Taxpayers paid millions of dollars for landscaping Dade County roadways. Is their investment being protected?
Across Dade County, some of the palms, lush and green when planted, have withered and turned brown. A smaller number have died and toppled.
Not to worry, advises the company that planted most of the palms for Metro in recent months. For those that die, the county has a 12-month replacement warranty on the plantings.
The trees lost their lushness after repeated cold snaps this winter, which made it more difficult for them to adapt after transplanting, a company spokeswoman said. Summer rains, she said, should help them recover.
"We've just gone through a horrible winter, the worst since '89," said Lourdes Rodriguez, a manager for Manuel Diaz Farms. "Wait until May and the palms will flesh out."
Tree experts agree it has been a tough winter for transplanted trees -- and worry that the royal palms may suffer long-term consequences after the warranties expire. They said the palms, grown under optimum nursery conditions, needed more pampering when transplanted into the parched and rocky soil along many Dade streets.
"All of them are drying up," said John Harris, a state- certified landscape inspector who checked palms for The Herald that were planted along Kendall Drive, Interstate 95 and around the Culmer Center in Overtown. "They are living on reserves. Some may not make it."
Thousands of newly planted royal palms especially are at risk if they do not receive enough water and fertilizer, experts warn.
"The royal palm likes to be taken care of," said DeArmand Hull, a palm specialist for the Dade County Cooperative Extension Service. "It's a swamp palm and likes a lot of water. When we plant them high and dry, they are more susceptible to insects like the royal palm bug. It sucks the juice out of the leaves. Usually they will outgrow the damage -- if the palm is healthy."
Rodriguez said the palms planted by Diaz Farms are receiving proper care, that the company's crews have regularly watered, fertilized and pruned them since they were planted. Dead trees are being replaced, she said -- even those demolished in car accidents. "We want to keep our customers happy," Rodriguez said. "The trees have a one-year guarantee and the county has a 100 percent performance bond from us. How better protected can the taxpayers be?" And what happens when the warranties run out? One of Metro's top plant experts worries that care of all the new palms may be overwhelming. He said the county's planting program has been too rushed and ambitious.
"Patience is a virtue we could use a little more of," said Paul Carey, the Metro parks department's chief landscape architect. "They need a maintenance plan to go with all this landscaping. The palms in particular need to be fertilized, especially the royal palms.
A maintenance plan is in the works, said acting public works director Pedro Hernandez, whose department handled most of the planting projects and is responsible for their care. Meanwhile, he acknowledges, the cost keeps growing with every new tree popped in county swales.
"Maintenance is one of my concerns," Hernandez said. "It's nice when you plant and get all the accolades. But you also have to provide for care of the plantings."