The Q&A Archives: Palm Died

Question: I transplanted a very, very, tiny palm to front yard from my container. It grew well. It was five feet of trunk and many fronds. This last year I watered it with hose and let it soak for some time. The reason, I missed one of my normal irrigation times. Which is a hour. The next time I looked at palm it was all yellow in center and that was it. What happened? And how can I tell the different kinds of palms?

Answer: It wasn't clear to me if your palm had yellow fronds or if it died completely, but here is some info on caring for palms. Watering effectively is the #1 issue with plants in the low desert. It's not simply a question of how often to water (which is important), but how deep water penetrates to leach salts below the root line. Desert soil and water both contain salts, which can accumulate in the root zone over time. This salt buildup forms where the water stops penetrating. Short periods of watering cause salts to build up in the top layers of soil and damage or kill your plant. Salt burn shows up as yellowing, browning along leaf edges, and leaf drop. Deep watering?or leaching?prevents this by flushing the salts past the root zone. Always water slowly, deeply and as infrequently as possible.

Use a soil probe (any long, pointed piece of metal, such as a long BBQ skewer, or a sharpened piece of rebar) to poke into the soil and check how far water has penetrated. The probe moves easily through moist soil, but stops when it hits hard dry soil. There are numerous variables involved for watering schedules, such as type of soil, how fast or slow it drains, sun and wind exposure at your site, temperature, age and condition of the plants and much more. Use the information above to determine how moist the soil is before automatically applying more water. It's essential that you allow your hose or drip system to run long enough for water to penetrate the appropriate depth. Depending on the size emitters, soil type, etc. this might take several or many hours. You can change the emitters to put out more gallons per hour, or add more emitters, or let the hose run at a trickle for a longer time. Check with the probe at 15 or 30 minute intervals, and you'll then know how long your particular system needs to run to achieve the appropriate depth.

Also, if you were growing a queen palm, they are poorly adapted to our growing conditions and often suffer from iron chlorosis (yellowing). If not addressed, they usually die. Yellowing can also be a sign of other nutrient deficiency.

Many factors influence how often to water palms, including weather, soil type and plant maturity. When first transplanted, palms need consistently moist soil which likely means daily irrigation. Gradually reduce watering frequency to once per week during the first summer. Apply water two feet from the trunk, all around its circumference, to promote root expansion.

As a general guideline, after palms have been in the ground for a year, water every four to six weeks in winter; every two weeks in summer. Water should soak two feet deep around the dripline to moisten the entire root zone. For mature palms, apply water four feet away from the trunk.

Palms are susceptible to nitrogen, potassium or magnesium deficiencies that appear as yellowing on older, lower fronds. Once the foliage yellows, no amount of fertilizer will help it recover. Prevent nutrient deficiences by feeding established palms twice per year in midspring and early summer. Use a product formulated for palms which will contain the right proportions of nutrients. Wait to feed newly transplanted palms until they?ve been in the ground for a year.

As for identifying palms, you can do Google searches in Images to compare, get a reference book, or go to a nursery and look at what's available. Good luck!

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