How to Care for Palms After the Storm

How to Care for Palms After the Storm

Figure 1: Palm damage after storm event. Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS.

Figure 1: Palm damage after storm event.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS.

A common question after a tropical storm or hurricane event is will my palm tree recover? Palms grow different from other trees, so there’s definitely a different way to care for them post-storm.

The growing point of a palm tree is the bud, located in the top of the tree. This is where the palm fronds emerge. If this bud area becomes damaged, no new leaves will develop and unfortunately the tree will die. If by chance the palm tree has multiple-stemmed trunks, the undamaged trunk(s) should survive. Often times palm trees are so tall that it is very difficult to visibly determine if the bud has been damaged. Time will tell.

It’s important to wait at least 6 months to see if palms develop new growth. Palms usually rebound slowly after a storm. It may take a couple of years before the palm tree produces a full canopy of fronds. If a damaged palm tree is determined to be in peril and current rainfall is not sufficient, it’s important to irrigate three times a week for at least six weeks to assist in recovery.

After the storm strikes, it may be beneficial to perform pruning of the canopy. Start by removing any hanging broken or dead fronds that could be hazardous to people or property. It’s a good idea to remove any fronds that are covering the bud, as well. This will allow new fronds to form. Leave any bent green fronts attached. These fronds still have vital nutrients that the tree is utilizing. Once the frond turns brown, then it is safe for removal.

Storm damage cleanup is extremely dangerous, even for professionals. During  cleanup after the storm, remember that safety comes first. Some general safety tips are essential, as in, do not work alone. It’s important to keep a well-stocked first aid kit too. Avoid overexertion at all costs. This is the most common cause leading to injury. Be sure to survey the area, identify the hazards and have a plan for the cleanup. Above all, create a safe area to work within.

Palm tree recovery from storms is a slow process, so please be patient and safe. Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the following the UF/IFAS publications:

“Assessing Damage and Restoring Trees After a Hurricane” by Edward F. Gilman, Mary L. Duryea, Eliana Kampf, Traci Jo Partin, Astrid Delgado & Carol J. Lehtola:

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Did the Freeze Kill My Palms?

Did the Freeze Kill My Palms?

The freezing rain last week across the panhandle left icicles hanging from street signs, rooftops, trees, shrubs and palms. Many people now wonder if their palms will survive the assault of the hard freeze. The chance of survival depends on the following factors:

  • the most important consideration is the species of palm; a few of the most cold tolerant that are more readily available are pindo palm, mule palm, European fan palm, Chinese fan palm, needle palm, cabbage palm, and dwarf palmetto
  • whether the palm is in an area protected by other vegetation or buildings
  • proper fertilization with 8-2-12-4 has been followed
  • palms have been properly pruned, i.e. only dead fronds have been removed from the crown (overtrimming by removing green fronds is a stress to the palm)
Icy pindo palm. Photo by Mary Derrick UF IFAS.

Icy pindo palm. Photo by Mary Derrick UF IFAS.

The best approach is to leave the palm alone until all danger of frost or freeze is past. Avoid the temptation to remove any of the dead fronds; they will help insulate and protect the meristem, or bud, that will produce new shoots.

If the palm is not too tall, in the spring check to see if the spear leaf (the newest frond that usually stands straight up and has not opened) can be easily pulled out. If the spear leaf does not pull out, the likelihood that the palm has survived is good. Don’t despair if the spear leaf does pull out as the meristem below it may still survive. The best strategy in that event is to remove the dead spear leaf and treat the bud area below the spear leaf with a copper fungicide to reduce the chance of infection of the bud. Be sure to use a copper fungicide and not a copper fertilizer, like copper sulfate.

Once spring comes and you find that the palms have survived, don’t be alarmed if the first new frond is deformed or has dead tips. The fronds that follow will most likely be normal. The palm will be building its depleted food reserves with new leaves so do not remove any fronds that have any green on them whatsoever. All green tissue is making food for the palm and helping it to recover from the cold stress. Only remove fronds that have completely died and have no green tissue.

When temperatures warm and the palms are actively growing, apply a palm fertilizer with the formulation of 8-2-12-4 with micronutrients.

For more information please see the following University of Florida IFAS publications:

Palms for North Florida

Cold Damage on Palms

Fertilization of Field-grown and Landscape Palms in Florida

Pruning Palms