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Group Title: Circular
Title: Transplanting palms
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00014452/00001
 Material Information
Title: Transplanting palms
Series Title: Circular
Physical Description: 6 p. : col. ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Meerow, Alan W
Broschat, Timothy K
Publisher: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville
Publication Date: 1992
Subject: Palms -- Transplanting   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 6).
Statement of Responsibility: Alan W. Meerow and Timothy K. Broschat.
General Note: Title from cover.
General Note: "April 1992."
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00014452
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltqf - AAA6905
ltuf - AJF7270
oclc - 26241636
alephbibnum - 001744513

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
Full Text

April 1992

Circular 1047




Alan W. Meerow and Timothy K. Broschat
,/ ;. /?

Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
John T. Woeste, Dean



Alan W. Meerow is an assistant Professor and Timothy K. Broschat is Professor of Tropical Ornamentals, Ft. Lauderdale Research
and Education Center.

Palms have a deserved reputation for ease of
transplanting relative to similarly sized broad-
leaved trees. The common sight of tractor trailer
loads of 20-foot tall or larger palms are testimonial
to this fact. Nonetheless, transplant failure is not
unknown, and replacement percentages can rise as
high as 30 percent or more on an installation. Such
failures can be greatly minimized with improved
understanding of how palm root systems regener-
ate after digging from a field nursery, a landscape
site, or the wild, and by paying greater attention to
the care received by the palms in the first critical
months after installation. The purpose of this cir-
cular is to describe and discuss these factors, and
suggest optimum conditions for successfully trans-
planting specimen-sized palms.

Harvesting palms for installation

Developmental age and transplant
Palms, unlike broad-leaved woody trees, com-
plete stem caliper growth before beginning substan-
tial height increase. During this "establishment
phase" (Tomlinson 1990), the root initiation zone at
the base of the stem is developed to its fullest po-

tential. Consequently, palms are not very tolerant of
the extreme root disturbance that accompanies dig-
ging from a site of previous growth until visible trunk
development has taken place (Broschat and
Donselman 1990a). This is most critical for species
that characteristically complete a great deal of stem
development deeply below ground (for example,
Bismarckia noblilis, Latania spp., Sabal spp.). Even
if the palms are not killed by premature transplant-
ing, growth setbacks and possibly less than optimum
caliper development may occur. Young palms (that
is, without visible trunk development) should thus be
transplanted only from containers.

Time of year and transplant success
Palms establish most quickly if transplanted dur-
ing the spring and early summer when soils tempera-
tures are on the increase. Many tropical palms ex-
hibit reduced root function at soils temperatures be-
low 650 F. An additional advantage is the higher
rainfall normally experienced during this time in
Florida, thereby reducing the need for supplementary
irrigation during the first critical months of estab-
lishment. In south Florida, time of year is not as
critical from the perspective of temperature, though
mid-winter planting should be avoided if possible.

Table 1. Root system responses of selected palm species to digging after approximately five months'.

Species Branching New root initiation

Cocos nucifera 50% cut roots branch Low2 (20 or less)
(Coconut) regardless of stub length

Phoenix reclinata 33% cut roots branch Moderate (about 60)
(Senegal date) if stubs are at least 2' long

Roystonea regia 24% cut roots branch if High (about 100)
(Cuban royal) stubs are 1-2' long;
36% if 2-3' long
Sabal palmetto Negligible Very high (about 200)
(Cabbage palm)

Syagrus romanzoffiana3 41% cut roots branch Low (13)
(Queen palm) if stubs are 6"-1' long

Washingtonia robusta 31% cut roots branch if Very high (about 150)
(Mexican fan) stubs are 1-2' long;
58% if stubs are 2-3' long

'All data from Broschat and Donselman 1984a and b, 1990b.
2May increase with age
3Redug after 18 weeks of regrowth

