Caring for Palm Trees - Fertilizing, Troubleshooting, Winterizing, Watering, Pruning and More - General Guide for All Palms.
Brought to you by Cole Farms, Inc.




Palm Trees are very rugged and hearty plants. They add beauty and character to any landscape and demand little in return. If your palm trees are the right species for your particular zone, then once established they will need very little maintenance. To cultivate beautiful, healthy palms you only need to follow a few simple steps. Water, prune and fertilize. In colder climates add winterizing to that list.

Watering

Palms love water and grow faster when they are sufficiently irrigated. However, most palms are also very drought tolerant and can survive a dry season fairly easily. Watering your palms is especially important right after planting. This is when they are at their weakest and need constant water and nourishment to establish themselves. New palm trees should be watered once a day. The amount of water depends on the size of the tree but a good rule of thumb is to use 10 gallons per watering for a plant that came in a 10 gallon container, 25 gallons for a plant that came in or would fit in a 25 gallon container and so on. After a week you can switch to every other day then three times a week after for the third week and subsequent weeks. Once the tree is well established 2-3 times per week is sufficient. The soil around the tree should always be a litle moist. On our trees, we build a bowl out of soil around the tree and fill it up with water. That way we know we have watered enough and we also save water since all the water stays close to the tree. Also, using a trickle waterer or a bubbler will semi automate the process and keep the water close to the tree. When it is raining you can skip watering.

Pruning

Keeping your palms pruned and trimmed will add to the beauty of the tree and for some species it will help keep the tree healthy and growing as it should. (as is the case with a Senegal Date Palm) Knowing when and when not to prune is important. Palm tree fronds that are dead or broken and hang down should be pruned. Fronds that are only partially yellow or brown and are not broken should be left alone. The reason for this is that the tree draws nutrients from the dying fronds. When they hang down that is a good indication that they have served their purpose and are ready to prune. This rule is for most palms but not all. Trees like the Senegal Date Palm (phoenix reclinata) need to be trimmed frequently as the new growth at the base of the tree tends to want to take over. (our species specific articles will discuss pruning for specific types of trees) For most common palms like the Sabal or Washingtonian pruning should be done only when necessary. Also, as a general rule, you should only take off as many fronds as were produced by the tree during the year. In other words, if the tree produces three new fronds during a year and you prune six, you will eventually run out of fronds to cut. Basically, if you only cut dead fronds and keep the number of fronds at a constant level you should be fine. Over pruning will make your tree more susceptible to drought, disease and low temperatures. Also, you can prune fruit off of any palm if you wish. This leaves the nutrients for the fronds.

Fertilizing

This section will deal with feeding your palms via fertilizing. It is intended to provide general guidelines for all palms but does not supersede the fertilizer manufacturers recommendations. The topic can be made either very simple or very complicated depending on how you approach the subject. I prefer a basic approach. Simply fertilize three times a year with a 3 month slow release palm fertilizer designed for palms. After applying the fertilizer simply water it in.

Here are some guidelines for the amount of fertilizer that you should use. (These are guidelines and are not intended to replace the fertilizer manufacturers instructions - follow the instructions on the bag) For the initial fertilization, blend in fertilizer at the time of planting to enrich the soil removed from the hole. Mix at a rate of two ounces of palm fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter. After planting and watering in the tree you can add one additional ounce of slow release palm fertilizer per three inches of trunk on the ground. This will give the tree a good start.

After the tree is established you will use a different ratio for fertilizing. We recommend a palm fertilizer in the form of slow release pellets that contains roughly 12 to 13 percent nitrogen, 3 to 4 percent potassium, 12 to 13 percent phosphorus plus trace elements. Use 8 ounces of the fertilizer per inch of trunk and spread around the base of tree. You can till the fertilizer in or just punch some holes in the ground around the tree.

Winterizing

Winterizing your palms is only necessary in colder climates where frost and freezing are a danger. If the core temperature of a tree drops below the trees cold hardy temperature for an extended period of time then the tree will suffer tissue damage or die. Buying cold hardy trees is one of the keys to having nice palms in the colder latitudes. We have a list of cold hardy trees and a zone chart at this link. Try to plant only trees that have a minimum temperature tolerance that is close to your winter low temperature.

Cold weather can damage or kill a palm but keeping the temperature above the trees minimum temperature level will prevent this. To keep a small palm warm you can simply place a box over it or cover it with straw. This is normally sufficient. If you want to add some artificial warmth to the inside of the box you can integrate some christmas lights. Be careful to use smaller bulbs to avoid a fire hazard. Having a tree catch on fire is just as hazardous to the tree as the cold weather. To keep a large tree warm, most people wrap the tree in burlap, bubble wrap or another material that will hold in warmth but not soak up water. After wrapping the tree you can take lights and wrap the tree up the trunk up to the major fronds. This will help keep the core temperature of the trunk from freezing. Some people go so far as to bury pipes in the ground to keep the soil warm as well. The colder your winter climate the more you will have to do to protect your trees. As mentioned before, it is not a good idea to heavily prune a tree right before the cold season. Healthy full trees have a better chance of surviving the cold.

Here are a few do's and dont's.

DO

- Do Follow the instructions on the bag. Don't just cut the bag open and start pouring. This can lead to over fertilizing which can kill young newly established trees.

- Only put fertilizer on moist soil and after applying make sure to water it in.

- Consider buying a slow release type fertilizer. It will cost more but will give more even results and is easier on the tree. Also, use a fertilizer with supplemental magnesium and calcium.

- Spread the fertilizer evenly all the way around the plant and work it into the soil.

DO NOT

- Don't pour fertilizer directly on the tree or into the crown. Distribute it around the tree in the soil only. Also, don't just make a big pile.

- Don't fertilize bone dry soil.

- Don't over fertilize. Better to use too little than too much.


We have written a series of articles on the "CARE & MAINTENANCE" of the different types of palm trees. The first article below is a general care guide for all palms and the subsequent articles are species specific. They are listed alphabetically :

General Care for all Palm Trees - Basic upkeep guide for all Palm Trees.

Caring for your "Phoenix Reclinata" Palm Trees - General care tips on keeping your Phoenix Reclinata (Senagal Date Palm) healthy.

Caring for your Sabal / Sable Palm Trees - General care tips on keeping your Sabal/Sable Palm Tree healthy.

Caring for your Silver Queen Palm Trees - General care tips on keeping your Silver Queen Palm Tree healthy.
The articles below list the "SPECIFICATIONS" for various popular palm trees. The information includes maximum height, diameter, growth rate, cold hardiness, crown diameter, growth zone and cost. They are listed alphabetically below :

The Phoenix Reclinata (Senegal Date Palm) - General information and specs on the Phoenix Reclinata.

The Sabal Palm Tree (Cabbage Palm) - General information and specs on the Sabal Palm.

The Silver Queen Palm Tree - General information and specs on the Silver Queen Palm.




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