Palm trees are great for adding a tropical feel to your landscape.  For the most part, they are easy to care for, however there are a number of environmental and nutritional factors that can affect palm tree growth.  Extended drought conditions can cause palm trunk to contract or shrivel and extended periods of moisture can cause trunks to swell and crack.

A palm tree with an irregularly shaped trunk due to water stress.

A palm tree with an irregularly shaped trunk due to water stress. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Palm trees are monocots and do not have lateral meristems or vascular cambium.  In dicot and coniferous trees these structures produce additional xylem (water transport structures) internally and phloem (nutrient transport structures) and bark externally.  This means that once the apical meristem (frond producing portion of the palm) dies, the tree dies.  It also means that wounds to the trunks of palms are visible for life instead of healing over like in dicots.  If you were to cut the top out of a red maple, a number of it’s branches would fight to take over as the main trunk.  If you were to cut the top out of a palm tree , you would be left with a dead snag for a tree.  Palms certainly have unique structures and growing habits.  Visit this publication from Dr. Timothy Broschat for more information on palm tree anatomy and morphology.

A palm tree with a wound near the base of its trunk.

A palm tree with a wound near the base of its trunk. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Palm trees display nutritional disorders differently from other trees.  Their nutritional balance gets disrupted if too much nitrogen is applied.  This often happens when high nitrogen turfgrass fertilizers are applied near palm plantings.  The recommended palm fertilizer is 8-2-12 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) plus 4 magnesium all available in 100% slow release form.  A soil test is recommended to determine if other micronutrients are needed in addition to magnesium.

Potassium-deficient older leaf of Dictyosperma album (hurricane palm) showing translucent yellow-orange spotting.

Potassium-deficient older leaf of Dictyosperma album (hurricane palm) showing translucent yellow-orange spotting. Photo Credit: Timothy K. Broschat, University of Florida/IFAS

Potassium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies observed in palm trees.  For more detailed information on palm tree nutrient deficiencies please visit the publication: Nutrient Deficiencies of Landscape and Field-Grown Palms in Florida.

This article provides just a glimpse of some of the common issues that affect palms.  For more information on what could be going on with your palm trees and general palm tree care please visit Ask IFAS: Palm Care.

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