Patterns of palm root system regen-
eration and root ball size
Research has determined that palms vary in
their root regeneration response when dug
(Broschat and Donselman 1984a, 1984b, 1990b;
Table 1). For queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana),
royal palm (Roystonea regia), Mexican fan palm
(Washingtonia robusta) and Senegal date palm
(Phoenix reclinata) the percentage of cut roots that
branch and continue growing is directly propor-
tional to the length of the remaining stub. This
would argue for including the largest root ball pos-
sible for these species when digging, at least from
the perspective of root survival in the landscape. A
one foot minimum radius (from the trunk) is recom-
mended for these palms. While a larger root ball
may well increase transplant success, the addi-
tional weight and costs involved in transportation
may not justify the slight gains in post transplant
survival. It should also be kept in mind that the
vertical length of the root ball is often larger than
the horizontal radius on palms dug from a field or
landscape site, thus vertically oriented root stubs
will likely be longer than these minimum recom-
Queen palms will likely survive with a root ball
of 6 inch radius, but a larger root ball will increase
root survival at the landscape site. Root branching
in coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) does not appear
to be dependent on the size of the root ball. In
sabal palms (Sabal palmetto), virtually all of which
are dug from native stands rather than nursery
grown, negligible root branching occurs, and new
roots must be initiated from the trunk. For these
two species, smaller root balls are acceptable. For
palms that must regenerate new roots from the

.. I W W :-.1

Figure 1. Root system regeneration on Royal palm, a mix of
branching roots and new roots arising from the trunk base.

Figure 2. Typical manually dug root ball for a coconut less
than 15' in height.

trunk, root pruning 2-3 months before digging will
provide adequate time for new root growth within
the ball.
From the list of palms whose root regeneration
patterns have been studied (Table 1), it appears that
the most common response is 1) some degree of
branching of cut roots, the percentage increasing
with the length of the stub (up to a point) accompa-
nied by 2) some variable degree of new root initiation
from the trunk base (Fig. 1). In general, for single-
stemmed palms less than fifteen feet in height, a root
ball of shovel-width radius from the trunk is a com-
mon industry average for size and should provide for
adequate root survival in those species exhibiting
that response (Fig. 2). For clustering or larger soli-
tary specimens, an incrementally larger root ball
may be advisable to insure successful establishment
under site conditions that may be less than ideal. An
obvious concern for the field grower is to minimize
loss of soil from the field.
Specimen-sized palms that are containerized after
harvest for the interiorscape market and smaller,
containerized mass-market palms usually have the
root ball trimmed further before containerization.
Such palms are moved into shade structures for accli-
matization where growing conditions are optimal for
root system regeneration.
Root pruning. Root pruning has generally not
been considered necessary for palms, with the excep-
tion of Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis) and a few
others. However, all of the species so far examined
also produce new roots from the trunk base (Table 1),
in addition to any root branching, when dug. This
would strongly suggest that all palms would benefit
from root pruning four to eight weeks before digging

from the harvest site to encourage new root initia-
tion. Of course, this would add a substantial labor
cost for either the grower or installer. However, if
the species is a particularly high value palm for
which replacement costs would be expensive, the
extra labor may well be cost effective.

Digging the palm
Palms can be dug by hand, with gasoline powered
tree spades, or spades mounted on small tractors.
Soils that cling to the root ball are the most ame-
nable to mechanized harvest. Palms grown in very
sandy soils, which may fall away from the roots,
might require hand digging. Prior to digging, the
soil around the root system should be thoroughly
wetted to help keep the root ball together. Palms
grown on sandy soils will usually need to have their
root balls burlapped after digging, while palms
grown on soils with greater structural integrity may
not require burlapping. If the dug palms will be
held in storage in the field for some time before ship-
ment, burlapping may also be necessary, regardless
of the soil type. In such situations, the root ball as
well as the trunk and foliage should be periodically

