Caring for Trees and Palms: Four Key Differences

Palm trees are a common site in Bel Air; like many other parts of southern California, they are an indelible part of the scenery and skyline. But while palms are well-suited for our region and make great additions to most Southern California properties, they are very different from most other trees.

In fact, palms aren’t true trees at all. They don’t possess a lateral growth zone (called the cambium) which is responsible for the outward growth of tree branches and trunks; instead the tissue in their stems simply expands as the tree grows. In fact, palm trees do not produce growth rings like true trees do.

There are myriad other differences between palms and true trees, and many affect the ways in which you must care for them. Four of the most important differences include the following:

1. To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize: That Is the Question

While most newly planted hardwoods and conifers will thrive without the need for fertilizer, there are occasionally circumstances in which fertilizer can be helpful. However, this is almost never a good idea for palm trees, and it can seriously damage the palm’s delicate roots. In most cases, it is best to allow palms to establish themselves over the course of 3 to 5 months before adding any fertilizer (and then, only if soil tests determine that it is wise to do so).

2. Changing Needs for Sunlight

Just like many true trees – especially pioneer species, such as aspens and pines — many palms love full sun exposure and grow best when provided with plenty of it. However, young palms are much more sensitive to sunlight than most sun-loving hardwoods and conifers of a similar age. If placed in a location that has too much sunlight, young palms often become scorched in the strong light. Accordingly, it is often wise to plant new palms in areas that receive some shade throughout the day, during their delicate early years.

3. Pruning Dead Weight

In most cases, it is not only acceptable to remove dead limbs and foliage from typical trees, it is actually advisable. Removing dead limbs – a process called crown cleaning – rarely harms oaks, sycamores or dogwoods, as long as the cuts are made in the correct locations and with the proper technique. However, prematurely removing dying fronds from a palm can lead to considerable stress. Palms slowly pull out the nutrients locked in these fronds, and by removing them too early, you deprive the tree of much-needed resources. Additionally, you can expose the developing fronds to too much sunlight and wind, which can lead to further problems.

4. True Trees Are Better Equipped to Seal Up Wounds

True trees have evolved a very effective way to seal up wounds and prevent the spread of fungi, bacteria and other pathogens. Called compartmentalization, the process involves the tree encapsulating the damaged area with sap and protective chemicals. However, palms are unable to compartmentalize wounds. This often means that even a relatively minor bit of damage can lead to the eventual death of a fully grown palm. Given this, it is important to install palms in relatively out-of-the-way locations, that are not subject to much foot traffic.

If you have questions about the best ways to care for your palms, or you’d just prefer to outsource the task to the professionals, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call.