It’s probably my biology degree speaking, but I am a real nerd when it comes to fertilizer. I love to research the heck out of the subject and I admittedly way over analyze. Those that regularly follow my plant blog know that I am a palm person first. So my fertilizer regimen is mostly centered around palm trees. Over the last 10 years I have become pretty darn educated, and in turn, experienced when it comes to what works and what doesn’t in my palm garden. I have tried pretty much everything! There are many great options out there, but recently I have found what I believe to be the almost perfect granular palm fertilizer for my garden. It is time to share this product with a review. PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer was a pretty recent find for me but the results from use were noticeable within days.
PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer is made by Bougainvillea Growers International (BGI) out of Florida. BGI got its start in the nursery business back in 1994, but in October of 2012 they switched their entire business over to just producing and distributing trusted fertilizers. BGI makes quite a few different blends, with the PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer created solely for palms but marketed towards ferns, cycads, ixora, and ornamental plants as well.
Formula: It must be stated that with fertilization the most important thing is understanding your soil first. People waste a lot of money on fertilizer, thinking more is better. If you have numerous nutritional issues despite having fertilized a lot, it might be time to get your soil pH checked. My soil is pretty neutral and almost entirely made up of decomposed granite (DG). It is just one step up from sand in terms of drainage and lack of organic matter. So I must fertilize more than I would prefer. If I had really organic soils or clay soils, of course, I wouldn’t need to fertilize as much. Also, using minors can be tricky. You can create a different deficiency by treating another. Lastly, the review is of a synthetic, slow release granular. Not an organic fertilizer or a control/time-released product. So keep this in mind when reading my review.
When looking for a readily available palm formula, it is my belief that you generally want a 3:1:3 or 3:1:4 type ratio. This means 3 parts Nitrogen (N), 1 part Phosphorus (P) and 3 parts Potassium (K), for example. In really free-draining Southern California soils, the ratio of N:K should include more K. Because P is an element that gets almost totally recycled by the palm, low amounts are preferred. When your palms mature and are flowering, that is the time they need the P, as they lose it through the flower and fruit that fall off. Until I found PalmGain, the 3:1:3 or 3:1:4 type ratios were the best available. PalmGain changes all this with the perfect 4:1:6 ratio found in its 8:2:12 formula. Confused? If you get anything out of what I have been writing so far, it is to remove any thought that the 20:20:20 general use fertilizer from Home Depot should ever be used on palm trees.
The palm blends I liked in the past would usually be a 15:5:15 or something like a 12:4:16. The ratio used for the PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer formula is 4:1:6. This is a great ratio and one that is usually not available at your local garden center. Let me clarify why I love this ratio and formula. In my yard, Potassium deficiency is the #1 palm nutritional deficiency I see. Having a large amount of K in a palm formula is a must to remove the premature yellowing older leaves or brown tipping you find when a palm isn’t getting enough K. PalmGain is a K-heavy formula.
While you do need N, palms do not require it as much as the leafy tropicals in your garden. Also, too much N will cause weak, elongated fronds and invite pest. So you do not need more than 8-10% of the total formula. PalmGain Palm Tree Fertilizer is right at 8% N.
Low P is great for reasons I discussed earlier. Since palm trees do not use much P until flowering, high amounts are simply a waste and move to the water table, which adds to the nutrient pollution issue we have in many of our waterways. In most Southern California gardens, you could get away with not even having P in your formula. Having 2% is a great compromise.
Looking at some of the minor elements in the formula, I see great things here too. Most palm formulas that you find have too low an amount of Magnesium (Mg). While I won’t go into detail on the science behind a lot of what I discuss (that will come in future posts), I can tell you that K and Mg have a complicated relationship and must be used properly in tandem—PalmGain Palm Tree Fertilizer implements a very effective ratio. Four percent of their mix is dedicated Mg. Know too that K and Mg are highly leachable in free-draining soils, so I love the big ratios here.
Have you ever wondered why your palms or cycads sometimes send out stunted, browned new growth? That is affectionately called “frizzletop” by palm gardeners and is the result of a Manganese (Mn) deficiency. You will have a hard time finding another brand of palm fertilizer that has Mn as 1% of its total ratio like PalmGain does. The extra Mn is also great for palm trees that come from places like Cuba and New Caledonia.
While many palm gardeners confuse an N deficiency with an Iron (Fe) deficiency, lack of Fe is still an issue in some yards or public gardens. Having Fe at 2% is great, and I will go into more detail under “Quality of Ingredients” why the Fe in the formula is perfect for most SoCal soils.
