How To: Growing Palms

How do palms grow?

Many people who move to Florida want to have a palm tree in their garden- of course! Likewise, many people who do get palm trees in their garden- having moved from the north or wherever, don’t know much about palms and how they grow.

This tutorial will help with that!

Palms all grow from the top. If you look closely at the top of your palm tree (assuming you can see it), you will see what we call a “spear” -which is what the new growth pushing out is called. The new growth is usually clustered close together- where the term “spear” comes from.

Frequently the new growth is covered by a protective sheathing that is white in color. When the new growth continues to push out, often this white protective covering is left on the fronds and it will take awhile for it to wear off. This confuses many people, thinking there is a problem with their palm.

As new growth continues to push out the top of the palm, it is perfectly normal sequence of events that the oldest growth at the bottom of the palm will start to turn color. This is because, nutrition moves from older fronds up the palm to the newer growth. The older fronds will first start to turn yellow and then brown. When these fronds turn 80% or more brown, they then can be trimmed off. Trimming fronds that still are green is not recommended as you are taking nutrition away from the palm.

When you trim the older fronds, more trunk is established and this is how a palm tree’s trunk grows taller.

Most palm trees should have the fronds look like they are either 360 degrees (completely circular head) like a sabal palm should look or 180 degrees or more- like a Pygmy Date palm (Robelenii) should look. Your palm should NEVER look like a giant carrot top! Likewise, it is common misconception that palms need to be “hurricane proofed”! This is not the case. It has been proven that palms will lose 2-3 fronds in a bad storm. If you trim up your palm, only leaves 2-3 fronds you are now putting it in a perilous situation.

Finally, when you trim a frond off a palm, the part of the frond that is left on the trunk is called a “boot”. Some palms – like Sylvester Palms- retain their boots- that is they don’t fall off. Others, like Pygmy palms, sabal palms and queen palms will drop their boots, leaving a smoother trunk underneath. This is normal. If a boot is falling away and can easily be removed, then you can do that. However, if you have to work at it, best to leave it alone.