ll be sharing with you in this article!
The Madagascar palm plant can be grown with 1) small terracotta pots with drainage, 2) well-draining gritty soil 3) watering when fully dry, 4) 8+ hours of direct sun, 5) temperatures around 65–75°F, 6) humidity levels of 40%, 7) yearly applications of succulent fertilizer, and 8) limited pruning sessions.
Such tropical plants have quickly become popular in many plant centers. Aside from having a unique look, they need much less maintenance than you might think.
To make sure your Madagascar palms are receiving the exact care they require, let’s go over their general information and growing needs.
Small and heavy terracotta or clay pots. Drainage holes are a must
Gritty and well-draining soil mixtures with 40% pumice, 30% cactus soil, and 20% worm cast.
Drought-tolerant. Water only when the soil is fully dry. Do not water in the winter.
8+ hours of direct sun or 12+ hours of artificial lighting. Keep by south or west-facing windows.
Warm temperatures are preferred, around 65–75°F. Avoid temperatures under 40°F.
Apply water-soluble succulent fertilizer once or twice a year in the spring. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Pruning is not needed unless the foliage is damaged or badly infested with pests.
The most common pests are aphids, scales, and spider mites. However, this plant is not often attacked by pests.
Scroll further for more details on each of these factors.
It is best to grow tall Madagascar palms in small planters made of heavy and porous materials like unglazed clay or terracotta. Large plastic pots without drainage are not recommended as they can kill the plant by retaining too much water.
Madagascar palms fare from the same lands as Baobab trees and even share similar characteristics, such as thick and swollen tree bases.
Grown indoors, these plants can slowly reach 6 feet (1.83 m) tall. As such, they require compact pots to keep them sturdy. You wouldn’t want this spiky plant to fall over and potentially snap or hurt someone!
To help support these tall plants with thick water-storing trunks, I highly suggest using a heavy clay or terracotta pot with drainage holes. Be wary of using plastic pots that hold more water than clay pots.
Why Do Terra Cotta Pots Have Holes on the Side? (5 Reasons) Find out here!
A young Madagascar palm a foot tall will grow well in containers that are at least 8 inches (20.32 cm) in depth and diameter.
Generally, small planters are better than ones that are too large, as they have a lower chance of carrying excess moisture.
Madagascar palms can also be grown directly in the ground. Plant them in south or west-facing areas with plenty of light and well-draining soil. Their root systems are typically not an issue, however, it is safer to grow them away from power lines or pipes.
How to Repot Madagascar Palms
Once their roots are seen through the drainage, Madagascar palms must be repotted by 1) removing the plant from its old pot and 2) transferring it to its new pot. For protection, wear leather gloves.
Pachypodium lamerei typically don’t grow as fast as the average pothos. Even so, they can still grow relatively quickly, given the right care and ideal conditions.
When their thick roots start to creep through the drainage, you’ll know your Madagascar palm has outgrown its pot.
Although you probably won’t need to do this more than once every 2–3 years, repotting Madagascar palms can be tricky business. These succulents are covered with 1–2 inch spines all over.
To avoid being pricked, here is my fool-proof method of repotting spiny plants such as these!
1. Remove the Madagascar Palm From Its Old Pot
Lay your Madagascar palm flat on the ground and gently try to ease it out of its pot.
I find that older Pachypodium lamerei can have huge root balls, so try not to damage them. Unless the soil is infested or nutrient-deficient, you can leave the soil to avoid disturbing the roots too much.
Once the pot is slipped off, examine the roots. Healthy roots should be tan and dry. Black, brittle or mushy roots should be removed before you move to the next step.
2. Transfer the Madagascar Palm to the New Pot
While wearing thick leather gloves to protect your hands, fold a long strip of cardboard over the Madagascar palm to pick it up and move it without touching its spines.
Larger specimens that are your height or taller should be handled with care and can be moved by 2 people to prevent any accidents. Place the root ball in the center of the pot and cover them with soil.
Pro Tip: Pre-moisten some soil to help it keep its form. This will help prevent dirt from getting stuck in between the spines of the plant and making a mess.
