Picking the Best Palm Trees for Landscaping

Picking the Best Palm Trees for Landscaping

When choosing the variety of Palm Trees for your landscape, there are many things to consider. They come in so many sizes and variations it can be difficult to choose just which one to grow in your landscape.

Palm trees are synonymous with the tropics. Many people living on, or moving to the Alabama Gulf Coast are coming here for one reason – the beach. Landscaping on the island of Gulf Shores or any coastal community comes with its challenges. 

There’s the soil type, the salt in the breeze and groundwater. Not to mention the humid weather, increased rainfall and almost subtropical temperatures. These all work together to require a certain type of plant that can handle these conditions. 

That iconic tropical plant is the palm tree and its many variations.

Families moving to the area want that tropical feel in their landscape that only comes with palm trees and other tropical plants. Adding these potentially massive trees to your yard rarely comes with instruction, and adding a palm tree to your garden can be a huge investment in time and money. 

Best Growing Conditions for Palm Trees

The following paragraphs run through a few guidelines to help you keep your palm trees healthy and growing to their beautiful potential.

Be sure to choose a variety of palm tree that will thrive in your area. If you live in zones 8B and above, there are many to choose from. If you are in a part of the country that will hit winter temperatures in the 20’s for any amount of time, you can still have palm trees in the landscape. 

Shorter palm trees like Sago Palms and Saw Palmettos can handle temporary dips in temperature. 

Larger and taller palm trees such as European Fan Palms and Chinese Windmill Palms can take lower temperatures as well.

Following the care guidelines is a list of a few of the different types of palm trees that can flourish in a coastal setting or highlight your backyard pool area further inland.

Best Soil Type for Palm Trees

Palm trees are very forgiving when it comes to soil type. The main thing they require is great drainage. A Palm Tree of any kind will slowly die if its roots remain in water over time. 

Soil amended with compost or other organic material should do fine. They do not do well in heavy, sticky clay soil. Using Sand as an amendment will help obtain the drainage they need to do well.

Watering Palm Trees

When first planted, a palm tree will need to be watered frequently. Keep the soil moist for a few weeks.This will help the roots to get established.  After they become established, palm trees are fairly drought tolerant and here in the south will not require any watering at all. Mainly due to our regular rainfall.

Palm Trees do not like wet feet. If you notice leaves turning yellow, it is a sure sign it is waterlogged. Just lay off the watering for a couple of days depending on the temperature. The yellow leaves will not turn back to green but this should prevent any more turning yellow. Read more about pruning these later on.

Fertilizing Palm Trees

Palm Trees require a certain type of fertilizer made specifically for palms. Palm trees have a tendency to suffer from certain nutrient deficiencies including that of iron, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.  

Once these deficiencies are identified though, it can take months to recover so its best to periodically fertilize them as directed on the package ahead of time to keep them healthy.

When applying fertilizer to palm trees, be sure to apply it no less than two feet away from their trunk. Palm trees are known to easily suffer from fertilizer burn if it gets anywhere near the trunk.

Pruning Palm Trees

Palm trees get most of their energy from their fronds. When pruning make sure to do as little as possible when you can.

Pruning large palm tree species is a very labor intensive task, so keep this in mind when selecting just the right palm tree for your landscape. Most of the times it is hired out to outside labor with trained contractors with special equipment depending on how big the job is.

Be sure to only prune leaves that are brown and completely dead. Yellow leaves are still absorbing nutrients. Any pruning done before they turn completely brown is stunting your plants growth.

A good rule of thumb for pruning is that the fronds must be completely brown and hanging down at less than 45 degrees from the trunk on large palm trees.

Pruning can be a good idea for some plants if you know bad weather is coming. It is best not to prune palm trees before a hurricane. The extra cover can help protect the tender growing tip and trunk from wind damage. Once the tip has been broken off, the plant will more than likely die.

Protecting Palms from Cold Weather

Some palms are susceptible to drops in temperature. You only need to raise the temperature slightly to keep them alive.

 A few ways to accomplish this is to wrap a string of Christmas lights around them. Using blankets of any kind or specifically designed frost blankets is said to work effectively.

Running a small heater near the trunk or applying mulch around the roots can also help to keep them alive.

Types of Palm Trees

King Palm

This palm grows from 20 to 30 feet tall. Native to Australia, it is now naturalised in Hawaii and parts of Florida. Develops flower bearing stems from November to February. In Spring, hundreds of tiny pink slightly fragrant flowers develop. These flowers turn into bright red fruits in late summer , early fall.

True Date Palm

Date Palm can live to be 200 years old or more. They will grow from 60 to 80 feet tall normally but are capable of 120 feet. These palms have a moderate growth rate. In the right conditions they will grow up to three feet in one year! They can survive long periods without water once established.

Caranday Palm

Also known as a “WaxPalm”, the Caranday Palm tree can grow up to 60 feet tall. They will grow in sandy soil as well as heavy clay. Caranday palm work well in semi shaded areas.

Windmill Palm

The Windmill Palm Tree is a palm tree native to China and Japan. It is a better choice for smaller gardens since it only grows up to 20 feet tall. These palms are often found in older English gardens in southern Britain. It does not branch and keeps a tight foliage , so will work well in small spaces or sideyards.

Sonoran Palmetto Palm

Slow growing, but capable of growing to 30 feet tall. It makes quite a specimen with silvery green leaves and a contrasting dark trunk. 

Senegal Date Palm

Senegal date palms can grow very tall and large, up to 35 feet with crown up to 20 feet. As you can tell by the name, they are not native to North America. They do very well here and have spread into the wild As a matter of fact, in Southern Florida, they have been deemed invasive they do so well. Senegal Date Palms can send out flower spikes up to 3 feet long with cream colored flowers that if pollinated will produce small dates that are edible!

Florida Thatch Palm

This slow growing palm can get up to 20 feet tall.It does well in partial shade to full sun. It grows best in 10 a and above being to the fact it cannot tolerate temperatures below 30 degrees fahrenheit.

Spindle Palm

This great looking palm sets itself apart from the others with golden stalks ending in beautiful fronds, and as it matures, the trunk resembles stately pillars. Very salt tolerant and drought tolerant once established makes this palm an excellent specimen for areas near the beach.

Foxtail Palm

The Foxtail Palm derives its name from, you guessed it, the billowy fronds bursting from the top that strongly resemble a fox’s tail. These light colored fronds sprout from a slender gray trunk and grow to heights of 30 feet tall but usually top out at around 20. 

The foxtail palm grows alot faster than most of its cousins, capable of growing up to a foot or more year!

Triangle Palm

This beautiful specimen really stands out with its fronds forming into magnificent fan shaped growth habits, hence the name “triangle”. It grows from 10 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. The Triangle Palm is a rare and unique specimen from Madagascar that looks awesome as a specimen plant in your landscape.

Zombie Palm

Probably the strangest looking palm you will ever see!

The Zombie Palm has a really unusual trunk! It resembles a tree wrapped in burlap with needles sticking out in a woven pattern, highly unusual and sought after for its uniqueness. 

close up of unique trunk view

The Zombie Palm grows up to 10 feet tall with a multi trunk growth habit.

Each individual trunk is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

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