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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cold Hardy Palms for Pinellas County
Healthy palms are such beautiful stately plants that can command focal points in our landscapes. However, the freezing cold weather this past winter took a real toll on palms here in Pinellas County.  We love the tropical look, but forget that we don’t really live in the tropics.  Foxtail, Adonidia (Christmas palm), Majesty, Areca, Royal, and Robelinii (Pigmy date palm) are palms commonly available for sale in our area and are also the palms that are now dead or badly damaged, especially in north Pinellas County or areas that are not close to the Gulf or Tampa Bay.  I have three pigmy date palms with completely brown canopy of fronds.  The same thing happened last year so I may dig them up and replace them with a more cold hardy variety. 

There are a number of palms that can withstand temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and below and still thrive in our hot humid summers.  I believe we really need to focus on planting more of these hardy palms and less of the palms that will be badly damaged by freezing temperatures.  I have listed some of the hardy palms that I like best. 
1.       European or Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) - a good small palm that forms clumps of multiple trunks and is about 15 feet tall at maturity.  It can survive temperatures down to 10 ̊ F.
2.      Pindo or Jelly Palm (Butia capitata) - a beautiful palm with a rounded canopy of blue-grey, graceful fronds which curve in toward the trunk. The heavy, stocky trunks are covered with persistent leaf bases.   This palm grows slowly to 15 - 25 feet tall and can survive temperatures down to 10 ̊ F.
3.      Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) - is a slow-growing, shrubby palm that will eventually grow into a clump that is eight feet tall and eight feet wide. Its common name comes from the sharp, black needles found along its trunk.  It is native to the southeast and can survive temperatures to a few degrees below zero.
4.      Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto) – is our state tree that grows to about 40 feet tall at maturity, has a round crown of deeply cut, curved, fronds and can survive temperatures down to 10 ̊ F. The fruit of this palm are eaten by a number of wildlife species.
5.      Chinese Fan Palm (Livistonia chinensis)grows to 30 feet tall with large, six-foot-long leaves with drooping tips. The divided leaves have long, tapering, ribbon-like segments which hang gracefully beneath the leaves, creating a fountain-like effect.  This palm can survive temperatures down to 12 ̊ F. 

Palms also need to be cared for properly to keep them healthy.  This includes providing the proper fertilizer and pruning them only when absolutely necessary.  For fertilizer, Florida’s Finest Palm and Ornamental fertilizer formula (8-2-12-4) is the formula researched by the University of Florida and the absolute best fertilizer to use.  If palms are near your lawn, research has shown that the lawn can be maintained very well with this same fertilizer. 

I see so many palms pruned with only 2 or 3 fronds left standing nearly straight up.  This is sometimes called the “Hurricane cut”.  You really should never prune off any fronds that are above the horizontal plane.  And, ideally, only the brown dead fronds should be removed.  The newly emerging fronds will take nutrients from dying fronds – especially if there are nutrient deficiencies in the soil.  So, in reality, pruning healthy green fronds off as a convenience really starves the palm.  Another consideration before hurricane season is that removing so many of the mature fronds leaves only weaker new fronds that have not hardened off and are more likely to break in high winds.  

You can find University of Florida/IFAS Extension publications on palm care on the Internet at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_palm_care .  And for detailed information from UF/IFAS on pruning palms, go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg087. To view good before and after pictures showing the fate of hurricane pruned palms after hurricane Wilma in Collier County, visit: http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/CommHort/CommHortPubs/Hurricane%20Cuts%20Compromise%20Palm%20Tree . 

Happy Gardening,
2:25 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Low Maintenance Florida-friendly Landscapes
Are you rethinking portions of your landscapes after the disastrous cold weather this past winter?  A healthy, attractive, low maintenance, Florida-friendly landscape is a goal that is within your reach.  This goal can be achieved without excessive plant growth and with minimal pest control.   By choosing plants carefully and caring for them properly, you can use less effort and energy and still have a landscape that makes you proud. 

Here are some of the elements of this type of landscape:
§  Planning is the most important aspect.  You need to know the conditions such as sun and shade, wet or dry, well drained or not, and for plants near the house you need to make note of windows and how far they are from the ground. 
§  Choose plants suitable for your site by their sun or shade requirements, water needs and mature size.  You can find a Florida-friendly plant database at: http://www.floridayards.org/
§  Consider ground covers for some of the lawn areas that do not get much foot traffic or are in the shade.
§  Buy only excellent quality plants, then plant and establish them properly.  Refer to the UF/IFAS Extension publication “Establishing Shrubs in Florida Landscapes” on the Internet at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep391
§  Don’t over plant – it is always a temptation to fill in all of the open space, but this can lead to overcrowding as the plants grow to maturity.
§  Use 2 -3 inches of mulch to help maintain moisture in the soil and deter weeds.  Remember to keep mulch several inches away from the base of each plant.
§  Use water and fertilizer responsibly.  Put plants with similar water requirements in the same irrigation zone. 

How does all of this lead to lower maintenance?
§  If you plant the right plant for the conditions, it will most likely thrive. 
§  Putting sweet viburnum (a small tree really) as a shrub under windows relegates you to pruning every week to keep it in bounds.  A better choice is dwarf Yaupon holly or dwarf Walter’s viburnum.  They each only grow to a mature size of 3 – 4 feet.  You will only need to prune to shape these plants occasionally. 
§  Same goes for trees.  If you have a small space, choose a small tree.  A live oak looks small when it is first planted, but it will grow to be 75 feet tall and 100 feet wide and the roots can cause heaving of sidewalks and driveways.
§  Groundcovers can eliminate mowing every week during the summer and most will need less water, fertilizer and pesticides.
§  If you start out with excellent plants, they will be healthier and need less structural pruning.  They can possibly be more disease resistant too.
§  When you over plant an area and it grows to be crowded there is less air flow which can lead to disease problems.  It can also encourage pest problems and make pests harder to detect.
§  A plant's growth rate can be affected by the amount of water and/or fertilizer it receives. Excessive watering coupled with high fertilization rates results in a rapid flush of growth that contributes to insect and disease problems.  So, water appropriately and spoon feed the fertilizer. 

You may find that in the long run the winter’s cold helped you create more sustainable landscapes.
Happy Gardening,

5:43 pm edt          Comments

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Pampered Gardeners LLC * Oldsmar, FL * USA *  Phone: 727 483-3783 * pam@pamperedgardeners.com