Make sure no more than 2 inches (5 cm) of the stem is buried in the soil to keep it dry and prevent rot. Give your plant a thorough watering to reduce transplant shock and let it adjust to its new home!
Well-draining soil made of 40% pumice, 30% cactus soil, and 20% worm cast is ideal for Madagascar palms. Additionally, the soil can be covered with stony mulch to help keep it dry and act as stem support.
Although using store-bought cactus soil can work in a pinch, I highly recommend creating your own mix. Some commercial soils have too much fertilizer and organic matter than these hardy desert plants can tolerate.
Soil drainage is the number one priority you must consider to keep these plants alive. Try a combination of 20% worm cast, 30% cactus soil, and 40% pumice.
Even regular potting soil can be amended with 60% perlite, as we’ve found this amendment will quickly drain within 30 seconds!
Using mulch also has a myriad of benefits for Madagascar palms. Different types of mulch exist and each has its advantages,they can be used to help retain or block moisture. When applying mulch to Madagascar palms, select the one that works best for you.
Pro Tip: River stone mulch can provide stem support and will heat up faster in the sun, causing the soil to dry faster. Organic mulch made of leaves or pine needles will retain moisture and gradually decompose, slowly releasing nutrients.
As for pH levels, slightly alkaline soils above 6.2 pH will do the trick. The bottom line is, the soil should drain quickly to keep Madagascar palm roots dry as possible.
Madagascar palms are drought-tolerant and must be watered sparingly. Too much water can be fatal and can be avoided by watering these plants during the day only after their soil has dried completely. Water is not needed in the winter.
Despite their palm-like appearance, Madagascar palms are not palms. Rather, they are succulents.
Learn how to Water Succulents and Cacti The Right Way [How Often and How Much]!
Therefore, they are extremely sensitive to overwatering. To prevent this, let the soil dry out and only water it again when the soil is bone dry.
Although their stems have their own unique way of photosynthesizing by opening their stomata during the night rather than the day, it’s still best to water Madagascar palms in the morning. By doing this, the water will evaporate faster in the heat of the day.
When the sun is out, water your plants until the excess water flows out of the drainage.
In a warm climate with well-draining soil, you might need to water up to two times a week. During the winter, Pachypodium lamerei do not need much water, if any at all.
Their thick trunks can store weeks and possibly months’ worth of water. If anything, it’s better for Madagascar palms to go through periods of drought than excessive moisture.
Full and direct sunlight for 8+ hours daily is required for healthy Madagascar palms. Artificial lights will also work, as long as they provide 12+ hours of light. For optimum results, grow them by western or southern windows.
Adequate sunlight is essential for the continued health of Madagascar palms. Though they will still be fine in indirect light, they certainly won’t thrive or grow nearly as fast as other plants grown in full sun or kept outdoors.
Keep in mind, these plants are slow-growers and don’t have much foliage, to begin with. In shady areas, leaf production could take even longer or be halted entirely.
Additionally, this plant is a stem succulent. This means it mainly photosynthesizes through its stem, like cacti, so whatever light it receives doesn’t always have to make contact with its foliage.
Simply position it where it will receive at least 8 hours of direct sun, and you’ll have a happy Madagascar palm. Alternatively, you can also keep them under 12+ hours of LED grow lights.
The Madagascar palm plant is highly frost-sensitive and can die when exposed to temperatures lower than 40°F. Keep them in warm temperatures around 65–75°F.
The trunks of Pachypodium lamerei contain so many water storage cells, scientists frequently study them at microscopical levels to fully understand how they store moisture.
What’s unfortunate about this, is that these water-filled stems freeze easily in cold temperatures. For example, exposing them to 40°F (5°C) or lower can be fatal.
Plant owners must always be wary of false spring, where temperatures can feel suspiciously warm at the end of winter, only to be followed by harsh freezes. These weather phenomena can kill unprotected plants like Madagascar palms.
Outdoor Madagascar palms are the most vulnerable to frost. Use blankets like these on Amazon to keep your Madagascar palms shielded from the cold.
Household temperatures around 65–75°F (18–23°C) will keep these succulents happy.
That being said, don’t be too alarmed if you see leaf-drop during the winter. Strangely enough, these succulents are deciduous and will shed their foliage as a natural response to the cold, like some Christmas trees.
