Palm trees are always associated with sun, white beaches, vacation, and relaxed lifestyle. In Florida, anywhere you look you will see beautiful palm trees. They are used in many landscapes including botanical gardens, shopping malls, near swimming pools, along streets and coasts, and resorts.
There are over 2,500 different palm tree species in the world and almost all of them can be grown in Florida. Palm trees can be separated into few major types depending on their trunk, leaf structure, growth rate, size, and cold tolerance.
Aside from this basic segregation, palms also differ in salt and drought tolerance, leaf color, fruit and flower production. Most of them grow in tropical and subtropical climates, others can tolerate cold temperatures down to -20F. Find out more about different palm tree types.
Choosing Palm Tree
With so many choices, it can get pretty overwhelming especially if you are new to gardening. When selecting a palm tree, think about its purpose first. Is it going to provide shade at the pool area? Be a focal point in front yard? Or maybe you would like to use it as a fencing? Deciding on the purpose will help you to narrow down your choice. If you live in a tropical state like Florida, climate is not an issue since any palm will grow there.
Appearance is another important factor in choosing a tree. There are multi-trunk and single-trunk palms. Multi-trunk are great for creating a fence between properties. Single-trunk are perfect for focal point or for planting along the driveway.
Additionally, palms have different leaf formations palmate (fan-shaped) or pinnate (feather-shaped). One of the most popular palm trees with fan-shaped leaves is Bismarck Palm, scientific name Bismarckia nobilis. This is one of the most desired palm trees in Florida that will give any landscape a dramatic effect. This tree is perfect for focal point.
A great example of a pinnate (feather shaped) palm is Queen Palm, scientific name Syagrus romanzoffiana. It is one of the most popular trees in the world because it is elegant, low maintenance and inexpensive.
Palm Tree Care
Palm tree care is another important part of successful palm growing. It includes: planting, watering, fertilizing, trimming, and cold protection. So many palms die because owners don’t know how to properly care for them.
Let’s start with planting. If you plant it the wrong way, too deep or too high, the tree might die. When planting a palm, try to minimize the ‘transplant shock’ by acclimatizing your tree to the new location first. Leave as much soil on the roots as possible and don’t trim the roots. Newly planted tree shouldn’t be fertilized until new roots are developed which takes 1-2 months. Fertilizing it right after planting will only create more stress.
Palms are not desert plants, they like moist but well drained soil. That is why you should use a good quality soil that absorbs water well, but also provides fast drainage. Bad drainage can lead to root rot and eventually death of the tree. To make sure your tree is getting enough water test the soil with a soil probe. Newly planted palms have short roots and need to be watered often. When they’ve established you can switch to the regular watering schedule. Palms need to be watered more often during hot summer months than during winter. More on palm tree watering.
Invest in good quality fertilizer, because you get what you’ve paid for. You want to make sure your palm is getting all the nutrients in needs especially during growing season when it’s growing new roots and new foliage preparing for the winter. Healthy trees that are fertilized regularly are more likely to survive unexpected cold snaps during winter.
Keep in mind, too much fertilizer can burn the roots of the palm weakening it. Weakened plants often attract different pests and diseases. I personally like to use slow release fertilizer that lasts up to 6 months and doesn’t get washed away after 2-3 rains. As I’ve mentioned above, don’t fertilize newly planted palms.
Many people think that trimming yellowing leaves or brown tips will improve the growth of the new fronds. NOT TRUE! Palm trees are not like your regular house plants. They use nutrients from the dying fronds to grow new leaves. Therefore, trim only DRY leaves that are completely dead. I know it doesn’t look good with all those brown leaves hanging down, but wait till they are dry. Keep in mind, trimming too much leaves at once might put a lot of stress on the tree.
A lot of landscape services offer to trim palms before a hurricane saying it will help the tree to survive. Many home owners think that this is a good idea. You’ve probably seen those palms that look like a ruster. DON’Tdo it! It will only create more stress for the tree.
The most amount of emails I get are about cold damaged palms. People who live in tropical climates are not prepared for cold snaps that unexpectedly hit the area out of nowhere. If you are not checking the weather every day, you can easily miss the forecast.
The most important part of the palm is its bud, that is where the new growth is coming from. If the bud gets damaged the tree most likely will die. Healthy palms, that get fertilized regularly, will have more chances to survive and will recover faster from the freeze. Cold weather can also damage the tissue in the trunk, which might affect amount of water that gets to the fronds.
To protect your palms from cold the easiest thing you can do is to spray them with Freeze Pruf. This is a new eco-safe product that enhances plant’s natural mechanisms to resist cold by 2° to 9° F. It’s like moving your temperature zone 200 miles south! Other things you can do are:
- Apply the mulch to protect palm’s roots.
- Wrap a blanket around palms trunk.
- If the palm is small, you can cover it with a weighted down box.
- Place a small heater near the palm.
- Put christmas lights around the trunk to keep it warm.