Growing Trachycarpus in Containers- Growing Chinese Fan Palm

Trachycarpus make an attractive plant in containers
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In this article, we will discuss how to grow Trachycarpus fortunei in a container. If you want a palm tree that will make a statement in your container display, plants that have a wow factor then this is a tree for you.

Trachycarpus make an attractive plant in containers
Trachycarpus make an attractive plant in containers

Trachycarpus fortunei or Chusan fan palm, windmill palm or Chinese windmill palm to give its common names, will certainly give a feel of the sub-tropics in your container garden.

It is a palm tree that is native to central China, Burma and Northern India, where it can grow in mountainous regions (as high as 2400m). In its native lands, it has been well-cultivated and grown for its fibres within the leaf stems.

It is cultivated as a palm that produces an attractive trunk throughout the world, because of its tolerance to cool summers and cool winters. Although it can take cool winters, it does not take temperatures below -5 degrees Celsius. In mild winters, it will come out largely unscathed but in very cold regions it will need winter protection.


Trachycarpus fortune has a slender stem that has architectural fan-shaped leaves with finely toothed edges that can be more than one metre tall. It can grow up to 12m tall in its natural habitat but in a container, it will not grow more than 3m tall or less when grown inside as an indoor plant.

The leaves whilst young are pleated and covered in fine hair, but as the leaves age the fair hair disappears and the pleats divide at the base into many segments. Mature leaves can be 60cm wide and are dark green on top and bluish underneath. As the leaves age, they will go from green to yellow to brown, and they still remain on the tree. This is why they need to be cut off to make the tree look more attractive.

The main trunk does not normally branch and starts to get covered with coarse brown fibre, giving the trunk its main attraction.

It will flower in its native lands but not in the UK with the climate that we experience.  If they do so, yellow blooms are produced on long branching stems in late winter and early spring. The flowers are either male or female, where the female flowers in late summer are followed by round or oblong blue fruits.


As it is a large plant it will need a large container to grow one in. Pick a container like a half-barrel and make sure that it has plenty of drainage holes in it. It is best to plant in when the plant is in its youngest stage possible.  The reason for this is that the plant has deep penetrating roots that can make it difficult to transplant. Fill the container with a 2.5cm layer of gravel to help drainage. On top of this, add a mixture of 70% multipurpose compost by volume with 30% by volume of horticultural grit.

An attractive tree to grow
An attractive tree to grow

It does not need to have large amounts of organic matter as it does well in poor compost. Eventually, it will outgrow its container and it will need to be planted in the garden border. The good news is that this tender plant will become harder to the elements as it matures. It will not need winter protection in the border but whilst it is grown in a container it will certainly need some.

Dig a hole slightly bigger than the root ball it came in the original container and place the plant in. Place it at the same level it came in the original container-no deeper and no shallower.  Backfill with the growing media, ensuring that any gaps are filled will more potting mixture. Firm the plant in and water well.

You will need to water the plant thoroughly throughout the growing season, but make sure it is never soggy. Once established the plant will tolerate droughts moderately.

During winter, make sure the plant does not get too much water as this can lead to root rot. Although not ideally suited for container cultivating it will be happy if water is given in heatwaves and a two-weekly feed with liquid fertilizer is given during the growing season. They are hungry feeders.

Grow the plant in a bright location where it can get 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight every day. New growth will be stunted if palms receive insufficient light, once the temperature drops below 12 degrees Celsius, growth will slow down and the plant will need less watering.

In winter, you will either need to move the plant under the protection of a greenhouse or conservatory. This will be difficult to do as the plant will be too heavy.  It is better in this case to cover the plant with thick horticultural fleece very well. Young plants will need more protection but as the years go on the amount of protection that will be needed will be vastly reduced.

Locate the pot in sunny, sheltered locations which are away from frost pockets and cold, dry easterly winds.


The plant is likely to suffer from scales and palm aphids. You will need to examine the plant regularly and if found spray it with a suitable systemic insecticide to deal with the problem.

The flowers themselves are very attractive
The flowers themselves are very attractive

The plant can suffer from root rot if it is overwatered. If you grow in a free-draining, growing media then the plant should be okay.  It can also suffer from lethal yellowing diseases and leaf spots caused by various fungi infections.  Little can be done if it suffers from lethal yellowing disease and you will have to dispose of the tree. Leaf spots are difficult to deal with, and most fungicides are ineffective.  It is best to avoid by not watering from above. Protect plants from rain by having some sort of umbrella cover over them.


The variety and species to grow are Trachycarpus fortunei. This is the only one you will find. The plant has been described fully and in detail above.


In this article, we have discussed how to grow Trachycarpus fortunei in containers. It is a beautiful, architectural plant that will do well in containers provided they are watered when dried and it is fed regularly. A plant that you want in your container display and it is easy to look after.

Pests are far and few and easy to deal with, whilst fungal diseases can be problematic and can be fatal to the plant.

Whilst young they are not fully hardy but as they mature they will tolerate colder conditions. You will need to offer winter protection but it is well worth the effort.

If you have any questions or comments that you wish to make on growing Trachycarpus in containers, please do so in the comment box below.

Happy Trachycarpus growing.


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