Tag Archives: palms

Can You Guess What This Is?


Any idea what this could be? Looks a bit like mohair, doesn’t it?

Guess 2 - mlm c

Here’s a look zoomed out a bit. Still can’t guess?
Guess 1 - mlm c

How about now? This is zoomed out a lot more.

Guess 3 - mlm c

Or now? Give up?  (Zoomed all the way out.) The answer is in the next photo down below.

Inside Broken Palm - mlm c

Here you are. It’s a look down into a broken Cabbage Palm. This is what’s left of a dead, diseased Cabbage Palm in our yard. There is only fibrous material inside — no wood. This is one of several reasons palms are classified as grasses and not as trees. This one was so badly damaged, that the tiny bundles that make up the vascular system are dried out and separated. They look like straw. The fact that it died less than a year after installation is a good reason not to buy palms from any of those guys driving around new neighborhoods selling them from the back of a pick-up truck.

Broken Palm 1 - mlm c

Next time I’ll have a happier story to share. Meanwhile, back to gardening. I have so much to do. My planting beds need new pine straw mulch, and I have lots of plants to put into the ground. Oh, the agony of it all (not). You know I’m happiest when I’m outside diggin’ in the dirt.



Palms: When to Prune? When Not to Prune?

Palm with Brown Leaf Ready to Be Removed

Palm with Brown Leaf Ready to Be Removed

Above is a photo of one of my Queen Palms with a leaf that has turned completely brown, and is ready to be removed. The key word here is “completely”.

The photo below shows the top of the same Queen Palm with a new leaf spear which is just beginning to unfurl:

Queen - New Leaf

Generally speaking, remove brown leaves, but not yellow leaves — and ONLY with a clean blade. If you prune your own palms, as we do — I mean as my husband does — be sure to sterilize the saw blade before taking it from one palm to another. Why? Because, if one of your palms is diseased, the saw blade will take the disease to all your other palms.

What if Your Landscaper or Yard Maintenance Man Refuses?

There are a lot of guys all over this country making a living with a pick-up truck and a lawn mower. That does not mean they know much about plants. Your lawn maintenance man may tell you he doesn’t have time to do this, or that it’s not necessary to clean the blade. If that happens, please DO NOT let him prune your palms. Either find someone else or do it yourself. It takes only a few minutes.

How to Clean the Blade?

  • Rub with a solution of 70% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and 30% water, OR
  • Soak in a 50-50 mixture of chlorine bleach and clean water for 15 minutes.  The problem with this is the blade may to rust.

Pruning of palms should be done very carefully, and only when the leaves are completely brown. If you’ve ever grown daffodils or tulips, you will remember that after blooming has finished, the green leaves are not to be cut until they have completely turned brown, because the bulb needs to take nutrients from those leaves. As the nutrients are absorbed by the bulb, they turn yellow, then brown. The same is true with palms. If the yellow leaves are removed before turning brown, the palm will begin drawing nutrients from the next tier of leaves, causing them to turn yellow. If yellow leaves are left until they have turned brown, the leaves above will remain green. Eventually, though the palm will need to draw nutrients again, and the process will repeat itself.

Some palms, such as Sylvesters, get several new leaves at once, creating a whole new tier of leaves. Similarly, they entire lowest tier usually begins yellowing at the same time. Others, such as Queens, get only one, occasionally two, new leaves at a time. When the leaves of a Queen Palm have reached the end of their lives, they turn yellow, then brown, at about the same rate as the new leaves emerge.

Your first instinct may be to remove those yellow leaves. Please don’t follow that instinct. The palm is busy drawing nutrients from that tier of yellow leaves. If they are removed, the palm will begin drawing from the next tier, and those leaves will begin turning yellow. Be sure to allow the yellow leaves to remain untouched until they have turned completely brown. Then, and only then, should they be removed. According to the local master gardeners, brown is a color, too. They say we should leave them alone, and that, when they are ready to fall off, they will.

What if Half the Leaves Are Turning Yellow?

Around our neighborhood, you will see some palms, especially Sylvesters, whose lower tier of leaves has turned yellow. This is okay. On the other hand, if you have a Sylvester with half or more of its leaves turning yellow, this is most likely a mineral deficiency.

How Many Tiers of Leaves Should Be Removed?

Sylvester 9 - 3 - mlm c

If you can picture the face of a clock (not a digital clock), draw an imaginary horizontal line from 9:00 to 3:00. The leaves of your palm should cover the area above that line. It’s okay if they hang below that line, but it is not good if they don’t cover the area above the line, as in the photo below.

