Gardening: The perfect palms

EILEEN WARD

We have many different species of palm trees on Marco Island due to our favorable climate for their growth. They come in many shapes and sizes from large majestic trees to small shrubs. Some have single trunks while others have multiple trunks.

Past winters have been very cold by our sub-tropical standards and our more tropical plants and palms suffered some stress and cold damage. When this happens many people wonder what is wrong with their palm trees. At a seminar presented by Monica L. Elliott and Doug Caldwell of University of Florida, the basic premise was that it would not be possible to determine whether your ailing palm was due to disease, nutritional deficiency or cold damage until at least July.

A simple time line for damage after cold is as follows. Leaf damage within a few days, spear rot (the area of new growth) after several weeks, bud survival will not be known for six to eight months but watch for new growth in July and micro-nutrient deficient leaves for several months due to cold non-functioning roots. What to do? Do not remove leaves until the cold is gone. If there is any green on the leaves, the tree will use nutrients from that leaf for recovery. Remove the spear leaf if it is rotten and easily pulls out and then drench the heart with copper fungicide. This is a good anti-microbial activity not an attempt to control disease. Even though the central spear rotted the meristem (growth point) may still be alive and re-sprout as noted above.

A very important task is to fertilize to give the palm the nutrients it will need for recovery. Not just any fertilizer will do. They are recommending a special blend of 8-2-12. Not all 8-2-12 blends are created equal however. You should read the label and look for slow release Nitrogen, Potassium and Magnesium (large white, prilled Kieserite). The Boron should also be granular slow release. The magnesium and iron should be water-soluble. From a supplier list we received the only company locally to sell this fertilizer blend is John Deere Landscapes in Naples.

When applying fertilizer to your palms, the best method is to scatter the fertilizer on the ground below out to the drip line of the fronds. Deep root injections simply shoot the fertilizer below the majority of roots and into the ground and water below. Don’t waste your money or time with this practice. If you have trees surrounded by pavement or other hard scape features attempt to scatter fertilizer on any exposed soil surface out to the drip line and beyond.

Some of the more popular self cleaning palms are the areca palm, Christmas palm, royal palm and the foxtail palms. These palms will save you in maintenance costs but there will be debris to dispose of on a regular basis.

Some of the more popular palms which will need cleaning occasionally are the queen palm, washington palm or coconut palm.

A practice called “hurricane cutting” is not a good idea. This practice involves removing not only the dead, brown fronds but also beneficial green fronds leaving only a few fronds sticking straight into the air like a telephone pole. Not a pretty sight. Also very bad for the health of the trees.

I read an article suggesting you should never prune a palm tree, period. While this is a good idea in theory, dirty palms are not aesthetically pleasing to most people. I personally don’t prune my palm trees. I find the skirt of brown fronds hanging to be attractive. Old fronds which stay on these palms attract nesting insects and rodents. The insects are good food for birds and I’d rather have the rats in my trees than my attic. Mature coconuts can be dangerous much the way a royal palm can be. A mature coconut palm can be 100’ tall. A coconut falling from that height onto your head would really hurt! You can prevent the formation of palm fruits by removing the flower stalks as they emerge.

When pruning palms be careful not to cut or injure the terminal bud or the whole tree could die. Cut the fronds from the underside to avoid tearing the fibers of the palm’s stem.

The most important thing to remember is if the frond is green, the tree is still using it so leave it!

Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.

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