Fairchild’s tropical garden column

Tips to ensure the survival of your palms


Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Planting a palm can be a rewarding and enjoyable way to spend your afternoon. Not only do you get to make a palm more comfortable by taking it out of its restrictive and limiting pot, but you also get a chance to watch it grow from a juvenile to a mature plant.

Many times, palms experience diseases that could have been avoided if planted appropriately. Following a few essential guidelines for planting will encourage healthy palm growth.

First, it is essential to plant at the right time of the year, between April and September.

Palms do not go dormant, and they continue to grow throughout the winter season. Planting a palm in the winter months can damage the young bud, cause bud rot and lead it to an untimely death. By April, cold weather is usually long gone. After September, the palm won’t have enough time to establish itself before the cold weather returns.

A juvenile palm stays warm and healthy through the winter when protected from our occasional cold snaps.

Second, it is important to plant the palm at the right depth — just above the root zone. The best spot is about a pinky fingertip above the highest roots.

Gardeners tend to plant palms too high or too low. If a palm is planted too high, it may be healthy and survive, but it will be unstable. With heavy winds, the palm may not be able to support itself and may fall over, most likely snapping along the way. In addition, since the root initiation zone is out of the dirt, roots won’t be able to grow as readily. The palm may not be able to take in enough water and nutrients, leading to deficiencies and higher vulnerability to diseases and pests.

If the palm is planted too low, the roots will suffocate, stop functioning and begin to rot. This will ultimately kill the plant.

Once the palm is placed at the right depth, it’s time to fill in the hole. The third tip is not to put mulch or dirt in the crown of the palm. This often happens when a hole is being filled in. Palm growth is initiated at the heart of the palm, where all the leaves meet below the crown. By placing mulch or dirt in the crown, pests and diseases may be introduced into the heart. This can lead to bud rot and, if left untreated, the plant’s death.

Now that the planting is complete, it is important to water. If the palm was planted during the wet season, it may not be necessary to water by hand. I usually water a few times regardless of the season just to ensure that enough water is getting to the roots. It is important to get water to the roots often, about four times a week for the first few weeks. Then, begin to taper off to once a week. After two to three months, the palm should be established, and watering by hand is not crucial.

The fifth and final tip is not to spray the juvenile palm with herbicides. Herbicides can be detrimental to soil organisms that will help your growing palm take in nutrients. During this transition period, it is essential that the palm receive as much help as possible. If weeds are an issue, instead of spraying chemicals, weed by hand. Weeding can be relaxing, meditative and, on a nice day, a pleasant way to enjoy the weather.

Planting a palm at the right time, at the right depth, without putting mulch in its crown, watering it and not spraying herbicides will decrease the risk of the palm getting sick in years to come. These five guidelines will help your palm become established and increase its chances of growing into a beautiful, strong landscape ornamental.

Sara Edelman is palm and cycad manager at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

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