Preparation for transport
When moving palms out of the field, they should
be well-supported to prevent injury to the tender
heart. Some palms (for example, King Alexander,
Archontophoenix alexandrae) are much more sensi-
tive to heart injury due to rough handling than
others, and require extra care in transport. For cer-
tain species with slender trunks (for example,
Senegal date, Phoenix reclinata; Paurotis palm,
Acoelorrhaphe wrightii), a supporting splint should
be tied to each trunk and should extend into the foli-
age to protect the bud. Palms with very heavy
crowns (for example, Canary Island date palm, Phoe-
nix canariensis) should be braced similarly to pre-
vent the weight of the crown from snapping the bud.
Stems of clustering palms should also be tied to-
gether for additional support.
A tree crane is usually required to lift large palms
out of the field, and the trunk should be protected
with burlap or other material wherever ropes,
cables, chains or straps will be attached (Fig. 3).
Leaf removal. The greatest loss of water in newly
dug palms occurs from transpiration through the
leaves. To minimize this, one half or more of the
older leaves should be removed at the time of dig-
ging. The remaining leaves should be tied together
in a bundle around the bud with a biodegradable

twine. The best method of insuring survival after
transplanting to the landscape may be to remove
ALL leaves on species like sabal palms that must
regenerate all new roots from the trunk (see below,
Special Cases). Complete leaf removal may also be
advisable during installation of any species where
normal post-transplant irrigation is impossible.
However, many buyers will object to this practice
for aesthetic reasons. Where practical, misting or
irrigation of the foliage may reduce water loss dur-
ing the transplant process, though there is an ac-
companying risk of increasing disease problems in
the canopy.

Site preparation
It is always best to install newly dug specimen
palms immediately to minimize stress and possible
loss of the palm. If delivered palms cannot be
planted immediately upon arrival at the installa-
tion site, the palms should be placed out of direct

Figure 3. Tree crane used to lift a specimen size palm.

Figure 4. Palms stored at installation site with root balls
heeled in under soil.

sun and the trunk, root ball and canopy kept moist.
Temporarily "heeling in" the root balls under a
layer of mulch is advisable, especially if other no
means of keeping the roots from drying out is avail-
able (Fig. 4).
Installation site conditions also contribute to the
establishment success of transplanted palms. A
well drained location is essential; standing water
should not appear at the bottom of the planting
hole. If drainage is a problem at the site, a berm
should be constructed to raise the root ball above
the level of water. Though some palm species may
adjust to less than optimal drainage after establish-
ment, standing water around a newly dug root ball
will have adverse effects on root regeneration.
The planting hole should be wide enough to eas-
ily accept the root ball and provide at least several
inches of new growth from the ball. It need only be
deep enough to situate the palm at the same depth
at which it previously grew. The amending of back-
fill soil from the planting hole is not recommended.
If the backfill soil differs greatly in structure and
texture from the surrounding site soil, new roots
will have a tendency to remain within the backfill.
If amending the backfill soil is demanded by the
customer, the volume of amendment should not ex-
ceed twenty-five percent of the soil removed from
the hole.

Planting and support
Planting depth. It is imperative that palms not
be transplanted any deeper than they were origi-
nally grown (Fig. 5). The root initiation zone at the
base of the trunk is extremely sensitive in this re-
gard, and planting too deeply will cause root suffo-
cation, nutritional deficiencies, root rot disease and
frequently loss of the palm. Unfortunately, it is

still a common practice for installers to situate
specimen-sized palms at various depths in order to
create a planting of uniform height. The decline of
deeply planted palms may take several years to be-
come apparent, especially on very well-drained
soils, but it can only be reversed by removing the
backfill from the suffocated root initiation zone or
replanting the palm.
All air pockets should be tamped out of the back-
fill as the planting hole is filled. A berm should be
mounded up at the periphery of the root ball to re-
tain water during irrigation. The initial irrigation
should be deep and thorough. Filling the planting
hole with water up to the berm will be necessary
two to three times to fully wet and settle the soil.
Support. Larger palms will require some form of
bracing to maintain stability during the first six to
eight months after installation. The proper method
of support is illustrated in Figure 6. Short lengths
of 2" x 4" lumber should be banded or strapped to
the trunk (a foundation of burlap or asphalt paper
can be placed around the trunk under these), and
support braces (also 2" x 4", or 4" x 4" on very large
specimens) are then nailed into them. Under no
circumstances should nails be driven directly into a
palm trunk. Such damage is permanent, and pro-
vides entryway for pathogens and possibly insect
pests as well.

Establishment care
The root ball and surrounding backfill should re-
main evenly moist, but never saturated during the
first four to six months after installation. Supple-

Figure 5. This palm, which had begun to show noticeable de-
cline in the canopy, was planted several feet too deeply.

