Top Ten Ways To Kill a Palm

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Top Ten Comments Overheard from a Novice Grower.

  • 10) Everyone, including the Great Dane, will be careful not to step on this dainty little thing with the beautiful red petioles.
  • 9) That one leaf seedling is still looking sick after that dose of 16-16-16, I better sprinkle on a little more.
  • 8) What are the odds that one gopher will find my favorite palm?
  • 7) They said this palm takes full sun.
  • 6) They said this palm takes full shade.
  • 5) Palms love water, right? With these sprinklers, they'll think it's always raining.
  • 4) I'm sure that label said 2 tablespoons for tender plants.
  • 3) This spacing looks good. How big could one of these J. chilensis get anyway?
  • 2) I don't see any bugs.

And the #1 comment overheard from a novice grower:

  • 1) What's all this fuss about zones?

If you haven't killed a palm yet, then you must be a really new grower, or else you haven't yet tried any or the more challenging (and more rewarding) species. Don't worry, you will. Hopefully these tips might improve your standings in the won/lost column.

  • Number 10: Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Protect that puppy. To you, that little two leafer in the ground sticks out like a sore thumb. After all, you've nursed it along for two years now, after the year long germination, and you can see it right there in the open, all the way across the yard, from your easy chair in the living room. You can warn the wife or the gardener (to no avail anyway) not to step on it, but you can't warn the dog, the four year old, or the neighbor kid climbing in to get his ball back. But the worse scenario is when after planting some more palms in that general area, you remember that little Psuedophoenix where you are now standing as you admire your new plantings. And let me assure you, that when the weeds get a little out of hand, it will blend in nicely, and if you spray your weeds.............get the idea? Surround it with rocks, or potted palms; anything to give a little notice that something worth saving is there, at least until it gets a little size to it.
  • Number 9: We have all been tempted to add "just a little bit more" fertilizer. It is almost irresistible. However, it will always be better to do half as much, twice as often. And if a palm looks sick, in most cases more fertilizer will not be the solution. Now, if you haven't fertilized in two years, a little low powered stuff may help. But don't think a sick palm will spring back to life by throwing on a hefty dose of the "good stuff."
  • Number 8: There must be a Murphy's law for palm growing. When that limb falls, it falls on the Ravenea and not the Queen. The neighbor's rabbit prefers the sprouting Dypsis over the Washingtonias. And gophers know what your favorite palm is. If it wasn't your favorite before they ate it, for some reason it becomes your favorite at about the same time it keels over. If you have gophers and you are planting a special palm, take precautions.
  • Number 6 & 7: It doesn't matter what a palm's ultimate preferred exposure is. What matters the most when you first acquire it is, what conditions has it been growing in. Even a sun loving seedling will fry if it was grown in a shaded environment and placed in the sun immediately. And burning the only two tiny leaves of a palm is most likely fatal, or a severe setback at the very least. And it doesn't take long to burn them either. I once killed three rare 2 inch Dypsis on the ride home. I had them safely in the passenger seat for protection. It was overcast, so I didn't think much of it when I parked to get some groceries. After I got home, I carefully removed them from the car and took them straight to the greenhouse. So, when I went to say hi the next morning, I couldn't believe they were toast. One half hour of sun peeking out from behind the overcast, and through the side window of the car while I was in the store........................... The reverse may yield the same end result, just much slower. A palm that wants sun, and has been in the sun, will languish if placed in a shady area. It may slowly die, or just look nothing like it should, as it sits there and sulks. Do your homework on what exposure your palm prefers, and slowly acclimate it.
  • Number 5: Again, do your homework. Is your palm from a dry habitat, or a wet one? Is their wet season the warm or cool time of year? Many palms we grow get their rainfall in the warmer months. So cold wet conditions are a killer. In fact, I think it's safe to say, for most palms, cold wet conditions are lethal. Palms can succumb from too much water in the root zone, as well as too much constant water from overhead, into the crown. In fact, a shady wet spot with overhead watering for a desert palm is a sure recipe for failure. And even a water lover will rot if the crown stays wet during prolonged winter weather.
  • Number 4: "Time to spray for mites again. All these young seedlings look so much better now that I'm on a good spray schedule. Two tablespoons per gallon, right? Or was that teaspoons? No, the liquid fertilizer was teaspoons. Tablespoons it is." Three weeks later......................."what's going on? For awhile there everything was starting to look really good." Carpenters know, you measure twice and cut once, after checking one more time. Especially if it's a prized piece of lumber.
  • Number 3: When I began to visit my first palm gardens, I couldn't understand why everyone planted everything so close together. Didn't they have any idea how big these things eventually get. Well, twenty years later while looking at my garden, I understood why. It's impossible not to. Enough said.
  • Number 2: Bugs are sneaky. You will probably see the results of the bugs before you see the bugs themselves. They hide in the nooks and crannies, and under the leaves. Some only come out at night. They are tough, and reproduce like crazy. But you do have an advantage. You are smarter (at least most of you). Use your advantage.
  • Number 1: Push the zone limit. It's OK, and many times what we have been told can't grow, ends up growing. That's part of the fun. Finding a trick, or that special spot, and then you have a palm that nobody else has for a thousand miles. But, don't blindly fall into zone denial. Just because you think you can do what nobody else can, doesn't mean it's going to happen. There is no substitute for doing your homework. Talk to other growers, visit gardens, pay attention. The more knowledge you acquire, the better grower you will be.
  • Addendum: No discussion of growing tips would be complete without a mention of soil. Soil is critical, and volumes have been written about it. There is a science devoted purely to soil. It is complex, yet extremely important. It is of paramount importance when dealing with potted plants. Don't skimp on your potting soil. And don't assume a more expensive mix will necessarily be better. Every grower has their favorite mix, and there is nothing to get a group of growers talking like bringing up the topic of their favorite mix.

So take the time to learn a little, and then use that knowledge to grow a better palm.

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