Sylvester - Severely Pruned 9 - 3 - mlm c


This Sylvester appears to have been given a Mohawk haircut. The poor palm is probably embarrassed.






What About Hurricane Cuts?

Shouldn’t we do that in preparation for severe weather?

Palms Folding in Wind

The Short Answer:  No. Don’t do it – EVER.

The Long Answer:   In high winds, the leaves of palms will fold upward, protecting the newest leaf buds, as shown in this photo. I paused my TV and snapped a shot of the screen with my phone. This is a perfect example of how the leaves fold upward.  Most of these palms have folded up — the others are working on it.

Hurricane-strength winds and even some straight-line winds will will rip off the bottom tier of leaves, which is the outer layer of leaves when they have folded up as shown above. If all but the top few leaves have already been removed by severe pruning, the winds will remove the remaining leaves. If the green leaf-bud, left unprotected at the center is torn off, the palm will die. It may take a while, but it will happen.

Newly Installed Cabbage & Washingtonian Palms:

Newly Installed Cabbage - mlm c

In areas of new construction, you can see newly installed Cabbage (sabal) Palms and Washingtonians. Most are delivered with their leaves completely removed, and only a few stalks, with the new leaf-bud in the center, sticking up at the top, as shown in this photo of a Cabbage palm. I’m not sure why they do this, except that it must make them easier to handle.


Yard Man's Hurricane Cut - mlm c

These Cabbage palms were installed about 18 months ago. The one inside the circle is growing out from the severe cut it had when delivered. The hurricane cut that is done by yard maintenance crews would take your palm back to this stage. Any high winds would then remove the lower tier of leaves, leaving only a very few, if any, at the top.

If left un-pruned prior to a storm, your palms are far more likely to lose only those leaves that are ready or near-ready to fall off anyway. The younger, stronger leaves will fold upward as in the weather photo above and protect the newest leaves.



Lawn Maintenance Scam in Florida Communities

Palms Against Sunset - mlm

We believe we live in paradise, but we know residents of retirement communities are frequent targets of scam artists. While we are all perceived as easy targets, our eldest residents are seen as the easiest. The Villages, FL, is no different and, with a population of over 100,000, there are lots of targets for those guys. I recently learned of a new scam – at least, it is new to me. It has to do with lawn maintenance workers and palms. As palms age, they are telling people that their palms are not planted deeply enough, and offering to replant them — for a fee, of course.


My cousin lives a few miles north of me, in one of the older neighborhoods. After reading this blog post, she told me there are also guys going door-to-door telling folks their shrubbery needs replacing. I suspect that, in reality, all it needs is a little TLC.

Missing Boots

Sylvester - lost boots - mlm

This palm lives on Odell Circle.

There are some types of palms that keep their boots* but, with age, may lose the lowest two or three rows of boots as shown in this photo. They will eventually will sprout aerial roots near the bottom of the trunk. Sylvester palms, and date palms (in the same family) do this. There may be others, but I have yet to learn of any.



Aerial Roots 2 - mlm

This palm also lives on Odell Circle, about a block from the one in the previous photo.

Aerial Roots

Aerial roots on palms, as shown in this photo, are nothing to be concerned about. They are simply a sign of an aging palm. Some people don’t like the appearance of these aerial roots, but it’s just what some palms do. If you really don’t like it, buy a different palm, or let wild Boston Fern cover the trunk of your palm.


The Scam

The scam is that these guys will knock on your door, and say something like, “Hey, your landscaper didn’t plant your palm deep enough, and it could die. Let me/us dig it up and plant it deeper for you”. They do this, take your money, and leave. Later, your palm suffers and dies from being planted too deeply. Remember, they have very, very shallow roots, and the subterranean roots need to remain near the surface. This scam targets anyone who has moved here from an area where there are no palms.

Of course, the oldest palms are in the northern-most parts of our community, but communities and villages north of Hwy. 466-A already have some aging palms. My photos were taken June 19, 2015, on Odell Circle, just west of Morse Blvd. Aerial roots can also be seen on the huge Date Palms planted around the square at Lake Sumter Landing.

A Much Older Florida Scam:

Another, much older scam around here:  rocks as mulch. This scam is targeted at people who move here from areas outside the Deep South, but that’s another story for another day. Before buying them, please talk to any Florida master gardener.


*What are Boots?

Boots - mlm

This Washingtonian is one of a group of palms that are said to be “armed”, with sharp points.

