I love plants. After all, I am “married” to them. Hopefully without the other plant groups getting wind of this, I must confess that palm trees are my true love. I lost count some time ago, but if I were to guess, I would say a safe estimate is that I have over 150 different types of palm trees planted in my garden. It is easily the most abundant type of plant growing in the yard. Even though I like to describe my gardening design style as “California Fusion,” my yard is pretty much a palm garden. With that being said, I am here to tell you that maintaining a palm garden is not for the faint of heart.
Palm trees take time to grow. Many are slow and can take years before they are acclimated and mature into a beautiful palm tree. You can plant a canopy tree and in a few years it will be tall enough to walk under. For those maintaining a palm garden, you are well aware already that a palm tree can take 10-30 years before it reaches a size to where you can walk under it. Outside a few really fast palm trees, growing them is an exercise in patience. So when a beloved palm tree begins to decline in health and die, it can be much more painful for you than the loss of, let’s say, a flowering tree or hedge. Sadly, I did have a few death cases this year. The first shown below being the most painful of the bunch. This Pritchardia minor was one of the first uncommon palm trees I ever planted in my yard. I bought this from Jungle Music Palms here in Encinitas back in 2006 as a 15-gallon palm. It grew very well for me over the last 10 years but for some reason that I don’t understand, it declined very quickly over the last month and now it is a shadow of its once glorious self. This palm will not live.
My Pritchardia minor was probably close to 15 years old from seed. As you can see, it was a good-sized trunking palm and it was planted in a prime location in my garden. I will need another decade to replace a palm this size with another Pritchardia minor to match it.
Another painful loss happened back in the summer. Shown below are the remains of a once flowering Clinostigma savoryanum. This palm had some sort of fungal attack in the crown and declined rapidly as well.
Another summertime death was this Euterpe edulis. The same thing happened as with my Clinostigma savoryanum – it suffered some sort of fungal attack in the crown. The top of this palm actually rotted and snapped off. Euterpe edulis is an interesting palm to cultivate in Southern California anyway. It will grow well as a small palm and once it grows out of the canopy or protective overhead cover, it really doesn’t do well exposed to full sun and Santa Ana winds. This palm has been suffering for a few years exposed to full sun, so it wasn’t a surprise that it got hit with a fungal attack, as it was weak to begin with.
When you are maintaining a palm garden that has hundreds of palms, it comes down to numbers. The more palms, the more chances for something to die. While I get disappointed almost every time I experience a death in the garden, it really is inevitable with the amount of palms I have planted. Rather than sulk, I now take it as a positive and look forward to having a new space open up in my garden to plant a new palm. So this soon-to-be-dead Dypsis onilahensis below isn’t all bad news. A new palm is growing in my greenhouse awaiting its chance to succeed where this palm failed.
So you are most likely wondering why I have left the carcasses to rot in the garden. Normally I am quick to dig out the dead and replace them with the new, as I take pride in maintaining a palm garden. This year I suffered a hiatus in my usual yard maintenance motivation. I have been going at it strong for over 10 years now. I was due for a lazy maintenance year. Now that winter is rapidly approaching, I won’t be planting any new palms. So these stumps will have to wait to be dug and replaced come spring. I will write a follow-up blog post showing the replacement plantings sometime next spring.
David Feix says
I personally find it hard to leave anything dead or dying in my own or client’s gardens, very much OLD perhaps. With dying palms, I often fear that it may be something in the soil that attacked at the roots, such as for several Chamaedorea plumosa I’ve lost over the years, and am very hesitant to plant another palm in the same spot. I guess I’ve been fairly lucky over the years, but have lost Rhopalostylis baueri a time or two also. I’m not pushing boundaries with my palm plantings though, as I hate losing plants I’ve nurtured for years, and we just get a lot colder here up north. Do you ever try to get an actual diagnosis via testing to determine cause of death? Do you remove soil and replace with new when replanting another palm in the same spot?
Len Geiger says
David, trust me, I am with you on leaving the dead stumps. I still haven’t even gotten around to mulching yet this year. Just one of those years for me.
As far as testing, I use to test stuff all the time when I first started. I am a BioScience major, so it always interested me. It just got to be a hassle. It always came back something different and in many cases it was the secondary infection that killed it – usually Pink Rot. Now days I just take it for what it is. With soil removal I take out as much as I can. I dig out the entire root ball and the soil around it. But it is impossible to get all the fungal spores. I have been very lucky in that I have only lost a replacement palm in one case to a similar fungal attack. I planted a third palm (common Golden Cane Palm) there and it is doing great. It dies, and I will be putting a shrub.