My parents have a palm tree with some nearby plants, but they were wondering which plants to add to their garden that would be mutually beneficial. So, to help them out, I did some research on companion plants for palm trees. Here’s what I found.
The best companion plants for palm trees are bamboo, bananas, yucca, birds of paradise, ginger, and turmeric. Ideally, since a palm tree serves as an overstory, its companion plants should be made up of midstory, understory, and ground cover. An example of this combination is banana, ginger, and sweet potatoes.
So, while there are many good companion plants for palm trees, which ones are the best, what purpose do they serve, and how should they be planted? Let’s take a closer look.
Different Types of Companion Plants for Palm Trees
Having lived in both Florida and southern California, I’ve been around palm trees most of my life. Palm trees grow great in both of these starkly different climates (warm and either wet or dry), but their companion plants are more sensitive and should be selected based on your climate.
Since palm trees are an overstory plant, companion plants should be staggered underneath the palm trees to capture as much sunlight as possible.
Any break in the canopy can serve as room to grow another plant. By planting in this way, you’re not only maximizing your growing space, but the plant density will help capture more rainwater in the ground. Growing plants (especially edible ones) in this manner is commonly called a food forest.
This means planting midstory, understory, and ground cover plants, as well as some vines such as grapes, sweet potatoes, or kiwi alongside your palm trees.
To help with this, each of the below companion plants ranges in height starting with the tallest. When choosing companion plants for your palm tree, select at least one plant for each type (midstory, understory, ground cover, vines, and in swales) as well as those that best suit your climate. Now, let’s jump in.
Bamboo is one of the best companion plants for palm trees because it helps shade the surrounding area incredibly well, while not surpassing palm trees in height. Palm trees commonly reach 30-50 feet tall, while bamboo reaches 15-39 feet tall.
Since most palm trees will be taller than bamboo, bamboo makes a great midstory for palm trees.
Growing bamboo also promotes better biodiversity, providing shelter and food for many beneficial critters in your local ecosystem.
And like palm trees, bamboo is a species of grass.
Bamboo also grows at a crazy fast speed, with some varieties growing one inch every 40 minutes (source). There are many uses of bamboo, especially in building applications—which is highly useful for homesteading.
Ideally, midstory plants should be as close to the overstory as possible to maximize sunlight and growing space. Because of this, bamboo should be planted 10 feet or more away from palm trees for best results.
Keep in mind that most varieties of bamboo grow aggressively, so plant with caution!
If you’re not a fan of bamboo, and you’d prefer something you can eat, banana trees also make great midstory plants to palm trees.
Bananas aren’t really a tree but are a fruiting herb distantly related to ginger (source). Because of this, they grow and fruit in a fraction of the time (around 9 months) compared to fruit trees such as apple and lemon trees (3-10 years).
When the main plant dies, smaller banana sprouts (also called pups) grow from the root base, repeating the fruiting cycle.
They’re beneficial to plant around palm trees as the banana plant’s leaves fan out to provide shade for a large surface area, protecting and retaining water in the soil.
While the banana plant’s leaves can break with strong winds, they regrow quickly.
Since banana trees are natively from the tropics, they grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. This makes them perfect for growing alongside palm trees as they share similar climate needs. However, if you’re not located in zones 9-11, hardiness zones can be stretched with microclimates and by growing hardier varieties of banana plants.
Yuccas are another edible plant that grows in both subtropical regions, as well as deserts. This makes them a great drought-tolerant plant. Since palm trees are also found in both subtropical and arid regions (Florida vs California for example), yucca is a great companion plant.
There are many other names for yucca root as they’re used in a variety of cultures and dishes.
Other names for yucca roots are:
So, if you’ve come across any of these ingredients, know that they’re all names for the yucca root! As you can see, yucca’s are highly versatile and are calorie-dense, making them a great homesteading staple.
Since yucca plants can grow to a height of 4 to 30 feet (depending on the variety), they’re a good plant to use as a midstory for palm trees.
Hibiscus are flowering plants that are native to warm-temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, making them easy to grow as a companion plant to palm trees. Most varieties grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-12.
There are many varieties of hibiscus, ranging from small plants to woody shrubs and small trees. However, the most popular hibiscus is Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called roselle. This plant is best known for a red and tart herbal tea made from its flowers. Another common name for hibiscus tea is carcade (source).
Hibiscus also has other benefits for palm trees such as attracting a large number of pollinators.
So, along with providing a companion plant for your palm tree, if you’re looking to have a great tasting, non-caffeinated tea on your homestead, roselle is a great plant to grow.
If cared for well, a hibiscus plant can grow up to 8 feet, serving as a good mid to understory plant for palm trees (source).
With cycads, we’re now moving from more midstory to understory plants.
Cycads are plants that closely resemble palm trees and ferns, but are actually not closely related to either plant (source). They’re a result of convergent evolution—evolving separately, yet sharing similar features.
