If you are searching for a tropical plant specimen that will lend that trade-wind ambiance to your landscape during temperate months and, yet, is still hardy enough to survive a frigid winter, look no further. The windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is just such a specimen. Not native to North America, but able to survive in USDA zones 8a-11, windmill palm trees are a hardy palm variety (to 10 degrees F./-12 C. or lower) that can withstand a layer of snow.
Also known as Chusan palm, windmill palms are named for the large rounded leaves held above a slender stalk, creating a “windmill” like form. Windmill palm trees are covered with dense, brown hairy fibers with the 1 1/2-foot (46 cm.) long, fan-shaped fronds extending outward from jagged petioles. Although the windmill palm can attain heights of 40 feet (12 m.), it is a slow growing variety and generally is seen between 10 and 20 feet (3 and 6 m.) by about 12 feet (3.5 m.) wide.
Windmill palm trees flower too. Male and female flowers are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) long, dense yellow and borne on separate plants held close to the trunk of the tree. The trunk of this palmate appears to be sheathed in burlap and is quite slender (8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm.) in diameter), tapering downward from the top.
How to Plant a Windmill Palm Tree
Windmill palm planting often occurs in confined areas. Utilized as an accent, specimen plant, patio or framing tree, and as a container plant, windmill palm trees may be grown either indoors or outside. Although it makes a fabulous focal point and is often used to set off a patio or like sitting area, this palm tree shines when planted in groupings of 6 to 10 feet apart.
Growing windmill palms does not require any specific soil type. Windmill palms grow best in shade or partial shade; but as it is a fairly tolerant species, they may also do well situated in a sun exposure in the northern range when supplied with ample irrigation.
When growing windmill palms, it is important to maintain a routine watering schedule. As said, these trees are not soil particular; however, they do prefer fertile, well-drained soils.
Windmill palm planting should occur with some consideration to sheltering, as winds will cause leaf shredding. Despite this caution, windmill palm planting does occur successfully close to ocean shores and is tolerant of salt and winds there.
As the windmill palm is a non-invasive specimen, propagation is most commonly achieved through seed dispersal.
Windmill Palm Problems
Windmill palm problems are minimal. Generally pest-free in the Pacific Northwest, windmill palms may be attacked by scale and palm aphids in other climates.
Windmill palm problems via disease are also moderate; however, these trees may be susceptible to leaf spots and lethal yellowing disease.
Despite the name, sago palms are not actually palm trees. This means that, unlike most palms, sago palms can suffer if watered too much. That being said, they might need more water than your climate is going to give them. Keep reading to learn more about water requirements for sago palm trees and tips on how and when to water sago palms.
When to Water Sago Palms
How much water do sago palms need? During the growing season, they need moderate watering. If the weather is dry, the plants should be watered deeply every one to two weeks.
Sago palm watering should be done thoroughly. About 12 inches away from the trunk, build up a 2- to 4-inch high berm (a mound of dirt) in a circle surrounding the plant. This will trap water above the root ball, allowing it to drain straight down. Fill the space inside the berm with water and allow it to drain down. Repeat the process until the top 10 inches of soil are moist. Don’t water in between these deep waterings – allow the soil to dry out before doing it again.
Water requirements for sago palm trees that have just been transplanted are a little different. In order to get a sago palm established, keep its root ball consistently moist for the first 4 to 6 months of growth, then slow down and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Watering a Potted Sago Palm
Not everyone can grow a sago outside in the landscape so sago palm watering for those that are container grown is often performed. Potted plants dry out more quickly than plants in the garden. Watering a potted sago palm is no different.
If your potted plant is outdoors, water it more frequently, but still allow the soil to dry out in between.
If you bring your container indoors for the winter, you should slow down watering considerably. Once every 2 to 3 weeks ought to be enough.
fter Joseph Morales, an electrician from Chicago, moved to Emeryville this past winter, he found himself wondering: What’s with all the palm trees in the Bay Area? Like Joseph, they didn’t originate here. But they’re all over the place. Not that Joseph minds.
