How to Grow and Care for Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal Minor)

Spread the love

The dwarf palmetto is a small species of palm that grows in both heights and spread to about 6 feet (1.83 m). Native to the southern parts of North America and Mexico, this is an evergreen plant with very large palmate leaves. 

The dwarf palmetto is a slow growing perennial that produces small, creamy-white, fragrant flowers in the Summer, which turn into small, dark-colored fruits.  

Sabal minor is the most cold-hardy native palm and will withstand temperatures down to USDA zone 7, if given sufficient winter protection.


American natives, tribesmen, and European settlers used the large palm leaves for covering the roofs of huts and less frequently for the walls. The large fronds provided a waterproof cover as well as insulation.  

Since the mid-1900s, dwarf palmetto has been widely cultivated and has become a very popular landscape palm. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameSabal Minor
Common namesDwarf Palmetto, Swamp Palmetto, Dwarf Palm, Bush palmetto, Bluestem Palmetto
Height7 feet (2.13 m)
Width7 feet (2.13 m)
USDA Plant Hardiness ZoneZones 7 to 11
Native toSouthern United States, Northern Mexico
Blooming seasonSpring
Flower colorsWhite
Plant specific featuresHuge, evergreen leaves, slow growing palm

How to Plant and Grow a Dwarf Palmetto Bush

It’s easy to grow the dwarf palm; the plant tolerates many different conditions. But it does have some basic requirements, in order to do well either as a potted plant, or when grown outdoors.

Where to Plant

Naturally, the dwarf palmetto is found in a variety of habitats. With moderate tolerance to salt in both the air and soil, it is not surprising that Sabal Minor grows along the coast, in maritime forests, swamps, and floodplains. 

The dwarf palm is adaptable to many conditions, and its roots will not rot, even if it is left standing in water for a short length of time. 

Dwarf palmetto is also relatively tolerant of drought conditions and can be found growing in the wild in drier areas too.

Due to its limited size and slow growth rate, a dwarf palmetto can be a good choice for planting in a woodland garden, underneath overhanging branches of taller trees. 

This palm is shade-loving and will thrive in a warm climate. It can also be planted singly, as an accent for other plants in a mixed flower bed.

The dwarf palm will even brighten up a conservatory or sunny room with its huge, palmate fronds. Its slow growth rate makes it a good candidate for a pot plant.

When to Plant

The best time to plant a container-grown Sabal minor is in the Spring. It is difficult to plant a bare-rooted, dwarf palmetto that is growing in the ground. 

The palmetto has an underground system of root suckers that extend downwards, deep into the soil. These root suckers can be easily damaged when digging, and will not survive a transplant. 

Seeds can be planted in the summer and the plant will grow on a stalk from the center of the seed.

Dwarf Palmetto Shrubs Care and Maintenance


A dwarf palm isn’t fussy when it comes to soil conditions. It will grow in almost any type of soil, from sand to clay. It will grow in poorly draining soil and in drier ground.

Dwarf palmetto prefers soil that is slightly acidic and dislikes soil that is chalky or alkaline.

For best performance, grow the dwarf palmetto in soil that has relatively good levels of minerals such as magnesium and manganese. It is possible to improve the nutrient and mineral levels in the soil, by the application of appropriate fertilizer. 

Additionally, the Sabal minor palm prefers to grow in moist soil that does have adequate drainage. Sandy, loamy, or even clay soil are all suitable for the dwarf palmetto.


The dwarf palmetto is drought tolerant once established, but for the first two growing seasons, it is important that it gets sufficient water.

This will give it the chance to develop a robust root system, that will be able to absorb both nutrients and moisture from the ground and enable it to cope with dry spells.

For best performance, even when mature, try to avoid the soil drying out. The dwarf palm prefers to have an evenly damp growing medium, whether grown in a container or in the ground.


As with all aspects of care, the dwarf palmetto does not need much in the way of additional feed. But, an annual application of a balanced fertilizer with a composition suitable for palms and Mediterranean plants will give the palm a boost. 

A healthy plant will produce and retain its beautiful, large, green foliage throughout the year. 

Additionally, if there are nutrient or mineral deficiencies in the soil, these can be corrected by applying appropriate fertilizer.


Sabal minor will do best if planted in full sun, although it will still thrive in a site that is in partial shade. 

Pruning and Repotting

Regular pruning of the dwarf palm will be necessary, but this only involves the removal of the faded, brown-colored leaves. Removing the dead leaves will keep the plant healthy and also improve its appearance.


Dwarf palmetto can be propagated by seed. This native palm flowers in late Spring to early Summer. The seeds are contained in the fruits (drupes) that follow the blooms. 

If you wish to propagate your palmetto, harvest the whole fruit and extract the seed from the pulp. 

You don’t need to subject the seed to any special pre-germination treatment, although a period of cold stratification does increase the success rate.

If you wish to speed up the germination process, then soak the seeds for up to 48 hours in warm water. 

Once you have planted the seed in moist, even muddy compost, make sure the growing medium is kept warm and does not dry out. The germination of the seeds may take two months.

When the palmetto seeds have germinated, you can transplant them into a taller, individual pot. This will encourage the seedlings to develop a deep root system. 

Don’t be tempted to move them into their final planting locations until the pots are root bound. By then, they will have toughened up, and be sufficiently hardy to tolerate spells of hot, dry weather. 

Unfortunately, dwarf palmetto doesn’t like to be transplanted. The roots go deep into the ground in order that during periods of water shortage, the plant can still obtain moisture from the soil. 

It is likely that part of the deep roots will be cut or damaged when digging up the palm for transplanting, and often the plant will not survive. 

Once transplanted, it is imperative that the plant continues to receive regular moisture, whilst it is repairing or regrowing new roots. Do not allow it to dry out during this period of regrowth.

Pests and diseases

There are no significant pest issues, and the dwarf palmetto is seldom bothered by foraging deer.

Temperature and Humidity

There are some palms that do not need to have hot, tropical climates to do well. Dwarf palmetto is the most cold-hardy of the native palms. 

Sabal minor is nevertheless a plant for warmer regions and for growing in USDA zones 7 to 11. An established dwarf palmetto will survive an occasional frost, cold winter spell down to -11, and even snow with negligible damage, if any.

Other Uses for Dwarf Palmetto

As well as being a good plant for attracting different types of wildlife to the garden, the dwarf palmetto, in common with other palmetto species, has a wide range of other uses.

In the smaller garden, the dwarf palmetto can bring a touch of the exotic and be a useful inclusion in a Mediterranean landscaping design. 

Natives used slices of the plant’s roots for food, as well as a treatment for eye and kidney conditions. The huge, fan-shaped leaves made cladding and thatching for the roofs and walls of their homes. 

Types of Dwarf Palmetto You Can Grow

Dwarf Palmetto, or Sabal minor “Louisiana” is commercially available and relatively hardy. It is also known as Louisiana Palmetto Palm. This is native only to swamp lands in Louisiana and eastern Texas. 

It can be found growing alongside the traditional dwarf palmetto.

There are disputes as to whether “Louisiana” is a distinct species or a variant of S. minor.

Another variety, dwarf palmetto “Savannah Silver” is sold as offering the cold-hardiness of dwarf palmetto, but with bluish-green foliage. This can be grown from seed, although the blue color of the leaves seems not to appear until the plant is mature.


It’s rewarding to be able to have a tropical-looking plant in a garden that is not in the Tropics! And Sabal minor because of its cold hardiness and size will even find a suitable place in a garden where space is limited.  

*image by viktor2013/depositphotos

Spread the love