Palm Nutrition

Palms are one of South Florida’s signature symbols.  Nearly every home in South Florida has at least a few palms in its landscape.  Although several palms are native to Florida, the majority of palms that are planted here are not native.  Because of this and also because many of the neighborhoods in South Florida are built on land with poor soil quality, most palms need fertilization at regular intervals.  Certain specific elements that palms need to survive and thrive are not present in the soil.

If your palms are declining, there is a good chance that they are nutrient deficient.  Proper application of specific nutrients that are lacking can usually reverse the decline of a deficient palm.  Once the decline is reversed, it is very important that maintenance fertilization be performed at regular intervals.  Fertilization once every four months (three times per year) is usually sufficient.  In addition, in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, observation showed that palms fed on a regular basis fared much better in the storm and had a much quicker recovery than palms that were not fertilized on a consistent basis.

It is much easier and less expensive to prevent nutritional deficiencies than to reverse them.  In addition to preventing malnutrition, proper maintenance fertilization provides the following benefits:

  • • More cost effective to keep palms healthy than replace
  • • Greatly increased size and fullness of the canopy
  • • Allows each frond to stay greener longer
  • • Allows self-cleaning palms to drop their dead fronds more rapidly
  • • Improves ability to survive hurricane force winds
  • • Accelerates recovery after storm damage
  • • Increases cold hardiness

Symptoms of palm malnutrition:

“Frizzle top” or manganese deficiency – This is very common in royal, queen and roebelenii palms.  This occurs in the newer growth (closer to center) and causes the new fronds to have a scorched look.  The leaflets (smaller individual leaves on each frond) will also curl.  Untreated, this deficiency will kill a palm.  This deficiency is the leading cause of death of nearly all neglected palms.  Palms that are over-trimmed or have suffered cold damage are likely to develop manganese deficiency and should be fertilized to prevent decline.

Potassium deficiency – This is very common in royal palms, and most species of palms in South Florida are susceptible.  Older fronds (closer to the bottom) will begin to have orange or yellow spotting. If untreated, the spotting will eventually move toward the center growth and may eventually kill the palm.  In severe cases, a “penciling” or abrupt narrowing of the trunk can occur, making the trunk weak and more susceptible to wind damage.

Magnesium deficiency – This deficiency also affects the older growth.  The individual leaflets on each frond will become yellow at the edges.  Untreated, the entire frond will become yellow prematurely.  This deficiency is not normally fatal but will cause the palm to be an unsightly yellow color.

It is important to note that once a palm has been treated for a deficiency, the appearance of the existing fronds will not change.  The palm will begin to look better only after new fronds have emerged to replace the deficient ones.  It is therefore better to maintain your palms to prevent deficiencies.  This will insure they look their best year-round.


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