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Reach For The Sky

REACH FOR THE SKY                                                        

Sabal palmetto palms have also been called "Cabbage" palms because they're harvested for use in salads as hearts of palm.  The shag of dead leaves beneath the green crown on palm trees is sometimes called a "petticoat".  The leaf bases, minus leaves, along the trunk are called "boots".  If left on the palmetto tree, they give a basket weave effect to the trunk.

Palm trees are primitive plants.  They can't be made to branch and they can't be shortened by topping.  Their growth bud is in the very center of the foliage in the crown of the tree.  If the bud dies, so does the tree. 

Occasionally you might see an irrigation pipe run up the trunk of a palmetto with a sprinkler head at the top.  According to experts, this is a definite no-no.  No one knows how the idea originated but it has a life of its own. 

Some people think if the growth bud is brown, it needs water.  Not so.  It's probably dead and no amount of water will green it up.  Palms don't take in water through their leaves, only through their roots.  Splashing excessive water directly on the crown of the tree encourages bud rot and can kill the tree. 

The trunk also won't repair itself.  It's a single stem with all its cells developed before it starts to elongate into a trunk.  It cannot regenerate new wood.  Any injury to the trunk is permanent.  Braces should never be nailed directly to the trunk. 

Unlike most others in the plant kingdom, palms should be planted when they're in active growth during the spring and summer.  They like it hot.  Palmetto palms also transplant best with a tall trunk established, the roots cut off, and most or all of the leaves removed.  If they haven't started to stretch with a trunk, they should only be transplanted as a potted plant.

Water is essential to their survival.  They need water every 4-5 days for the first 4-6 months while they become established.  Check the backfilled soil to make sure it's getting wet to a depth of 6-8 inches.  This surrounding soil should not dry out but also should not become swampy.

Palmettos like fertile, moist, well-drained soils.  Once established in the landscape, they need watering every week during the summer's active growth period.

Their biggest requirement other than water is the proper fertilizer.  Palmettos suffer from deficiencies of magnesium and manganese.  They need a fertilizer that contains as many minor elements as possible. 

Leaves with spots or streaks of yellow, orange, or brown could mean they need some extra fertilization.  They also don't tolerate cold weather as well, if they're sickly.

What is the allure of these old plants?  Most likely it is the tropical effect the palmettos create.  There is something exotic about these tall, handsome, natural umbrellas.  Perhaps they're popularity has to do with a memory or a dream as much as aesthetics. 

Warm tropical days, moonlit nights, soft music, and palm trees swaying in the wind conjure up a feeling of peace and solitude, a personal island in the sun.  Palm trees beckon 'Slow down'.  While they reach for the sky, you can add a hammock and stretch out.  Just don't nail it to the palmetto.

---Anne K Moore---


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