Palm Tree Care and Feeding

The towering sabal palm is Florida’s state tree, but did you know that palm trees aren’t actually trees at all? In fact, they are monocots (grass-like plants). You might think that palms are easy to grow, considering the abundance of them throughout Florida. Our blog post — “The Best Trees to Consider for Your Landscaping” — notes that you may know a small handful of palm species, but there are a vast number that can thrive as part of your landscape design.

While palm trees are usually hardy, they do require a certain amount of maintenance in order for them to achieve full growth and be healthy. So if you already have palm trees on your property or are considering planting one or more, keep reading to learn to recognize signs of poor nutrition in palms, how to fertilize them and everything else you need to know about caring for your palm!

Signs of Poor Palm Tree Nutrition to Look For

Palm fronds hold the most readily observable signs of distress due to poor nutrition. Left unaddressed, nutrient deficiencies can lead to defoliation and eventually death. Older foliage that turns yellow-to-orange indicates a magnesium deficiency. But don’t be deceived into thinking all is well if the new foliage is green. This growth will also soon change color, and new shoots will wither. According to landscape designer Darcy Larum, palms are especially prone to magnesium deficiencies. Larum also notes that yellow-to-orange spots on all of the palm’s foliage is evidence of potassium deficiency. 

Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency include the yellowing and dropping of leaves and poor growth. This is most likely to occur in soil that is low in organic content, although nitrogen loss can also be caused by erosion, runoff and leaching of nitrate. 

How to Fertilize Palm Trees

Fertilizing your palm correctly is a crucial part of ensuring successful growth. This is because sandy soil doesn’t hold on to nutrients as well — especially during periods of heavy rain — leading to the nutrient deficiencies mentioned earlier. The best way to make sure your palm tree has enough nutrients is to use a slow-releasing fertilizer that is specially formulated for palm trees. 

These slow-release fertilizers are available in granules, pellets and spikes that deliver small doses over time directly to the palm’s roots. Over-fertilizing your palm tree can be just as harmful as not fertilizing, so it’s important to follow label directions. Kurt Kmetz — founder and editor of Florida Landscaping Today — recommends fertilizing in spring, summer and fall.

“The best way to apply granular fertilizer for palm trees is to broadcast it,” writes Kmetz. “When fertilizing palm trees spread it evenly underneath the canopy (leaf spread) starting one foot away from the trunk and spreading it out to and around the leaf spread.

“Do not pile it up against the trunk itself where new roots can be damaged. Do the best you can if there is limited space around the palm tree, due to its location in the landscape. Make sure the palm fertilizer is watered in after application.”

Should You Prune Your Palm?

As the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) points out, some palm trees — such as the cabbage palm — are “self-cleaning,” and shed old fronds on their own. For those that aren’t, you may choose to prune them periodically. Just use a pole saw to remove any brown fronds, or hire a lawn care professional to do the job.

Florida newcomers may assume they need to proactively prune tall palm trees to prevent damage from a hurricane. However, this can do far more harm than good! Palm trees are naturally designed to be resilient to high winds (notice how they bend instead of break in two, as do most other trees). Palm trees should only be pruned to remove dead growth.

All About Sabal Palm Care

Our state tree is a great tree any way you look at it! The majestic sabal palm can reach heights of 50 to 70 feet tall. Resistant to insect pests and disease, it’s practically maintenance-free. As a native Florida tree also common to other areas of the southeastern United States as well as Cuba and the Bahamas, the sabal palm is extremely drought and salt tolerant, making it ideal for Florida’s East Coast. It grows best in Hardiness Zones 8 through 15 and is cold hardy, tolerating winter temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit — although this isn’t typically a concern here!

According to Executive Landscaping, established sabal palms usually don’t require fertilizing unless soil conditions are especially poor. If this is the case, apply a slow-release palm fertilizer two or four times per year. A deep-soak watering around the base of the palm once every two weeks during periods of drought is sufficient.

If you want to add a sabal palm to your yard but choose a young tree that you can plant yourself (as opposed to a mature tree that would require installation by a tree service professional using specialized equipment), plan on having patience! A sabal palm with 20 feet of trunk could be about 50 years old. As with an oak tree, consider planting a sabal palm as a long-term investment in the beauty and value of your property to be enjoyed by future generations.

For a newly planted young sabal palm, water about two to three times per week for the first six months, making sure that the water soaks the soil around the roots to a depth of 18 inches or so. To get your sabal palm off to the best possible start, mix two ounces of palm tree fertilizer per one inch of trunk diameter into the soil at planting time. Feed it one ounce more per three inches of trunk of slow-release palm tree fertilizer immediately after planting it so that the tree receives the nutrients it needs while it establishes itself. 

Thinking of Hiring a Landscaping Professional?

Whichever species — or variety of species — of palm tree you choose to lend a tropical feel to your slice of Central Florida paradise, our team at Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing is ready to help with a wide range of services, from landscape design to plant selection, installation and maintenance. We have experience planting trees of all types, and can also recommend the optimal location to plant in terms of soil, light, and aesthetic appeal. Call us today to learn how we can give you the lawn and garden of your dreams!