“They remind me of vacation,” he says, “having a good time with a cold drink and sitting under a palm tree.” Then again: “Northern California doesn’t really seem to be the ideal location for palm trees. I’m expecting hot weather and sun and beaches. And there’s just palm trees and mountains and cold water. So it just seemed weird.”
You can spot dozens of species of palms around here, but only one in the state is native. Washingtonia filifera, the California palm or desert fan palm, prefers the arid region hundreds of miles farther south — closer to Palm Springs — over the mist of the Bay Area.
Foreign palms were originally brought to California’s Spanish missions in the 1700s for religious services the Sunday before Easter, says Joe McBride, a professor emeritus of landscape architecture and environmental planning at UC Berkeley.
“They used the palm fronds for processionals on Palm Sunday once a year at their churches,” he says. “There was nothing like this growing in the vicinity of the missions.”
As more settlements were built over the following decades, more palm trees were planted. And palms gained more ground in the 19th century when they became trendy in Europe as a symbol of the tropical world. The well-to-do began keeping palms in rooms or greenhouses as status markers, McBride says.
“It was a fashionable thing for the rich and famous to have … and that idea sort of spread to hotels, where they had these indoor palm gardens that were basically lavishly furnished dining rooms with potted palm trees,” he says.
By the late 1800s, that same fascination had taken hold in Los Angeles. It became part of Southern California’s style — its image and its sales pitch.
Growing palms for dates eventually factored in, as noted in a 1950s Palm Springs tourism film. Some 4,000 acres near Palm Springs were growing dates at the time, the film noted.
Over the last century, palms have turned out to be highly practical street trees in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Martha Ketterer, a San Francisco landscape architect, has presided over the planting of hundreds of palms — and not just because she’s fond of them.
“Palm trees are very-sexy looking creatures,” Ketterer says, but also, when it comes to streetscaping, they solve a lot of logistical challenges compared to woody trees. For example, urban survivability: Palms can often cope in salty places, like right next to the bay, or amid gusty wind, like the kind that “whips down Market Street,” she says.
Palms also have small roots that make them less likely to lift up nearby sidewalks and much easier to transplant successfully. Ketterer says installing a nice oak tree (of a size requiring a crane) might cost taxpayers around $50,000, so public officials may be reluctant to gamble on the oak’s survival when palms are a safer, more affordable bet.
You can also plant a palm right between a brick building and a power line and know that it will grow pretty much straight up, with no growing branches to snag on masonry or Muni wires.
Granted, palms have their detractors. In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, some decried the planting of more palms in the city as a tacky wannabe-SoCal look: “It was going to be ‘the Los Angeles-ation of San Francisco,’ ” Ketterer says. And in some wet habitats, both Mexican fan palms and Canary Island date palms are considered invasive, crowding out native plants.
But palm trees also enjoy a certain cachet. To Joseph, the electrician who first asked Bay Curious about them, they signify being off work in some exotic sliver of paradise.
Jason Dewees, a San Francisco horticulturist who wrote the book “Designing With Palms,” says part of the reason many people feel that way involves a history with palm trees dating back to the dawn of agriculture.
“Some of the earliest representations of plants by the human hand are representations of palms in the deserts of North Africa,” Dewees says. From petroglyphs to ancient coins, palms are a potent symbol, connoting hospitable oases.
“They show you that you’re in a place where you can grow food and where there’s water, and where the palm tree itself is going to provide dates,” Dewees says. Palms have also long been planted simply for beauty and pleasure. They show that the land is taken care of — that you’re somewhere nice.
That answer worked for Joseph. After all, he arrived here not long ago from Chicago. It’s too cold for palm trees there.
The roots of palm trees reflect the fact that they are monocots and are related to grasses and onions in that they start life with a single seed leaf. As opposed to dicots, which have two seed leaves and include broadleaved trees like oak and maple, palms have fibrous root masses with slender roots all coming from the base of the trunk rather than large woody branching roots with a tap root. While most palms don’t have invasive roots, the root systems extend laterally as far as the crown of leaves, enabling them to harvest water from a wide area of soil. Choose smaller-growing palms where root system size is a concern. Plant palms where lateral root growth won’t be restricted for best growth.
