Interest in cultivating date palms in North Florida is on the rise. Highly regarded by gardening enthusiasts, the date palm is grown as an ornamental and for its delicious fruits with the added bonus of medicinal properties.
Growing date palm in North Florida poses challenges due to the region’s moist and cooler climate with temperatures occasionally dipping below freezing. Date palms, which typically thrive in hot, arid conditions, include two notable species: True date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) renowned for its tasty fruit and the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), known for its substantial size and edible but less flavorful fruits. There is also (Phoenix sylvestris), known as the Sylvester date palm or wild date palm.
Characterized by a slow growth rate, date palms can, in certain environments, grow to towering heights of up to 80 feet. Their pinnately compound leaves, ranging from blue-green to gray-green, can stretch up to 20 feet in length, featuring leaflets of 1 to 2 feet that form a distinctive “V” shape along the rachis. Date palms possess ornamental appeal, thanks to its textured trunk, striking blue-green foliage, and vibrant orange inflorescences. However, date palms do generate some concern because of the litter created by its fallen fruits. Its wide crown offers limited shade due to its relatively sparse canopy.
To flourish, date palms require well-drained, neutral to acidic soil and an abundance of direct sunlight. A plus is their ability to thrive in confined root spaces. North Florida’s sporadic frost and cold spells necessitate protective measures for date palms during the colder months, such as covering them with frost cloth or employing mulch around the base to insulate the roots. Some palm enthusiast grows them in sheltered location but occasional freeze damage to foliage can be expected.
Gardeners in North Florida seeking a cold-hardy alternative might try the pindo palm (Butia odorata), which is an excellent choice. Although it isn’t a true date palm, its feathery fronds provide a tropical ambiance to the landscape. Other palm species adaptable to North Florida’s wintry conditions include windmill palms, needle palms, and sabal palms. These options vary in their ultimate height and visual characteristics.
While it’s possible to grow date palms in North Florida, it’s important to understand that success may not be guaranteed, and you may need to provide extra care and protection to help your trees thrive in the region’s climate.
For more information contact your local extension office or visit:
Palms in North Florida suffered serious damage as a result of freezing weather in December 2022. As spring approaches, we will be looking to see if the palms will recover. Learn what to do now and what to expect from your palms with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
The hottest days of the summer are here and you might be thinking, “There is no way something could survive this heat!”. You might also be wondering “What can I do in my landscape?” Well, you are correct – it is hot and there are not many plants that thrive in this type of weather, but the good news is we are at the end of the summer season and there are things we can begin to do to get ready for fall. It’s not too late to get the last of the summer vegetables going such as lima beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers. Many cool season crops can also be planted by seed now and tomatoes will thrive going into the fall season. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida
There are some heat-tolerant annuals like vinca, gaillardia, bulbine, and coleus that can be planted now in the landscape. See Annuals. Any time of the year, even late summer, bulbs like Aztec Lily, Butterfly Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily can be planted. See Bulbs for Florida. Not many herbs do well in our Florida sun this time of year, but Bay Laurel, Ginger, Mexican Tarragon, and Rosemary can be planted as transplants now but not as seeds just yet. See Herbs.
August and late summer is the time of year that you may be seeing damage in your lawns. This could be caused by insects, disease, or irrigation failure. It is important to determine the cause, so the proper remedy is used. Some ways to avoid lawn damage are checking your mower blades regularly and making sure they are sharp. Also only cut the top one third of the blade of grass to not stress it in the heat of the day. It is good practice to test your irrigation clock and have a rain sensor. Some municipalities in north Florida prohibit the application of fertilizer during the summer rainy season from June to September so check with your local extension office. See Insect Management in Your Florida Lawn
You can become more self-sufficient by growing your own healthy food in your backyard. Photo by Molly Jameson.
There are some other maintenance measures you can take in August to help your landscape and prepare for the fall season. If older palm fronds are yellowing, this could indicate a deficiency in magnesium or potassium. Talk to your local agent or visit your local store for an appropriate palm fertilizer. See Palm Nutrition and Fertilization. Are you holding on to those beautiful fall mums or decorative Christmas poinsettias? Now is the time to pinch them back to allow time for buds to set for winter blooms. Finally, it is a good time to deadhead (remove old blooms) and fertilize flowering annuals and perennials. We’ve had substantial rain this summer, so keep in mind that the soil could be lacking nutrients. A soil test can give you data that indicates what you need for the up-and-coming growing season.
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. 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. 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. Photo Credit: Timothy K. Broschat, University of Florida/IFAS
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.
