Prepare your palms to pass the cold weather season
TRACY HODGEPalm trees are staples in most Florida yards because they add a tropical feel to any landscape setting. Most of the year, these trees are easy to care for, but during the winter you may need to take a few precautions to keep your palms safe from the cold. Here are a few tips to keep your palms healthy until spring.
Published: November 28, 2012
Published: November 28, 2012
Just how susceptible your palm trees are to the effects of winter mainly depends on what type of palms you have in your yard. Cabbage palms also are known as sabal palms, which are found all over Florida, from the Panhandle to the Keys. These palms are hardy and can resist temperatures well below freezing. However, coconut palms are much more susceptible to damage from freezing weather.
During Florida winters, the temperatures can be unpredictable and change suddenly, so you need to have a plan to avoid serious damage.
The University of Florida, IFAS Extension, lists three main types of damage that occur on Florida palms. Tropical palms can sustain chilling injuries when the temperatures are around 50 degrees. This type of injury occurs when the weather changes rapidly.
If your palms are acclimated to nighttime temperatures in the 70s and suddenly it is in the 40s, they will sustain some type of damage to the foliage. If temperatures drop gradually over the course of a week or so, the damage is much less dramatic.
Chilling injuries can cause discoloration of leaves within two or three days after a cold snap. Young leaves are usually less susceptible to damage than mature leaves.
Frost damage is the second most common type of winter injury in palms. This occurs on clear nights when temperatures drop to 32 degrees or lower. If there is little to no wind, the damage may look spotty and occur in different areas on palm foliage.
The last type of damage is associated with a hard freeze, when temperatures drop below 32 degrees and wind is present. When frost lands on palm trees, the water within the cells of the tree may freeze and cause damage to cell walls. When the sun comes out and the cells begin to thaw quickly, even more damage can occur. Cold weather also limits root activity and slows nutrient uptake. If the soil freezes and plant roots cannot absorb all the nutrients and water necessary to sustain life, the tree may die.
So how do you protect your palm trees from cold damage? Mulching around your palm trees will help protect the roots, especially those that are close to the soil Place at least 3 to 6 inches of mulch around the base of your palms for best results. Mulch also adds a nice finished look to your yard and keeps weeds at bay.
Fertilizer is another important part of the palm tree equation. Applying fertilizer to your trees in early fall will keep your palms as healthy as possible during the cold, winter months. The nutrients from fertilizer will be stored within the soil and available when your palm needs it for new growth in the springtime.
Lastly, treat your palms with a copper-based fungicide before cold weather arrives. This keeps diseases such as bacterial leaf spot from damaging your palms.
If cold weather is forecast, be sure to cover your palm trees with a blanket or sheet to keep frost from staying on the foliage. Wrapping the trunk with burlap will protect your tree without suffocating it. You can leave this in place for the winter and just check periodically for signs of fungus on the tree. When warm weather lasts for several days, you can unwrap the trunk so your palm tree can breathe.
Considering the placement of new palm plantings will help you avoid winter injury in the future. Planting new palms in sunny areas behind a patio or wall is one way to protect them from the cold. Foliage also insulates palm trees so consider planting where other trees and shrubs are located to create a warm atmosphere.
Taking the time to keep your palms safe from cold weather will be rewarding when spring rolls around and your trees are putting on new growth. Occasionally, nutrient deficiencies can mimic cold weather injury, making it necessary to use a fertilizer to restore the tree to health. Experts recommend applying a complete landscaping palm fertilizer during the growing season to reduce these effects.