INLAND EMPIRE – Palm trees survive well in the Valley and can be found lining majestic driveways as well as providing a tropical, ornamental touch to a front or back yard landscape.
One of the greatest benefits of a palm tree is that it does not lose it leaves all at once and can provide instant beautification to just about any spot in a landscape. Most importantly, palm trees are low maintenance plants. They run a close second to conifers in the level of attention they require beyond the basics. And, to top it off, they’re fairly easy to plant, too.
Let there be light
All plants have preferences when it comes to light. Some like full sun, while others prefer shade. Palm trees are no different. It’s important to research the type of palm one is planting; otherwise, the results may be less than satisfactory. Fortunately, there are more varieties of palms than one can shake a frond at – they vary in size from small (10 to 20 feet for a Windmill Palm) to very large (the 50 foot tall, aptly-named Queen Palm).
Planting a shade-loving palm in full sun produces a burnt and eventually dead tree; while planting a sun-loving palm in the shade gives you a weaker tree with a thicker trunk and stretched-out leaves.
The highs and lows of temperature
Another concern people have with the tropical-appearing palm is temperature. Actually, palm trees grow in almost all climate zones, depending on the type of palm. As with light, good research into temperature needs – or better yet, asking an expert – is crucial to having a healthy, happy palm tree.
Most palms fare pretty well in both soil types, acid or alkaline. There are a few that are more particular in their needs. The Queen Palm, for instance, prefers acidic soil. However, with the amazing variety from which to choose, it should be no problem selecting the perfect tree one’s soil type. One piece of advice for all palms: the soil must have good drainage. Using a soil amendment such as Kellogg® Palm and Cactus Mix when planting in pots or mix with the native soil when planting the ground will help give the new palms good drainage.
Providing palms with the right amount of moisture keeps them healthy and happy. Palms are somewhat picky about moisture levels; some prefer being watered once a week, while others like water five times a week. Variety may be the spice of life, but to be sure palms thrive, group them according to moisture preference. Otherwise, some will flourish and other will fail.
Setting down roots
Once all the work of choosing the right palms for the soil and lighting is done, it’s time to plant. This can be delicate work, so caution is appropriate. The palms heart – the area from which the leaves grow – is very sensitive to being handled. If it cracks or shatters, the palm tree may die, or at best, be stunted in growth. Likewise, the root ball requires careful handling. It’s best to cut the container away as this helps prevent damage to the sensitive roots. The hole should be dug twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the root ball. Make sure the hole is level, such that the bottom of the tree’s trunk is even with the ground. Once the tree is placed, fill the hole with loose soil to promote healthy root growth. A last piece of advice is to avoid planting during particularly dry spells; young palms are vulnerable to weather changes.
Palms are hardy plants, but they do need a boost once or twice a year. They’re particularly sensitive to certain deficiencies, namely nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and micronutrients. Fortunately, there are “palm special” fertilizers that focus on these deficiencies. Grangetto’s in Fallbrook recommends Apex® Palm Special, Gro Power® Palm & Tropical or Grow More® Palm Food. For the organic grower, Dr. Earth® Palm, Tropical & Hibiscus fertilizer is a good choice; simply follow the directions on the package.
Palms are experiencing nitrogen deficiency if all of the leaves are yellowing. Potassium and magnesium deficiency is present on older leaves only and appears as orange flecks with yellowing leaf edges.
Micronutrient deficiencies only affect the newest leaves; they appear stunted or exhibit what’s called interveinal chlorosis, the inability to properly process chlorophyll. In that case, they’ll be a much paler green than normal, but the veins will be the usual green. This deficiency can be caused if the soil pH is incorrect for the type of palm, or if there’s low root activity. Low root activity can be caused by a multitude of factors from low temperatures to physical damage, over-watering and poor drainage – which leads to poor oxygenation.
This is vitally important for healthy, happy palm trees. Palms are sensitive to moisture levels; over-watering is just as bad as under-watering. This is especially true for recently planted palms or palms that are just establishing a root system. Contrary to popular belief, do not rely on a calendar for “regularly-scheduled” irrigation; this will only result in over-watering.
To help them establish root systems, water newly-planted palms on a daily basis. Water large, established palms when the soil two inches down is dry to the touch. When watering these palm trees, take the soil type into consideration, too. The goal is to moisten the soil one foot down. If the soil is heavy or clay, that means applying two to two and a half inches of water; for light, sandy soil, only apply one to one and a half inches. It’s best to break this up into a few smaller irrigations to avoid water run-off.
Shortly and sweetly, mulching palms is easy. First, clear all ground cover – and shrubs – within two feet of the palm’s base. Then, apply organic mulch, three inches deep, around the base and that’s it. Grangetto’s recommends Kellogg® Gardner & Bloome® Soil Building Compost, which is perfect for the job, not to mention organic!
Pruning and sanitation
Moderation is the key phrase. Only remove dead leaves; pruning healthy leaves may damage the tree. Imagine a horizontal line running through the middle of the heart from three o’clock to nine o’clock. Never remove leaves above this line. Pruning should be done with the proper tools, such as a hand saw or pole pruner for taller palms, not a chainsaw.
Palms also fruit (think coconuts) and that can cause sanitation and safety issues. Smaller fruits, such as those of the Queen Palm, create an enormous amount of litter when they fall. The safety concerns of falling coconuts are pretty easy to imagine. The fruit stalks can be pruned when pruning the dead leaves. Proper pruning keeps palms healthy and the yard safe and
The majority of advice in this article has been provided by Grangetto’s Farm & Garden Supply, 530 E. Alvarado St, Fallbrook. Call (760) 728-6127 or visit www.grangettos.com for more information.