Mediterranean Fan Palm
This slow-growing tree is one of the most cold-hardy palms, growing from U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 8 through 11. Mediterranean fan palms (Chamaerops humilis) get 10 to 20 feet tall and as wide. The tree can also be kept as a container plant when young. It develops multiple trunks with age. Because of its cold tolerance, Mediterranean fan palms do well along the west coast of North America as far north as Washington. The SelecTree program of California Polytechnic University rates its root damage potential as low.
The Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffianum) gives an elegant touch to the landscape with its slender trunk and long feathery leaves. It grows 15 to 20 feet tall and is hardy to USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. Shallow roots extend into the first four feet of soil, with deeper roots near the trunk of the tree. It has been successfully planted as far north as San Francisco in mild climate coastal areas. Native to Brazil, it is widely used for landscaping in warm winter climates in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.
Pygmy Date Palm
Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelinii) is suited to smaller landscapes or container growing. Height is usually 6 to10 feet, but some specimens attain 20 feet. Often it is trained to grow as a multiple-stemmed clump. Feathery leaves have a soft appearance, but the leaf stems have thorns. This slow-growing palm is hardy to USDA zones 10 to 11. It is grown outdoors in areas that don’t get below 29 degrees Fahrenheit, including coastal areas tempered by the ocean. Because the root system is small to match the smaller-sized plant, pygmy date palm is a favorite for interiors and for planting in patios and other sheltered areas where it can be protected from occasional below freezing temperatures.
Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is also relatively cold hardy, enduring temperatures of 18 degrees Fahrenheit in landscapes. In its native China, it lives through occasional snow and ice. It is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10. San Francisco Public Works recommends it as a street landscaping tree since it tolerates cool summer weather. Windmill palm can grow to 40 feet, but usually height is around 25 feet. The single slender trunk carries a five-foot wide canopy of fan-shaped leaves. Because of its smaller size, root systems are also smaller.
Ahhh, palm trees! That bright green pop against the clear, blue sky ignites feelings of bliss.
But the truth is, while palms may look carefree, their leaves, or fronds, may tell a different story! Most palms grow in soil that lacks essential nutrients, which is a big reason why palm fronds turn yellow.
So, what can you do to help make your palms’ existence as happy-go-lucky as they make you feel?
Read on to learn how to provide your palm the nutrients it needs with the right fertilizer!
What kind of fertilizer do you use on a palm tree?
When picking a fertilizer, you want to choose a slow-release formula made for palm and tropical trees.
A slow-release fertilizer made for palms will deliver the perfect amount of nutrients over several months’ time. So, your tree will get lots of nitrogen and potassium as well as small amounts of other nutrients, like magnesium, manganese and iron.
Most homemade fertilizer mixes aren’t going to provide enough of the nutrients your tree needs.
For example, a common fertilizer recipe for palms includes cottonseed meal, dolomite lime, bone meal, kelp meal and used tea leaves.
With that mix, your tree won’t get enough iron, manganese or magnesium. Plus, if you live in the Western U.S., your soil is likely alkaline (meaning it’s high in pH). So, the calcium in the bone meal causes issues instead of solving them.
Another popular DIY palm tree fertilizer calls for beer, Epsom salt, ammonia and water. This one won’t deliver enough potassium or nitrogen!
Epsom salt alone is not a good fertilizer for palms for the reasons mentioned above. And specifically, too much will cause potassium problems.
But if your palm is suffering from a magnesium deficiency, Epsom salt can be a good supplement in addition to regular fertilizer applications. If that’s the case, use Epsom salt. Sprinkle 2 to 3 pounds of Epsom salt under the tree’s canopy, then water.
When to Fertilize Palm Trees in Florida and Other States
If you live in Florida, your palms need a little extra attention because of the sandy soil and excess rain. So, fertilize your palm tree three or four times a year.
If you live in another state, two or three fertilizations are what your palm needs.
