palm tree care
palm tree care

Palm Tree Care

​Palms & Cycads
Customer is responsible for proper watering and care of plants.

Landscape Use
Palms and cycads are very versatile in the landscape. Some types of palms have a single trunk and can be used as solitary specimen plants while others are clumping and are used in groups. Grouping together palms of the same species or with plants other than palms makes an interesting tropical landscape. Multi-trunk palms make excellent specimen or accent plants.

Cycads can also make wonderful specimen plants or can be used along with palms or many other plants to create a tropical landscape. In South Carolina, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is grown in the eastern part of the state. Although palm-like in appearance, sago palms are not true palms but are primitive plants called cycads. They grow slowly and can be easily overgrown by other nearby plants in the landscape, if not provided adequate spacing.

Planting: It is best to transplant young palms from containers, since they are not very tolerant of root disturbance until visible trunk development has taken place. Palms establish most quickly if transplanted during the spring and early summer when the soil temperatures are on the increase. This is the time of active root activity for this tree.

Soil conditions in some parts of South Carolina are less than ideal for growing palms and cycads. The ideal situation is to have the entire planting area uniformly rich in organic material and well-drained with slightly acidic soil. Begin a regular fertilization program when the appearance of new leaves indicates that establishment has been successful.

Watering: Water the palm deeply and thoroughly immediately after planting. The root ball and surrounding backfill should remain evenly moist, but never saturated during the first four to six months after installation. A slight berm can be mounded up around the edge of the root ball to retain water during irrigation. Supplemental irrigation is necessary unless adequate rainfall is received during this period. Remember that it is important to have good drainage and not to overwater.

Most established palms and cycads require water during the summer, which is the period of their active growth. Apply mulch around the trunk, keeping a small circle (several inches) around the trunk free of mulch. Mulching helps to conserve moisture and reduce weeds.

Fertilizing: Palms may fail to thrive without a regular, balanced fertilization program. Mature palms in the landscape should optimally receive a granular fertilizer formulated for palms ("palm special ") that contains additional magnesium and a complete micronutrient amendment. Nitrogen and potassium rates should be equivalent and all or at least some of the elements should be available in slow-release form. These "palm specials " are especially recommended for palms growing on the outer coastal plain where micronutrient deficiencies are common. Other trees and shrubs sharing soil with palms would also benefit from this fertilizer.

A steady supply of nutrients should be added to palms during the growing season (April-September). Our growers in Florida research has shown that appropriate analysis for a palm fertilizer is a 13-3-13. These fertilizer numbers refer to the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and magnesium (Mg) content.

Fertilizers should be broadcast over the area below the palm canopy. Palm roots will eventually extend 30 to 50 feet or more from the trunk and will take up whatever fertilizer has been applied to the surrounding turfgrass, often with detrimental results to the palm. Turfgrass fertilizers typically have high N:K ratios and contain little magnesium or micronutrients. This high N can promote growth in the palms that is not supported by K levels in the soil or fertilizer. The result is that K within the palms is diluted by this new growth, making the K deficiency worse than if no fertilizer had been applied.

Therefore, it is recommended that if turfgrass growing within 30 feet of a palm is to be fertilized, it should receive the 12-4-12-4 fertilizer rather than a fertilizer designed for turfgrass. Presently three to four applications are recommended at a rate of 1.0 pounds per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. As much of the N, K, and Mg in the fertilizer as possible should be in a slow-release form to supply a balance of nutrients over a longer time.

Most coastal turfgrass fertility needs are met with the above recommendation; however rates should be reduced for centipedegrass. If centipedegrass is grown within 30 feet of a palm being fertilized, it is recommended that the rate be reduced to no more than three applications at a rate of 0.5 pound of 12-4-12-4 per 100 square feet or 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

For palms in the Piedmont, apply fertilizer in three applications. In heavy clay soils use half the above amount of fertilizer, and do not apply granular fertilizers after August 1.

Adjustments for rates and distances will have to be made for newly planted palms. Newly planted palms should not be fertilized until they put out a new spear. Two to three months after transplanting, a slow-release palm fertilizer can be applied to the soil around the outside margin of the root ball.

Be sure to fertilize only during the growing season (between April 1 and August 1). Broadcast or scatter the fertilizer under the entire canopy. Do not apply it in a ring around the base of the tree or up against the trunk. Concentrating the fertilizer in a narrow area can burn the roots and only a small portion of the roots will come in contact with it.