After removal of old leaves from a palm, a stump, for lack of a better word, is left behind, clinging to the trunk of the palm. This called a boot. Here are some photos of boots. You will notice that one is “armed” with sharp points, and one is not.


Cabbage Palm - Boots - mlm

The Cabbage Palm is one of a group called “unarmed”, as it has no sharp, prickly points.

These two palms, the Washingtonian (above) and the Cabbage (right), are among the few that have skirts as well as boots. The oldest part of aging skirts will fall off or be removed by wind. The boots, too, will eventually fall of on their own, or be taken off in high winds, leaving behind a smoother, but striated trunk..

What Do You Mean, Palms Are Not Trees?

Cabbage Palm, a.k.a., cabbage palmetto, swamp cabbage, blue palmetto, Carolina palmetto, sabal palm, etc.

Cabbage Palm, a.k.a., cabbage palmetto, swamp cabbage, blue palmetto, Carolina palmetto, sabal palm, etc.

We frequently call them palm trees, but palms are actually related to grasses. Yep. That’s right. Grass. It all has to do with the way their circulatory systems work — with how they take up water. They do it the way grasses do it, not the way trees do it.  That means Florida’s state tree (the Cabbage Palm, i.e., Sabal palmetto) is not a tree at all.

Baby Cabbage Palm

Here’s a photo of a cabbage (sabal) palm (Florida’s state “tree”) when it first emerges from the ground. It’s just a very stiff fan-folded grass, about 6 inches tall. Occasionally, it will emerge as a single blade about 1/2 inch wide.


More Differences Between Palms and Trees:

Bark:   Trees have bark.  Palms do not.

Trees are self-healing. Palms are not:   For example, if a limb is cut from a tree, or if a tree trunk sustains a wound, it can heal itself.  A palm cannot. A wound to the trunk of a palm can be fatal, but often leads to a very long, slow death, so you may not realize your palm is dying until it is almost dead.

Trees Have Deep Roots. Trees have many lateral roots, and most trees also have a tap root that goes very deep. Some trees’ root systems can be almost as large as the trees themselves. Not so with palms.

Palms Have Extremely Shallow Roots:

Roots Exposed

This photo is of the roots of a Queen Palm that I accidentally exposed while planting flowers. This palm is approximately ten years old. As you can see, the roots are quite small, with the larger ones being about the thickness your little finger, and the others being more hair-like.

The pine straw mulch in the foreground, gives you an idea just how shallow these roots were — they were barely underneath the soil. For this reason, it is best not to spray grass and weed killer near your palms. Although palm roots are so very shallow, they can extend laterally up to 50 feet.

Palm Against Stormy Sunset - mlm

A Queen Palm in our front yard on a stormy summer evening.

Some of my neighbors have expressed concerns about the palm roots in these very small yards extending underneath driveways, and creating problems. While digging that same day, I found one long root that had touched the concrete of our driveway. Instead of going deeper to get underneath, it had made a 90-degree turn to run along beside the driveway.  Of course, there can always be exceptions, but from the looks of it, I don’t believe these very small roots can break concrete.

If You Remove the Top of a Tree — It Will Grow Back.  Remove the Top of a Palm — It Will Die:   Most everyone knows if the top of a tree is removed by severe pruning or by inclement weather, the tree will gradually heal, and will branch out at the point of the cut. If the top of a palm is removed, thus removing the terminal leaf bud, the palm will die.

Trying to “Do Better”:

We bought 3 Queens, 4 Cabbage, one Sylvester, and 2 Dwarf Sugar palms within a few months of relocating here. I truly wish I had attended at least one of the free palm clinics offered by the local master gardeners’ program. With the information I have now, we would have bought different types of palms, and would have known sooner how to care for them properly.

I once heard Oprah say something along these lines:  “You did what you knew how to do. When you knew better, you did better.” I hope I quoted her correctly. So, after attending 3 palm clinics, and learning more each time, I am taking better care of our palms, and trying hard to train myself to call them “palms”, not “palm trees”. Wish me luck.

Sugar Palm 1 - mlm

This photo was taken 2 years ago when these Dwarf Sugar Palms were planted to hide the utility boxes at the rear corner of our yard. They have now filled in nicely & serve a dual purpose of providing privacy for us.

Stay tuned. Lots more information on palms is coming.

Why Don’t They Remove the Brown Leaves on Sabal/Cabbage Palms?

