By Paul Sanders • May 2013
Try to picture in your mind any tropical setting without a palm tree in there somewhere. Even if it is in a desert oasis, the palm makes it feel tropical. It is a natural; it belongs there and it makes a statement. Palms can be tropical, but they can also be subtropical. They are not only found near the beaches, but also in the mountains and deserts. They also live in Scotland and South Russia, the north coast states of the U.S., and even Denver is home for certain palms.
Palms are exceptionally hardy. We have all seen them blown over and laying on the ground, still growing and reaching for the sky. Palms make a statement wherever you find them or place them. Here in the rainy season they shine like mirrors, as though someone has polished the fronds.
Most Palms start out growing quite slowly, but as they mature they speed up quite a bit.
Palms that are grown inside will grow much more slowly than if they were planted in the ground. They like to start out in the shade and gradually become adjusted to full or partial sun. Tender plants that have been cultivated in the shade or in a protected area will burn if placed directly in the hot sun. This can be a temporary condition or a fatal one, so give them a tender touch.
Indoors they should be washed off, or at least wiped off on a regular basis. Outside, the bugs that attack the palms have natural enemies. They don’t have many, but the few they have are really vicious. Inside they need your help to dislodge these pests.
Some varieties of palms can be grown in pots for years and stay healthy and happy. Others will grow faster, and must be placed outside when they become too large. Good varieties for inside are Rhapis, Chammaedoria and Howea. Outside (and all of these have a multitude of varieties) are Phoenix, Washingtonia, and Chamaerops. These names probably mean nothing to you or the person at the vivero. When you see a palm you like, cut off a frond and take it with you to the nursery. That way you are sure there is no misunderstanding, and you don’t have to translate from Latin to English or Spanish.
The Fish Tail Palm is a favorite inside and out. IN the garden it will grow quite fast and has very few enemies. Inside, other that requiring bright light and good air circulation, it is a favorite because of its tall stately stature and sculptured fronds. Spider mites are its worst enemies. They can be controlled, but need constant inspection and treatment. Systemic insecticides that are applied to the soil work very well, but these are hard to impossible to find here. A garden insecticide spray will also help keep them under control if used on a regular basis.
Palms transplant very easily at all times of the year here in the tropics. When palms in pots get too large, they burst the pot. It is time to move on to a larger container. Do not be afraid to cut the root ball severely. Machete, saw or knife all work well; but cut it back at least a third. This will give the plant more time in the pot before it breaks again, and slows the palm’s growth just enough for it to get acquainted with its new home. Just keep it moist and well drained. Palms like to be fed on a regular schedule. Any complete fertilizer will do. Just follow the directions and remember “less is better than more”. When transplanting some very old or large palms, you will discover that there is no soil left in the pot at all. The plant has consumed it all, and you have nothing but a very tight root ball. Get to work and cut it back, and give it a new home and new soil.
As palms grow, they add fronds to the top, and lose them from the bottom. This is natural. If your palm has yellow fronds, cut them off. They will never turn green. With the exception of chlorosis, (lack of the elements iron, zinc or manganese), the yellow fronds are the result of lack of moisture in the root ball, lack of nutrients, or just plain old age. Sometimes a good soaking will help, but usually yellow means dead. That yellow frond may be high on the plant, but if the end of that stem is at the bottom of the trunk, it is the oldest and will be the first to go. Again this is natural and expected.
The biggest enemy to our large coco palms here is a black beetle. They get into the crown of the plant and set up housekeeping. They are ugly, pincers and all. They are very happy in that tree; after all they are dining on “Hearts of Palm”. They can be controlled by applying an insecticide directly into the center of the crown. This must be done with the first signs of infestation. These beetles are aggressive, and it does not take long to kill the tree. First signs of an infestation are brown or dead patches appearing on the new growth.
Palms are one of the most dramatic plants and trees available, and there is one for every location. When making your selection, consider its location. Purchase one that will do well and will not become overgrown too quickly. Indoors in Puerto Vallarta can be equivalent to outdoors in other areas, so you have a vast variety to choose from. Remember the rotation system if the palm of your dreams has a difficult time in your home.
What a difference a palm can make!