Transplanting: Palms establish most quickly if transplanted during the spring and early summer when soil temperatures are on the increase. Young palms, without visible trunk development, are not very tolerant of root disturbance and are best transplanted only from containers.

It is best to immediately install field-grown palms as soon as they arrive. If transplanting cannot take place immediately, palms should be partially planted or "heeled in" and kept well watered. It is generally recommended that no soil amendments be added to the backfill when planting.

It is very important not to plant palms any deeper than they were originally grown. The root initiation zone, located at the base of the trunk, must remain at the soil level or slightly higher to prevent root suffocation, nutritional deficiencies and root rot diseases. It may take several years for palms planted too deeply to show noticeable decline, especially on well drained soils. This decline can only be reversed by removing the backfill from the suffocated root initiation zone or replanting the palm. All air pockets should be lightly tamped out of the backfill as the planting hole is filled (do not compact the soil).

The root ball and surrounding backfill should remain evenly moist for the first six to eight months after installation. The number one reason for death of newly planted palms is poor watering practices. Water frequently enough to keep the soil moist during plant establishment, and always water deeply. The appearance of substantial amounts of new leaves indicates that establishment is successful. Supplement with 1" of irrigation water per week during periods of little or no rainfall.

One of the most important practices to improve the health of a tree is to apply mulch. A palm is no exception. A layer of mulch 2 to 3 inches deep should be applied at a minimum of three feet from the trunk. The mulch should not be mounded like a volcano, but flat like a pancake. Mulch should not touch the base of the trunk.

Care of the Bud & Fronds: The greatest loss of water in newly dug palms occurs from transpiration through the leaves. Minimize this problem by removing one half or more of the older leaves at the time of digging. Tie the remaining leaves together in a bundle around the bud with biodegradable twine.

Some types of palms like the sabal palm need special treatment, since they must regenerate all new roots from the trunk. For these cases, the best method of ensuring survival after transplanting may be to remove all the leaves. Complete leaf removal may also be advisable during installation of any species where normal post-transplant irrigation is impossible. Be careful not to injure the bud. Where practical, misting or irrigation of the foliage may reduce water loss during the transplant process, though there is a risk of increasing disease problems in the canopy.

Pruning Palms: As indicated in many deficiencies, the damaged foliage may not recover, but the new growth in the bud should demonstrate good health if this fertility program is maintained. If a palm is deficient in nutrients K and Mg, removing unattractive lower leaves of deficient palms will cause the potassium (K) deficiency symptoms to move up to the next tier of leaves, making the problem worse. Only remove completely dead and loose leaves, badly damaged or diseased leaves and fruit, and flower stalks when pruning a palm. If the petiole (the base of the leaf stem or stalk) is green, the leaf is not dead.& Never remove leaves at an angle above the horizontal (9:00 & 3:00). This will give the palm a "lion's tail" appearance. There is also evidence that over trimming makes the palm more susceptible to cold damage. Cut leaf bases close, but not into the trunk. Do not attempt to tear off leaves. This causes wounds that can lead to disease or insect infestation.

Nutritional: Palms are very susceptible to nutrient deficiencies of nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and manganese. Symptoms include yellowing, streaking or even spotting of the fronds. Following a regular, balanced fertilization program for palms is important, especially in the sandy regions such as the outer Coastal Plain, where micronutrient deficiencies typically occur. For more information about nutritional deficiencies and how to correct the problems, refer to HGIC 2007, Palm Diseases & Nutritional Problems.

Insects and Diseases: Diseases that may affect palms and cycads include fungal leaf spots and root rots. Common insects that affect palms include spider mites, palm leaf skeletonizers and scale insects. Scale insects and mealybugs commonly attack cycads.

Chemical control of diseases and insects on large trees may not be feasible since adequate coverage of the foliage with a pesticide may not be possible.

Excerpted with permission from The Palm Reader-A Manual for Growing Palms Outdoors in the Southeast, compiled by members of The Southeastern Palm and Exotic Plant Society.

Transplanting Palms, Meerow, A. W. and Broschat, T. K., University of Florida/IFAS, Circular 1047, 1997 (rev.).
Palm Nutrition Guide, Broschat, T. K. and Meerow, A. W., University of Florida/IFAS, SS-ORH-02, 1992.