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Palm Care

Selecting Palms for North Florida

Plams can be a beautiful and interesting additon to landscapes but as with any plant, proper selection and placement is critical for success. Our area does receive enough cold weather that can injure more tropical palms. In recent years, nurseries have offered a wider selection of palms but not all of these are suitable for local landscapes.  An example is the Pygmy date palm. This is a beautiful multiple trunked palm but unfortunately it may be severely injured or killed when the area receives temperatures below freezing. Before you invest in a palm, review the University of Florida publication on suitable palms for North Florida. Also, consider a native palm if you have the right growing conditions for one. Windmill palm is a very cold hardy selection for north Florida.

Windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei

Palm Planting

Like any other plant, palms must be planted correctly in order to thrive (or even survive).  It is best to plant palms when temperatures are warm so that roots can begin to grow and plants can establish quickly. Proper planting depth is also critical for palms.  Do not cover any of the trunk with soil.  The roots should be right at the soil surface.  It is not recommended to amend that planting hole of palms with any organic matter or compost. This can lead to significant nutrient deficiencies that may be difficult to correct.

Palm Fertilization

Our soils do not normally have adequate nutrients for palms to look and perform their best.  Homeowners should be prepared to apply supplemental nutrients to palms 2-3 times per year.

You will want to select a fertilizer especillay labeled for palms. These products contains correct amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium (N-P-K-Mg), and much needed micronutrients. Never use a turf fertilizer for palms or apply turf fertilzer withing the rootzone of palms.

A good fertilizer analysis for palms would be 8-2-12-4 ( nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium- magnesium). All nutrients must be in a slow release form. Apply 1.5 lbs of actual fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. every 3 months during the growing season (April – September).

Palm Pruning

Palms are very low maintenance in regards to pruning. You will only want to remove fronds that are brown.  There are many nutrients in green fronds that are necessary for the plant to remain healthy.

You may see the ‘hurricane cuts’  performed on many palms around town.  This is an incorrect pruning practice and can interfere with the healthy growth of the of the palm. Despite it’s name, the ‘hurricane cut’ (seen below) makes the palm  more susceptible to damage during storms.  Because so much of the canopy is removed with this pruning practice, the bud is not buffered from movement during strong winds.  The top part of the palm can easily break, killing the palm.

Improper palm pruning

Improper pruning of a sabal palm.

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