Washingtonians with Skirts - mlm

Why do they leave those ugly dead brown leaves hanging down on some of the palms? And why those palms but not other types? Several people have asked me this. Many who are unfamiliar with tropical plants consider this to be messy and unsightly.  I have to admit, when we first moved here, I thought so, too. Since then, I have learned a lot about palms, and changed my opinion.

Those brown leaves hanging down like a grass skirt are called just that, skirts. The skirts are left for a good reason, and only on palmates, not on pinnates. Palmates (also know as “fan palms”) are called this because, like the palm of a hand, the leaves have a solid the center with “fingers” that extend from the center or base of the leaf.

A pinnate, on the other hand, has leaves that look more like the fronds of a fern. The Queen palm, the Sugar palm, the Mule, and the Sylvester, are perfect examples of pinnates. Below is an photo of a Queen palm taken on a very breezy day:

Queen Palm - mlm


Below are the leaves of a Washingtonian, an example of a palmate. The Cabbage palm, often called the sabal palm (probably because part of its latin name is “sabal”) is another palmate native to this part of central Florida, and many other parts of the U.S.

Palmate Palm Leaf - mlm 2

This Washingtonian is an example of a palmate’s large fan-like leaves.

The spent, fan-shaped leaves of the palmates hang down in layers over each other producing a perfect habitat for certain birds who make their nests inside. These birds eat mosquitoes. Please do not remove them from your palms unless, of course, your palm is so young and small that the skirts drag the ground, causing problems with mowing.

If you are having a problem mowing under the leaves of your palm, it is not properly mulched. This is because palms and trees* should be mulched out to the drip line. The drip line is the tip of the longest leaves or branches where water drips off onto the ground. Proper mulch for a palm is either pine needles or bark chips. Rocks should be kept a minimum of 3 feet away from the trunk of any palm, due to the shallow roots that are only 1 to 3 inches below the soil, and extend laterally about 50 feet. I will discuss this more in a blog post about the best mulches for use in the deep South with our shallow-rooted plants.

I know a lot of so-called landscapers around here install palms with those little concrete borders around the base of the plant. Almost all of them, especially the ones that encircle a single palm, are far too small, and too close to the plant.

Rocks & Soil Sloped Downward - mlm

The circle around this Sylvester was too small the day it was installed. That’s only one of three things wrong with this picture. Can you see the other two?


* That’s right, a palm is not a tree. Thought you had me there, didn’t you? Palms are classified as grasses, but that’s another topic for another blog post. Oh, yes, about the things wrong with that picture:  that’s for another post as well.







When Should Palms Be Fertilized?

Lynne W. asked, “When should we fertilize our palms?

It has taken quite some time to get this blog up and running, and it has been quite a while since Lynne asked this question, so I gave her an immediate verbal reply. It is a great question for those new to the area, so it is the topic of my first blog post. I have learned more in recent months, so I will elaborate a bit.

Date Palm - mlm c@

In a palm clinic I learned that palms should be fertilized 3 times per year between March 15 and September 15. That gives us 7 months over which to distribute 3 fertilizations. Be sure to use 8-2-12. Even better is 8-2-12 +4. These numbers can be thought of by their chemical symbols “NPK”: (Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Potassium (K). The +4 is a combination of the trace minerals that palms also need. I tried Ace Hardware in Wildwood, but they had only 4-1-6. Not wanting to drive up to Lowe’s or Home Depot, we bought the 4-1-6 (exactly half of the strength of 8-2-12) and used twice as much.

Do not use fertilizer stakes for palms. Do not use Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) on your palms, as this can create a fatal potassium deficiency.

It is recommended that we use 1½ lbs. per 100 sq. ft. of canopy. The canopy is the land beneath the leaves of a palm, or any tree. The outer edge of the canopy is often called the “drip line” because it is within that area that water will drip off the branches of any tree. All trees and shrubs should also be mulched out to the drip line with a good organic mulch that will gradually decompose and nourish the soil. This is especially important due to the very poor soil in this area, and the very shallow roots of plants throughout the southeastern United States, particularly, palms, azaleas, and all tropical plants. Keep mulch to no more than 6 inches deep around the trunk of any tree.

Important: It IS okay to use palm fertilizer on turf grass. It IS NOT okay to use fertilizer intended for turf grass on your palms. Palms have shallow roots that extend laterally about 50 feet, with the most important roots being within the top 6 inches of soil. Most of our neighborhoods have small lots, so for many of us, our palm roots extend under our entire yards. It is more expensive to fertilize the yard with palm food, but in the long run, it may not be, if a mature palm has to be replaced.

Post your questions as a comment, or send questions to inthegarden.maria@gmail.com.