When moving a palm tree from one location to another, you want to minimize the root damage and eliminate as many stress factors as possible.
While there are a lot of things that can go wrong during transplanting, most of them can be easily avoided with additional preparation. Here is a list of top 10 most common mistakes gardeners make when planting a large palm.
1. Planting Too Deep
I know many gardeners think that planting palm a few inches deeper is a great idea because it will create so called “water well”. In reality, planting too deep might result in water stress, nutrient deficiency and eventually death of the palm.
Palms should always be planted at the same depth they have been originally grown before transplanting. If your palm came without a pot, plant it so that the top of the root-shoot interface is about one inch below the surface of the soil.
If you’ve noticed that your palm has been planted too deep, and you don’t have an option to re-plant it, take off some soil from the top.
2. Planting Too High
Planting too high is another mistake although it’s not as bad as planting too deep. If the roots are exposed, then the palm was planted to high. Such palms are said to be “on their tiptoes”. Palms with exposed roots are unstable and can topple over from a high wind.
Also, exposure to hot dry air can result in root damage, stunted growth, or even death of the roots which will cause decline of the plant.
Surprisingly, some palm enthusiasts purposely plant palms a few inches higher in anticipation of the soil settling and palm sinking lower in the ground. If you planted it correctly, that should not be happening.
If your palm is planted too high and you don’t have an option of re-planting it, you can add a moister layer around the base of the palm to protect existing roots and to stimulate new root growth.
If palm roots are showing, use a heavier layer like native soil or compost. If the roots are just slightly covered with soil, use a faster draining layer with more air around the base.
3. Leaving Air Pockets
This brings us to the next mistake which is leaving air pockets in the soil. When backfiling the hole, make sure there is no air pockets by watering the hole before planting, half way, and at the end. Otherwise, the root ball will sink in after some time leaving the palm too deep in the ground.
7. Root Pruning
Unlike broadleaf trees, palm trees roots don’t need to be pruned. A lot of palms depend on the old roots until the new root system is developed. Palm roots grow from a special area of the stem called “root initiation zone”.
Roots merge at their maximum thickness and are unable to develop secondary growth although they do branch. Pruning the roots, will leave the palm without any mechanism to get water.
During transplantation, if digging palm tree from the ground, try to leave the root ball as big as possible to increase survival rate of the plant. Also, don’t remove any original soil around the root area to prevent air exposure.
Some palms like Sabal palmetto, will loose all of their roots during transplantation and will need to grow the new once. So for this species, it is safe to leave a small root ball.
3. Fertilizing Too Soon
Do not put fertilizer into the hole before putting the palm in. It will burn palms roots. A lot of people do that and then are very surprised when their palm is dying. After transplanting, palm tree should not be fertilized until it produces new growth which should happen in about 2 months.
I recommend using a good quality slow release fertilizer. Also, don’t fertilize too close to the trunk to avoid burning the trunk. Depending on the trunk diameter, place fertilizer about 1-2ft away from the trunk.
During the first few months after planting, you could also use a foliar fertilizer spray since the palm won’t have it’s full root system to absorb the nutrients. Keep in mind, foliar sprays are not as effective as a soil fertilizer because leaves absorb only a fraction of the nutrients needed for the palm.
4. Wrong Season
Depending on the climate in your area, planting too close to winter might be a bad idea. It takes some time for the palm after being transplanted to develop new root system.
Root growth dramatically slows down if the soil temperatures fall below 65F and completely stop below 60F. Without new roots it won’t be able to supply water to the leaves, it might not survive the cold weather.
I recommend planting during spring or early summer. This will give your palm plenty of time to establish at the new place. Also, avoid planting during drought period to decrease amount of stress on the plant.
6. Damaging Trunk
During the first 6-7 months after planting, large palm trees should be braced otherwise they might topple over during wind storms. When installing supporting blocks, don’t nail them directly into the trunk of the palm. Wounds to a palm trunk are permanent and can lead to palm diseases.
Also, protect the trunk during transplantation by wrapping it with nylon slings before attaching chain, ropes or cables to it. Any scratches or scrapes on the trunk will not heal.
8. Leaf Removal
It is helpful to cut some of the old palm fronds to help the palm with water stress after transplanting. According to University of Florida, on some species like Sabal palmetto that will loose all of their roots during transplanting and have no way of getting water to the leaves, removing all of the leaves will actually help it to recover much quicker.
However, in other palm species removal of all of the fronds will get them into a shock. So it all depends on the palm tree type. If you are not sure, remove no more than ¾ of fronds when moving a large field-grown palm. Removal of the middle leaves might even kill the palm.
9. Keeping Leaves Tied Up
Most nurseries tie up the leaves before transporting a palm to protect them from getting damaged. You should untie them after the palm is in the ground. Leaving them tied up will not improve the growth, but might provide a favorable environment for palm diseases and insects.
10. Not Planting The Palm Right Away
Leaving the palm just laying there with the exposed roots is the worst thing you can do. If you can’t plant the palm right away, wrap the root ball in a damp tarp and spray it with a hose as often as necessary to keep the rootball moist.
If you follow my step-by-step planting guide, you should be able to avoid most of the common mistakes gardeners make. However, keep in mind that no matter how careful you are, your palm will go into so called ‘transplant shock‘.
This is normal because it has been moved to a new location with different light levels, soil, and humidity. Also, the loss of the roots will decrease water intake causing addition stress on the plant. Just be patient and don’t expect a great deal of new growth during the first year.
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