Quality of Ingredients: This is a very important component when reviewing fertilizers and one which most buyers do not pay enough attention to. Inexpensive fertilizers are cheap for a reason. They have to cut corners somewhere to get costs down. These cheaper fertilizers are derived from far less quality sources for the ingredients and they are usually high in salts and chlorine. The cost of PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer is well worth the money in my opinion. Sure, you can find a cheaper 8:2:12 palm formula, but lower quality ingredients can actually cost you more because the formula won’t work for you or can lead to deficiencies in new areas while over fertilizing in others.
Again, I won’t bore you with too much science, but when buying fertilizer, it is very important to look at how the nutrients are derived. When you see things coming from “Oxides,” you know it is cheap and will be far less effective. Why? Because it has been proven that nutrients derived from oxides are mostly insoluble in neutral to alkaline soils. In acidic soils, they are so slowly soluble that your plants hardly notice they have been fertilized in certain cases. If you learn anything here, it is to stay away from oxides. What you want to see is what PalmGain has, and that is nutrients derived from “sulfates.” Sulfates are mostly water-soluble and certain forms can be slow-released.
Let’s look in a little more detail at the quality of ingredients in PalmGain. Most of the N comes from Ammonium Sulfate. That is the quickly water-soluble stuff. It also has a slow-release N in the blend that comes from polymer-coated urea. The K comes from sulphate of potash (potassium sulfate). Another quality choice over what the cheaper formulas use with muriate of potash (potassium chloride). While most palm trees are not chloride sensitive, no sense adding it to your soils by using muriate of potash. While on the subject, PalmGain only has 2% Chlorine in it’s formula.
Two elements highly affected by soil pH are Iron (Fe) and Manganese (Mn). If your soils are alkaline, you can add Fe and Mn until you are blue in the face, but your plants will never get them. They get “locked up.” The way around this is to buy chelated Fe and Mn. While PalmGain doesn’t have any chelated MN, it does have two forms of chelated Fe. Chelated elements are not cheap, so you won’t find them in most garden center brand fertilizers.
You can tell a lot of thought went into producing this formula and that the maker was more concerned with delivering the best palm fertilizer available rather than catering to price shoppers.
Results: When you open the bag, the very first thing you will notice is the smell. It is very strong. As my grandmother once told me when I asked why her cleaning products stunk so bad, “it stinks because it works.” While I can promise you this blend will work great, the smell is really from the higher iron and sulphur concentrations, and not related to how well it works – despite what my grandmother would say. Don’t worry about the smell, I found that after a watering or two, the smell is gone. Not long after those first few waterings, you should notice marked improvement on palms you had trouble greening up prior.
Many of the reviews you read on fertilizer results tend to come from anecdotal evidence. I can state without a doubt that I had two really heavy-feeding palms green up only after applying PalmGain. These were palm trees that I couldn’t get to look good with my prior fertilizer regimen (which was pretty dialed in, mind you). The bag has a tagline “for deep green foliage.” I can also tell you I have witnessed much greener leaves on many of my high fertilizer-use palms. The only change I made to how I fertilized before was adding PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer. So I know for a fact these results were due to its use. Another thing I noticed since using PalmGain is that my palms made it through winter much healthier than normal. There is a lot less yellowing of leaves, much less brown spotting or tipping, and I did see more winter growth than usual. However, to be fair, we did just have a mild winter and we received much more rain than average here in Southern California. So I can’t pin all the results on PalmGain just yet. Next winter should give me more information.
I will also tell you that it wasn’t just me that has had great results using this palm fertilizer. I know a lot of people within the local palm community and many of them have decades of growing experience. They, too, recently tried PalmGain thanks to a post on the forum www.palmtalk.org. The feedback has been all positive with others users as well. Thanks to what I have witnessed, and after reading the great success stories others have had using PalmGain, I can guarantee you will have wonderful results as well.
A couple of things to consider in order to get the best results. 1) PalmGain 8-2-12 Palm Tree Fertilizer is a physically blended chemical fertilizer. To ensure best results, you need to mix the ingredients yourself to ensure even distribution of nutrients. Different elements in the blend come in different sizes. Smaller ones will settle at the bottom. 2) PalmGain is not a control/time-released formula. As discussed prior, it does have some slow-release characteristics, but if you read the bag carefully, BGI states it needs to be reapplied every 4-6 weeks during the warmer months when palms are growing their best. Keep in mind, since this is not a control/time-release formula, you can burn plants if you use too much. So stick to the manufacturer’s recommended usage.
Purchase: You can get a 10lb bag of PALMGAIN Palm Tree Fertilizer here.
Note: Bougainvillea Growers International (the makers of PalmGain) did not have any involvement on this review and I have not been compensated in anyway for writing it.