Growing Coconut Trees

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Imagine lounging under your very own coconut palm, listening to the fronds rustle in the breeze. For those who live in a tropical or subtropical climate, it isn't an impossible dream. Coconuts, which are technically seeds, thrive as far south as Madagascar and as far north as Hawaii. It's also possible to grow palm trees indoors or outside in slightly cooler climes. These are unlikely to produce coconuts, though, so they'll be purely decorative. Still, it should add a little sunshine, even on cold, dull days.

Growing Coconut Trees
Image Credit: emoraes/iStock/GettyImages

Planting the Seed

You can grow coconut trees from, well, coconuts. To check whether one is ready to propagate, give it a shake. If it makes a sloshing sound, you're in luck. First, soak it in a bucket of water for two to three days. Then, plant the nut on its side in well-drained soil and cover with a thick layer of sand. Outside or in a greenhouse, you can plant nuts close together and transplant once they're around six months old. Then, each plant should have plenty of space and be positioned in full sun.

Potted Palms

If planting in a pot, either to grow outside or keep as a houseplant, use a container at least 10 inches deep and wider than the coconut. Plant with the pointed end downwards and the part that was connected to the tree upwards. Around a third of the coconut should be above soil level. Place in a warm, sunny location and keep it well-watered.

Know Your Parts

The coconut tree is a large, single-trunked palm with a smooth trunk in a light gray-brown color. The leaves or fronds are long and thin, topping the tree like a crown. The flowers are light yellow, slightly larger on female trees. The coconuts, which are technically seeds but often referred to as nuts or fruit, have brittle shells surrounded by thick, fibrous husks. Inside is the white layer known as the meat, which absorbs the coconut milk during the ripening process.

Growth Rates

The trees begin producing coconuts from three to six years, depending on the specific cultivar. Dwarf coconut trees, for example, usually flower in their third year and produce coconuts in the fourth. This variety produces coconuts early but still grows slowly, reaching a height of 16 to 40 feet. Tall coconut trees, as their name suggests, are a little loftier at 100 feet. They begin producing coconuts at around 8 years of age.

Harvest Time

Coconuts take between seven months and a year from budset to maturation. For the freshest meat and water, harvest earlier. If you're planning to dry or desiccate the coconut, harvest after a year.

Average Life Span

Tall coconut trees might be slow starters, but they're hardier than their dwarf cousins, living between 80 and 120 years. Dwarf coconut trees have a life span of 40 to 60 years. The latter tends to be less stable, especially when heavy with coconuts, so it's best planted below ground level.

Using Your Coconut

The uses are varied. You can eat the meat, of course, and use it in a variety of sweet and savory recipes. You can drink the coconut water, saving a fortune on store-bought bottles. You can even use the shells as decorative bowls or throw them on the fire. They make a virtually smokeless burning fuel. Or just sit beneath your tree, enjoying the tropical loveliness.


Ella Buchan is a UK-based lifestyle and features with a B.A. Hons in English Literature and an M.A. in Journalism. As a freelance journalist, she has written on homes and interiors for publications including the Telegraph and Daily Mail.

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