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For The Garden

Rehabilitating Queen Palms

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: August, 2012, Page 102



DESERT GARDENING 101

Although frequently planted in low-desert landscapes, tropical queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum, syn. Arecastrum romanzoffianum) are not well-adapted to our region’s alkaline soil, extreme aridity, summer heat, drying winds and occasional freezing temperatures. They also are not the best choice to add to new landscapes, especially if you desire low-maintenance plants.

You may notice attractive queen palms at area resorts. Realize, however, that they have dedicated landscaping staffs that regularly monitor water and nutrient requirements or replace plants as needed. If you inherited struggling queen palms in an existing landscape and don’t want to swap them out, the following tips may help you reinvigorate their health and appearance.

WATER EFFECTIVELY
Apply water 3 to 5 feet out from the base of the mature palm, where “feeder” roots grow. Water applied at the trunk is wasted because there are no feeder roots to absorb it. Whether you use a soaker hose, a bubbler on the end of a hose, drip emitters or let a hose trickle slowly over time, your goal is to allow water to soak 2 to 3 feet deep to leach salts past the root zone.

As a guideline, water once every seven to 10 days in summer and once every three to four weeks in winter during the tree’s dormancy, depending on weather, the amount of precipitation and soil type. Clay soil retains moisture longer than sandy soil; so if you have clay soil, you may be able to extend the days between irrigations.

APPLY FERTILIZER
Old browning fronds will never “green up.” However, you can maintain the health and green quality of new fronds by applying palm fertilizer, which contains micronutrients that palms require. Feed every month during the warm-weather growing season, from April through September. Follow package instructions for amounts.

Weak fronds that appear “accordion pleated” signal a manganese deficiency, which is common in many palm species. Once a month during the warm season, apply a complete palm food that contains manganese, or you can use manganese fertilizer spikes.

The desert’s alkaline soils also interfere with the plant’s ability to absorb nitrogen and iron, and this contributes to yellowing fronds. By adding a 3-inch-thick layer of organic mulch on top of the soil, nutrients will be absorbed as the mulch decomposes. Soluble soil sulfur should also be used as an amendment to lower soil pH slightly and improve the absorption rate of nutrients, and reduce yellowing.

LIMIT PRUNING
Palms require as much green plant material as possible for photosynthesis. Do not remove entire fronds just because they have some yellow or brown tips. Instead, trim off the tips if you don’t like the look.
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