Some species of palm trees can be dangerous if you touch them in the wrong spot. Sharp thorns on various parts of the trees can puncture the skin and cause bacterial or fungal infections. Puncture injuries may look harmless, but bits of thorny debris carrying potentially harmful fungi or soil bacteria may lodge inside the wound and cause infection. Administer basic first aid in the event you sustain a palm-thorn puncture injury and keep an eye on the wound as inflammation requires medical treatment.
Thorny Palm Trees
Many species of palm trees bear thorns or spines that are capable of causing injury if you’re not careful when handling the plants. For example,
the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera, USDA zones 9 through 11) bears sharp 3- to 4-inch spines near the basal portion of individual leaflets;
pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebellenii, USDA zones 10 through 11) has leaflets near the base that form piercing 2- to 3-inch thorns; * the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis, USDA zones 9 through 11) has extremely sharp 2- to 3-inch spines on the lower half of its leaf petioles, the thin stems that support the leaves.
The British Medical Journal noted in a November 2002 issue that the fronds of date palms are “particularly dangerous,” because the sharp, narrow tips of their spines dry quickly and break off easily when they puncture skin.
The 2002 article in the British Medical Journal also documented the case of an otherwise healthy 14-year-old boy who developed an arthritis-like injury of the knee from a date palm-thorn puncture. Shortly after the injury, the boy received antibiotics that temporarily relieved his pain and swelling. Arthrocentesis, which involves using a needle to withdraw fluid from a swollen joint, eventually led to the identification of Pantoea agglomerans, a common soil bacterium, as the cause of the boy’s septic arthritis. It took two ultrasound exams to locate the tiny bits of thorn debris that initiated the infection and limited the range of motion in the boy’s knee. Although he recovered fully, he was hospitalized for more than a week and underwent surgery to remove the thorn fragments and wash out the infection.
Noninfectious Thorn Injuries
Patients with palm-thorn problems may be unaware of the origin of their discomfort. That’s because joint problems near a wound may not develop immediately. If you remove the thorn yourself, fragments may remain under your skin. Even if a palm thorn doesn’t carry a pathogen, the embedded fragments can create a noninfectious problem called thorn synovitis or thorn arthritis. Stiffness, swelling and pain near the point of entry are symptoms. According to MedicineNet.com, thorn fragments often affect the synovium or tissue lining a joint and may require surgical removal or synovectomy.
Treatment of a Palm Puncture Wound
To help prevent infection, perform immediate basic first aid on any puncture wound – especially those caused by palm tree thorns. This requires cleaning the wound area thoroughly with soap and water and applying antibiotic ointment and a bandage. MedicineNet.com notes that although puncture wounds usually bleed little, if at all, they become infected easily. When swelling of a palm-thorn puncture wound occurs, arthrocentesis may be necessary to rule out bacterial or fungal infection. Treatment with antibiotics is critical if such an infection is present. Eliminating infection also requires surgical removal of any thorn fragments. Although thorn fragments may remain embedded if there’s no infection, they’re likely to cause recurring discomfort, which means that surgical removal may be a good idea in any case. Talk with your health care provider to find out which treatment options are best for you.
Preventing Injuries From Armed Palms
You can take a number of steps to help prevent palm-spine injuries:
In addition to exercising extreme caution, wearing sturdy garden gloves, a heavy long-sleeved shirt and pants, closed-toe shoes and protective eye gear while working with palm trees or cleaning up fallen foliage isessential to preventing puncture wounds.
Keep children and pets away from spiny palm trees or, while the plants are small, carefully prune off spines that may be within their reach. Before and after using pruning tools, disinfect the blades by wiping them with a clean cloth soaked with rubbing alcohol to help prevent the spread of diseases between plants.
Plant palms with dangerous thorns away from areas where they’re more likely to cause trouble, such as near walkways, patios, decks and driveways.
Consider replacing thorny palms with spineless varieties, such as Texas palm (Sabal mexicana, USDA zones 8 through 11), a regal, single-trunk tree with a mature height and spread of up to 50 and 25 feet, respectively.