July 12, 2010

Palm Culture 101

Palms are one of the signature plant groups which define South Florida. Oddly, in an area legendary for its rocky soil, we can grow an amazing array of palms with rather little trouble. There are over 2000 species of palms, and we can grow over 1500 of them here. The South Florida Palm Society hosts the largest palm sales in the USA, with a huge selection of species at their twice-a-year events. Keep the mature plant size in mind when you plant a seedling palm, and get lots of advice from several growers in advance about your purchase. Before you dish out the money for an expensive palm, ask some questions of both the seller and of yourself. Here are the basic palm culture questions, so that you can get the right plant for your property:

  1. do you want a native species ?
  2. does the palm shed its leaves naturally or do you have to cut them off ? ( Hint: if the leaves fall off, they'll smash plants underneath the palm)
  3. how big does the palm get in our climate? ( suitable for your property?)
  4. does it need lots of water ?( e.g. Royal Palm, Everglades Palm, Veitchia Palm)
  5. does it need a lot of shade ? ( e.g. Licuala palms, Pinanga Palms) is it cold-sensitive or wind-sensitive? ( many rainforest palms)

Matching the right palm to the right place makes for a better plant / gardener relationship. Regular watering and mulching are two key steps to growing solid palms. In most cases with palms growing in the sunlight, a deep watering once a week is enough to keep plants healthy. Make sure to use at least 6 inches of mulch on top of the roots, but not up against the trunk itself. Spread the mulch out past the edges of the leaves, ( the advice works for all sizes of palms), and add fresh mulch every 6 months.

The biggest step to success with new palms is to dig a proper sized planting hole, which is 3 times the diameter of the root ball, no matter what size plant ! Admittedly, this is an expensive proposition at first, but a great planting hole at the beginning helps make a great palm in the future. Well-rooted palms are storm resistant, more so than a big palm stuffed into a small planting hole, which leads to unstable palms. Do some research, plant and maintain the palm well, and it will become a permanent, enjoyable, valuable part of your landscape.

Craig Morell

Pinecrest Gardens

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