One of the biggest differences between cycads and palm trees is that palm trees flower and fruit to reproduce, while cycads do not.
However, cycads have been found to help fix the nitrogen in the soil, making them a good companion plant for palm trees. They also grow in the same climate as palm trees and provide good shade cover for ground cover plants and soil.
The main difference between ferns and other plants is that ferns reproduce by using spores instead of flowers and seeds.
While some ferns can grow up to 66 feet in height, most ferns will only reach a few feet tall (source). This, combined with their ground shading, makes them another good understory plant for palm trees.
Here are some of the most popular ferns to grow around palm trees:
- Christmas Fern
- Japanese Holly Fern
- Lady Fern
- Sword Fern
- Cinnamon Fern
Some ferns, such as Azolla, help fix the nitrogen in the soil. Others can produce food. While you don’t need to plant ferns that have a purpose other than helping shade the soil, it can be nice to have multi-purpose ferns.
There are many types of ferns to choose from, but you should start with which ones grow best in your hardiness zone and microclimate.
7. Birds of Paradise
Birds of paradise are another great understory plant. This flowering plant can grow to a large width, providing a boost to pollination and ground cover—making it a good companion plant for palm trees. In fact, birds of paradise are one of the companion plants we choose to use for our palm trees.
Like many of the other plants on this list (including palm trees), birds of paradise are fairly flexible with their soil pH, requiring a range between 5.5-7.5.
These plants commonly have a root ball that is about 1-2 feet wide, so make sure to allow enough space from other plants. Good spacing is about 4-6 feet from other plants, but a well-managed garden or forest can allow for more density (source).
However, when planting in the understory of your palm trees, make sure to allow for enough sunlight to reach them, as they require full sun (6+ hours a day).
8. Ginger & Turmeric
Both ginger and turmeric are plants with stems that grow horizontally underground (also called rhizomes). These rhizomes enlarge and serve as a storage of nutrients for the plant. The result of this is the ginger and turmeric roots that you see in grocery stores and are both used in cooking and health applications.
Turmeric is actually part of the ginger family, so they naturally grow in similar climates and conditions. The best zones to grow both plants are zones 8-12, so they’re great to plant alongside palm trees. Ginger and turmeric do best in temperatures ranging from 68ºF-86ºF (source).
Since both ginger and turmeric thrive in warm, humid conditions in soil with a neutral pH, they’re better suited to grow in subtropical climates such as Florida instead of dry climates such as southern California.
In ideal climates, ginger and turmeric grow up to 3 feet tall and are fairly wide, so they provide a good amount of shade and water retention for the soil (source).
However, keep in mind that these plants’ rhizomes are grown and spread underground, so make sure your palm tree is well established before adding ginger and turmeric.
Another tropical and subtropical species, bougainvillea are vines that survive best in USDA hardiness zones 9-11.
As shown in the food forest graphic at the beginning of the post, vines are important at making trellises and cover for the ground. They help fill the spaces from the other plants’ canopies and maximize sunlight capture. This also reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground, preventing dry soil and increasing water retention.
Bougainvillea is incredibly drought resistant and can survive in many soil types, even those that are higher in clay. This makes them great companions for palm trees, especially if you’re growing them in a more Mediterranean (or dry) climate such as southern California (source).
While ginger and turmeric are better suited for more wet climates, aloe is great for drier ones. If you’re in a dry climate such as southern California, aloe will prove to be a staple in your garden.
Aloe is a drought-tolerant, flowering succulent with over 500 different species. The most popular is aloe vera.
As a bonus, aloe has many uses on the homestead. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans used it to treat wounds (source).
While the other plants on this list are good for midstory, understory, and vines, aloe is great for filling in the spaces between your palm trees—especially the areas that don’t get much water.
With the right conditions, aloe will grow into a lush bush up to a few feet wide, providing both practical uses as well as aesthetics.
When planting companion plants for your palm tree, aim to capture as much sunlight as possible. This will in turn shade the soil, cooling it and making it so you don’t need to water as often.
Since palm trees are overstory plants, provide a mix of midstory, understory, ground cover, vines, and swale plants. Start with the tall plants first, then work down to the small ones. Additionally, select your companion plants based on your climate type.
The most important factor is to choose companion plants that work best in your climate. Because palm trees commonly grow in either warm and wet or warm and dry climates, you should choose companion plants that thrive in the same.
For example, if you like in a warm and wet climate, a good combination of companion plants for palm trees include:
- Banana (midstory)
- Ginger (understory)
- Sweet potatoes (ground cover)
- Kiwi (vines)
- Comfrey (in swale)
As a bonus, here are some more plants that make great companion plants for palm trees:
- Vireya Rhododendrons
- Sweet Potatoes
Feel free to mix and match your companion plants for your palm trees and have fun!