Madagascar palm plants do not need high humidity and will grow well in average household levels of around 40%.
These are easy-growing plants—low humidity won’t ruin the growth of your Madagascar palm. After all, they’re used to dry environments and usually don’t need more than 40% humidity to flourish.
However, if you live in a dry climate or struggle with brown leaf tips, consider investing in a humidifier or setting a water-filled tray with pebbles underneath your potted plants. These can help increase the humidity.
These are the best ways to raise humidity levels without misting your plants, as I’ve discussed how ineffective misting is in a previous article.
Clear up the fog in: Should You Mist Your Houseplants? (3 Reasons & 3 Drawbacks)
Being extremely light feeders, Madagascar palms do not need fertilizer more than once or twice a year in the spring. Use a succulent fertilizer and avoid feeding them in the winter.
Since these succulents don’t need much nutrients, fertilizing sessions will be rare. It isn’t a bad idea to give them an occasional boost though.
Liquid fertilizer is the best option as it can be given precisely when you want to and it acts quickly, which is a nice counter to the slow-growing nature of Pachypodium lamerei.
To properly fertilize Madagascar palms, mix some water-soluble succulent fertilizer with the suggested amount of water and feed the plant once or twice a year. Warmer seasons like spring or summer are the best times to fertilize them.
This succulent fertilizer on Amazon will encourage faster growth and can be used for your Madagascar palms!
In the winter, when temperatures are so low that growth is at a standstill, it’s best not to feed them at all. At times like this, the plant has most likely gone dormant and will not be able to handle the sudden intake of moisture and minerals.
Madagascar palms do not have much foliage and generally do not need to be pruned. But if the leaves are damaged or infested with pests, remove them with clean scissors.
Given that Madagascar palms typically grow only one stem with a few leaves at the top, there usually isn’t a need for pruning.
In situations where pests like aphids, spider mites, and scales attack your plants, it’s best to remove the damaged leaves as quickly as possible. These insects can eventually kill the plant if left unchecked.
With sharp and clean scissors, snip any discolored or infested leaves you see at the base of its stem. Although pruning is best done in the spring, you can remove badly pest-ridden leaves as soon as you see them.
The sap of Madagascar palms is highly toxic for animals and humans. Pruning tools must be cleaned after they are used on these plants, as the sap can be severely irritating to the touch.
Just try to avoid damaging the trunk, as these wounds lead to bacterial soft rot. Treat them with cinnamon powder, a natural fungicide, and let them callous over.
Although these are tough succulents, it’s still good to inspect them regularly to ensure there is no need to prune them to begin with!
Are Madagascar palms rare?
Madagascar palms are a popular plant commonly used in landscaping, however, they can become harder to find as time passes. Unfortunately, many plants in Madagascar are starting to face a decline due to threats such as overgrazing and illegal plant collecting.
Do Madagascar palms flower?
Madagascar palms rarely flower in household conditions and are more likely to bloom when grown outside directly in the ground. The white flowers have a sweet fragrance and are seen on mature plants at least several years old.
What are the growing stages of Madagascar palms?
Madagascar palms have 3 main growing stages: the germination stage, the sprouting stage, and final maturation. In the wild, these plants will mature after several years and start to develop flowers and fruits to spread their seed.
Summary of How to Grow Madagascar Palm Plants
Madagascar palms are hardy succulents that can easily be grown at home. Keep them in compact and heavy pots made of clay or terracotta with drainage and grow them in gritty soil mixtures with plenty of pumice and cactus soil for good drainage.
While they can be grown in indirect light or 12+ hours of artificial light, Madagascar palms grow best in 8+ hours of direct sun. Warmer temperatures like 65–75°F are ideal. Humidity levels do not need to be more than 40%.
The Madagascar palm does not need to be fertilized more than 1–2 times a year in the spring. Use a liquid succulent fertilizer and inspect the plants regularly for pests. Pruning is not needed but can be done if the plant is badly damaged or infested.
- “Pachypodium lamerei” by n/a in The Royal Horticultural Society
- “Pachypodium lamerei Drake (Apocynaceae)” by Kate Pritchard in University of Oxford