The Pindo Palm (Butia capitata), also known as the Jelly Palm, is a somewhat difficult-to-care-for, medium-size palm known for its stout trunk and blue-gray fronds. The Pindo Palm is an exceptionally cold-hardy palm variety, and is able to flourish in climates that experience periodic winter frosts. Officially rated for growth in USDA Hardiness Zones 8b to 11, it is commonly seen throughout the gulf and Atlantic coast regions, and is also popular in California.
The Pindo Palm typically reaches about 15 to 20 feet in height, with a trunk diameter of more than a foot. Its feather-type fronds reach to 10 feet in length, with two to four foot leaflets. Each summer, the tree produces large clusters of yellow-orange, edible fruits. Though the fruits are used to tasty effect in jams and jellies, they make quite a mess beneath the tree and can attract pests if not cleaned up quickly. Fruit production should be a major consideration in choosing a planting site for the Pindo Palm.
Pindo Palms flourish in both full sun and partial shade environments. When planted in shady locations, the tree’s fronds tend to grow longer, creating a fuller crown and a more graceful profile. Thus, this is an excellent understory palm for placement among tall evergreens. The tree is adaptable to a range of soil types, though it prefers a well-drained, slightly sandy soil. It is quite tolerant to salt and can be planted in coastal regions to excellent effect.
Though the Pindo Palm can be grown from seed, it requires several months to bring about germination. Alternatively, specimen plants are widely available from palm nurseries and garden centers throughout the palm’s natural growing range. To properly place a specimen in your landscape, dig a hole twice the diameter of its container and deep enough so that the top of its root structure is at least an inch below the soil surface. Replace the native soil, taking care to avoid leaving air pockets around the roots. Then put down several inches of mulch to keep the weeds away and to help retain moisture around the roots.
During the months after planting, take care to irrigate often. Consistently moist soil promotes root development and helps produce a strong, healthy tree. After about six months, irrigation requirements are greatly reduced. The Pindo Palm is exceptionally drought-tolerant and can go long periods without irrigation or rainfall. However, periodic watering during dry periods can have beneficial results. Take care not to overwater, however, as root rot may occur.
Like most palms, the Pindo Palm performs best with regular applications of a palm fertilizer. Fertilizer can be applied around the base of the tree between four and six times per year. Refer to the fertilizer instructions or your local garden center specialist for fertilizer amounts.
Unlike many other palm species, the Pindo Palm is not self-cleaning. That is to say, you must manually remove spent fronds from the crown or they will remain hanging from the tree, brown and limp. When the tree is young, this is not terribly difficult to do. However, at 20 feet in height the task can be daunting. Consider a professional service if you are not confident climbing a ladder to such heights.
Additionally, as mentioned above, it’s important to clean dropped Pindo fruit before insects and other pests show up. If you are not interested in eating the tree’s fruit, consider removing the flower stalks from the crown as they emerge, allowing you to avoid the fruit clean up completely.