Lake Norman Magazine

Fond of Fronds

Windmill palm.
Windmill palm. Courtesy of Richard Rudisill

Editor's note: This story ran in the July 2006 issue of Lake Norman Magazine.

Want a more tropical landscape, perhaps a few palms to grace your lakeside property?

A tropical landscape doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. If you pick the right palms and maintain them correctly, they’ll last in your landscape. The key starts with appropriate selection – the right plant for the right spot.“It took me a while to convince my customers that they would live here,” says Marta Carlson, owner of Paradise Gardens in Denver. She’s a Master Gardener with a degree in horticulture and 20 years’ experience growing and caring for many kinds of plants. Her favorites are palms. You can see tall sabal palmettos with distinctive, short “haircuts” leaning against a rail of her garden center almost year round.Carlson, who buys palms from a supplier in Florida, explains that the shorn look is known as a “hurricane cut.” Growers cut the fronds back prior to digging up the palm for transport to garden centers because loss of roots during digging means it can’t support much foliage.Carlson moved to the area from Ohio 11 years ago and immediately set up shop near the lake in Denver. Right away she was thinking palms.“It took my customers a few years of driving by in winter and seeing my palm trees living in containers to build their confidence,” she says.

Not always carefreeFactor in sun, shade and exposure requirements when selecting the right type of palm for the right spot in your garden, then consider the care palms demand. Most need three years to get fully established and can fall prey to such environmental factors as drought.“Some of it depends on how windy your particular site is, because of evaporation,” Carlson says. “But every other day or every third day in a dry spell, you have to be sure each palm gets eight to 10 gallons. And since everyone’s water pressure is different, I have customers get gallon buckets and fill them up so they won’t just guess on the amount.” She says during the establishment phase, the root ball needs to be kept moist, but not wet. To be sure the site doesn’t hold too much water, she recommends a soil conditioner during planting to break up heavy clay. She says her crews use that as well as a root-stimulating hormone when planting palms.Then two to three inches of mulch is applied to keep the base of the plant cooler and help keep the soil from drying out. Carlson recommends particular fertilizers to feed the palms, too – mostly a kind of tree spike made specifically for palms and pounded into the soil twice a year. She recommends that customers apply Epsom salts in March to help the palms green up.

Ongoing protectionWinter protection is another issue. Carlson often recommends that a fungicide be applied at the same time, and these days, you can get a fungicide/bactericide foliar wrap in case the temperature falls low enough to cause damage. She says she pays particular attention to the most vulnerable part of the palm, which she says is “the crown ¬– the center fronds at the tippy top. It’s the heart of the tree.” That needs to be protected and ventilated, which is what the special wraps do. Daunted yet? Try not to be – the care and feeding of your palm tree will become second nature once you learn it.