The Sabal Palm is one of the most popular and common palm trees. It is also very hearty and if properly cared for after planting will lead a long healthy life. People like the Sabal for its look and affordable price. If your Sabal palms are the correct species for you temperature zone, then once established they will need very little maintenance. Their size and full crowns add beauty and elegance to any landscape. To grow beautiful, healthy sabal palms you need to follow a few basic steps. Water, prune and fertilize and in colder climates, winterize.
Sabal / Sable Palms grow best in moist soil and grow faster when they are well irrigated. But like most palms, they are also very drought resistant and can survive a dry season with relative ease. Watering Your Sabal Palms is especially important right after planting. It is when the tree is at its weakest and will need constant water and nutrients to settle in. Newly plated Sabal trees must be watered once a day. The amount of water needed depends on the size of the tree, but a guideline is to use 10 gallons of water for a plant that would fill a container 10 gallons, 25 gallons for a plant that would fit in a 25 gallon and so on. After about a week, you can switch to every other day, then after a week go to 3 times a week for three weeks. Once the tree is well established watering 2-3 times per week is sufficient. In other words, water daily in the beginning and taper off slowly. Soil around the tree should be kept moist and never dry. To facilitate the watering process you can build a bowl out of soil around the palm and fill it up with water. This helps you to know when you have watered enough and you also save water in that all the water stays close to the tree. Also, using a trickle waterer or a bubbler will simplify the process and keep the water close to the palm. When it is raining you can stop watering until it is dry again.
Keeping your Sabal Palms pruned and trimmed will add to the beauty of the tree. Knowing when and when not to trim is important. Palm tree fronds that are dead or broken and hang down below the perpendicular should be pruned. Fronds that are partially yellow or brown and are not broken should be left. The reason for this is that the tree uses nutrients from the dying fronds. When they hang down that is a good indication that they have served their purpose and are ready to trim. Fruit can be pruned with no problems. Again, for fronds only prune what you have to. As a general rule, you should only take off as many as were produced by the tree during the year. In other words, if the tree produces three new palm fronds and you prune five, you will weaken the tree and will eventually run out of fronds to cut. Basically, if you only cut dead fronds and keep the number of fronds at a consistent amount you should be good. Over trimming will make your tree susceptible to dry weather, disease and cold temperatures.
This article will deal with fertilizing sabal palms. The issue of fertilizing palms can be as simple as you want it to be. I prefer a simple, straight forward approach. Simply fertilize three times a year with a 3 month slow release fertilizer made for palms. After applying just water the fertilizer in. Here are some guidelines for fertilizer amounts to apply to Sabal palms. (These guidelines and are not to meant to replace the manufacturers instructions - follow the instructions on the bag and by all means do not over fertilize your trees) For the first fertilizer treatment, after the tree is planted, mix in the fertilizer at the time of planting to richen the soil taken from the hole. Mix two ounces of palm fertilizer per one inch of palm trunk diameter. If you would like, 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 your Sabal Palm a good start.
After the Sabal is settled you will use a different ratio for fertilizing. We recommend palm fertilizer that utilizes slow release pellets that have 12 to 13 percent nitrogen, 3 to 4 percent potassium, 12 to 13 percent phosphorus and basic trace elements. Use 8 ounces of the fertilizer per inch of palm trunk. Spread the palm fertilizer around the base of tree. (this is a guideline and is not meant to replace the instructions on the bag) If you wish you can plow in the fertilizer in or just make some holes in the ground around the tree. The safest method is to leave the fertilizer on the ground around the tree and let it enter the soil at a slow pace.
Winter proofing your Sabal palms is only needed in colder climates where frost and freezing are possible. If the core temperature of a Sabal drops below the palms cold hardy temperature for an extended period of time then the tree can suffer tissue damage and/or die. Buying cold hardy trees is one keys to having nice palms in the colder regions. We have a list of cold hardy trees and a zone chart at this link. Try to buy trees that have a minimum temperature tolerance that is close to or below your winter low temperature.
Cold weather can damage or kill a palm but maintaining a temperature above the trees minimum temperature level will stop this from happening. To keep a smaller palm like a Robellini 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 weak 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 larger palm tree warmer, people will wrap the trees trunk in burlap, bubble wrap or another material that will hold in heat. Burlap is nice because it tends to look a little less artificial and it dries out quickly after wet. After wrapping the palm 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 will bury pipes in the ground and run hot water through them to keep the soil warm as well. The colder your winter climate the more you will have to do to protect your trees. As previously mentioned, it is not a great idea to trim a tree right before the cold season. Healthy fuller trees will have a better opportunity to survive the cold when left alone before the winter.
We have more specific information on the Sabal Palm such as maximum height, cold hardiness, crown and trunk diameter, growth rate, planting zone and more here.
Here are a few do's and dont's.
- Sabal Palms do not require anything special that other palms do not require. Simply follow the instructions on the bag. Don't just cut open a bag and start pouring. You paid way to much for your tree to kill it the first season. Over fertilizing can kill young newly established trees.
- Also only put fertilizer on moist soil and after applying make sure to water it in.
- You should consider buying a slow release fertilizer. It will cost a little more but will give more even results and is easier on the tree. Plus it will be less work on you since it continues to work long after it is put down. Also, use a fertilizer with supplemental magnesium and calcium.
- Spread the fertilizer evenly all the way around the trunk of the tree and work it into the soil.
- Don't pour fertilizer directly on the crowns or trunks of your Sabals. 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.