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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why Are My Palm Fronds Brown?

Q.  I have had this palm for 10 years now.  It seems like every time I try to add additional water with a hose or bucket I lose more fronds. Every year I have to cut higher on the palm and get rid of the dead fronds. I don't cut anything with green on it.   I tried driving a metal stake down 18 inches but did not pick up any visible moisture in 3 different places.   Any ideas on how I can go about this from a more scientific method?

Readers palm tree with Aptenia
A. I did not see a whole lot wrong with your palm in the picture. It is pretty normal for the fronds to begin to brown out and start to die once they hit horizontal. In our climate it is also pretty common to have some tip burn on the leaves along the fronds, particularly as they get older and drop closer to horizontal. I would guess a palm tree that size might require 10 or 15 gallons each time you water.

Companion plant may be a problem. Looks like you've got Aptenia growing at the base of the palm. This plant is not complementary to a palm that has a deep root system. Aptenia has a very shallow root system. Trying to irrigate Aptenia and a palm at the same time does not work very well. If you are going to plant something at the base of a palm, you want to plant something that has a similar watering schedule.

Irrigation is different. To keep Aptenia alive you have to irrigate probably daily. Palms do not like that. They like to be watered more deeply and less often. You can squeak by this year but next year I would replant at the base of the Palm with something that is more deep-rooted that can give you some color. By the way, Aptenia might not be a good selection anyway at that location. The flowers are small at that distance so you don't get much impact from the color.

Pick something with larger flowers and a deeper root system. Look at woody perennials that can give you season-long color in that spot. Woody perennials that are repeat bloomers and I can handle the direct sunlight in that location would be a good choice. Roses come to mind.

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