Saw palmettos provide crucial ecosystem services for the forests of Florida. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a classic symbol of Florida. Found in upland habitats and just to the edge of wetlands, their brilliant green fronds stand out in the mostly brown pine flatwoods and oak hammocks to which they are endemic. The shrublike saw palmetto thrives in sandy soils, is highly salt tolerant, and is tough as nails. The plant’s root is one of the sturdiest in nature. Imagine the trunk of a palm tree laid horizontally and just underground—this is the plant’s base. This root system lends stability and tolerance to nearly every tough Florida growing condition, including drought, floods, and fire. Saw palmettos are extremely slow growing, and there are stands in south Florida in which botanists have found individual plants and clonal colonies several thousand years old. Saw palmettos are one of the few members of the palm family that thrive in the panhandle. While many palm trees are planted here, most are native to more southern climates with warmer winters and karst geology—a higher pH soil composed of limestone and often prone to springs and sinkholes.
The tough, serrated edges of the saw palmetto gave it its name. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The saw palmetto’s name comes from the serrated, saw-like edges of the stem. These are quite tough and can cut your skin and clothing if not careful. A very similar palmetto, the bluestem, grows in wetter soils. It can be differentiated from the saw palmetto because its stems are smooth—no serrated edges—and the whole plant has a bluish cast to it.
The saw palmetto has long been prized by humans for its practical uses. The “ethnobotanical” history of this plant has ties to Native American tribes who used the fronds for roofing and building material, brooms, fishing nets, and fans. The leaves were utilized for rope, and multiple plant parts for food and medicine. The dark blue/black fruit of the saw palmetto was considered an aphrodisiac and has been used to treat prostate problems for centuries. According to a UF publication on the saw palmetto, “Modern day development of a purified extract from the berries greatly improves symptoms of enlarged prostate. Florida is the biggest source and producer of saw palmetto products. With about 2,000 tons harvested from South Florida and exported to Europe each year, the fruit crop estimate is $50 million a year in the state.”
Saw palmetto berries are a staple of Florida wildlife diets. Photo credit: UF School of Forest Resources & Conservation
Besides the human uses, saw palmetto serves as a crucial component in the diet of native wildlife. Florida black bears, panthers, 20 other species of mammals, over 100 types of birds, 25 amphibians, over 60 reptiles, and countless insects depend on saw palmetto berries as part of their diet. The wild harvest of saw palmettos is regulated by the state to prevent overharvesting and negative impacts to the wildlife food supply.
Saw palmettos also make a great home landscape plant, as they can grow in a wide variety of conditions, provide wildlife food and habitat, and add visual interest. There are few plants more “low-maintenance” than an established saw palmetto. A mature one is so difficult to remove, that it’s best to leave it where it is anyway!
There is an old saying that rings true in pretty much any situation – “You get what you pay for.” Gardening tools, especially pruners, are no exception. We’ve all been there, fumbling around with a pair of rusty, dull, cheap garden pruners that just barely get the job done. Unfortunately, they can also do considerable harm to the plants you’re trying to improve, as anything short of a nice, sharp, clean cut introduces the potential for insect/disease infestation and will produce a wound that takes much longer to heal, if it ever heals properly at all. You wouldn’t want your doctor to start hacking away at you with a dirty, second-rate scalpel. Don’t subject your plants to the same treatment! While I’m not advocating blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting your garden tool shed with top of the line everything, investing in a pair of quality bypass hand pruners will pay dividends many years into the future and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable!
The classic Felco #4 bypass hand pruners. Photo courtesy of Walton County Master Gardener Andrea Schnapp.
Found in three designs, from old-fashioned anvil pruners that smush and smash their way to a cut, to ratcheting pruners that make short work of larger branches but tend to be cumbersome and complicated, to bypass pruners that produce clean cuts in a scissor-like manner, hand pruners accomplish many tasks in the landscape. From cutting small limbs, to harvesting vegetables, to deadheading annual flowers and everything in between, there isn’t a more frequently used, versatile tool. Therefore, it makes sense to buy a quality pair that will perform excellently, still be snipping long after your pruning days are over (if you take care of them), and that are comfortable enough you will enjoy using them. When shopping for your pair of “forever” pruners, there are a few things to look for.
Only use bypass style pruners. Your plants will appreciate it.
Look for heavy duty pruners with frames made from quality aluminum or stainless steel; they won’t rust and won’t easily bend or break.
Buy pruners with replaceable parts. This is especially key because springs eventually rust and gum up and blades break and will eventually lose their ability to hold an edge over time (though you can and should resharpen them).
There are two commonly found brands that fit all three above criteria, albeit at different price points. For a high quality “budget” blade, various models from Corona do an excellent job for the money ($20-30) and won’t hurt your feelings too badly if you happen to lose a pair. Should you decide to splurge a little, Felco makes sharp, indestructible pruners, in multiple models around $50 to fit all size hands. Felco has become the horticulture industry standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a nursery owner or landscaper that didn’t own a pair (or two).
Corona ComfortGel bypass hand pruner. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Regardless of which brand you buy (and there are many more than the two above listed) a pair of well-made pruners, if taken care of, should last a lifetime and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable for you and your plants! If you have any questions about gardening tools or equipment or any other horticulture or agronomic topic, feel free to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. Happy Gardening!