Figure 6. The proper method of supporting a newly installed large palm specimen.

mentary irrigation is necessary unless adequate
rainfall is received during this time period. Newly
transplanted specimen-sized palms should not be ex-
pected to produce a great deal of new top growth
during the first year after transplanting; much of the
palm's energy reserves will (and should) be chan-
neled into root growth. Drenching the root zone two
to four times during the first few months with a fun-
gicide labelled for landscape use on soil borne root
fungal pathogens is recommended for high value
palms. A light surface application of a partially
slow-release "palm special" granular fertilizer can be
banded at the margins of the root ball three to four
months after transplanting. A foliar spray of soluble
micronutrients may be beneficial during this period,
since root absorption activity is limited. Foliar fer-
tilization is an inefficient way to supply macronutri-
ents (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium)
because the relatively high amounts required by the
palms. When the appearance of new leaves indicates
that establishment has been successful, a regular
fertilization program (three to four times per year
optimally) can begin (see "Palm Nutrition Guide,"
Extension Circular SS-ORH-02).

Special cases
Cabbage or Sabal Palms
Sabal palms are the most widely planted of all
palms in the southeastern United States. Virtually
all are dug as mature specimens from natural stands
because their slow growth rate makes nursery pro-
duction uneconomical. Survival rates for trans-
planted sabal palms are often low. In sabal palm
(Sabal palmetto) virtually no cut roots survive, re-
gardless of length. Thus, transplanted sabal palms
have no functional root system for the six to eight
month period required for the production of new ad-
ventitious roots from the root initiation zone at the
base of the trunk (Broschat and Donselman 1984a).
The standard procedure for transplanting field-
grown sabal palms has been to remove the lower
two-thirds of the leaves and tie the remaining leaves
into a tight bundle around the bud to reduce transpi-
ration. The remaining leaves typically become desic-
cated and die within one to two months and the
palms may appear to be dead. If the palm survives,
new green leaves will eventually emerge from within
the canopy of dead foliage.

Figure 7. Palmetto weevil larvae feeding inside a palm leaf

Broschat (1991) monitored an installation of sev-
eral hundred sabal palms with trunks from ten to
twenty feet long in a street median landscape in Mi-
ami, Florida. Approximately half were trans-
planted using the standard practice of removing all
but the top one-third of the leaves and tying these
remaining leaves up with biodegradable twine. The
other half had all leaves removed prior to trans-
planting. All palms received soil irrigation as
needed during the eight month evaluation period.
The survival rate for palms transplanted without
leaves was ninety-five percent, compared to sixty-
four percent for those transplanted with one-third
of their leaves remaining. Among the surviving
palms, canopy size was slightly smaller for palms
transplanted with leaves. In addition to the lower
survival rate for palms transplanted with leaves,
the fact that all the original leaves died and had to
be later removed by hand makes this practice costly
in terms of labor requirements.
Complete leaf removal appears to be the best
method for transplanting sabal palms, which lose
all their roots in the transplant operation.

Palms susceptible to palmetto weevil
Palmetto weevils (Rynchophorus cruentatus) are
large beetles that are drawn to stressed palms.
They most frequently attack cabbage palms (Sabal
palmetto) and Canary Island date palms (Phoenix

canariensis), but have been reported on Mexican fan
palms (Washingtonia robusta), Bismarck palms
(Bismarckia nobilis) and latan palms (Latania spp.)
Adult females lay eggs in the leaf bases of the crown,
and the large larvae quickly tunnel into the heart, de-
stroying the palm (Fig. 7). All efforts should be made to
reduce transplant stress on susceptible species. A pre-
ventative spray of either Lindane or Dursban, applied
at and again several weeks after installation, has
shown some success in keeping palms free of infestation
(Giblin-Davis and Howard 1988).

Acclimatization of interior specimens
It is absolutely essential that palms intended for the
low-light conditions of the interiorscape be subjected to
an acclimatization period of at least one year under
shade (Broschat et al. 1989) after transplanting from
full sun conditions. Leaves produced in full sun will not
survive under low-light conditions and must be replaced
by new leaves produced in shade. The amount of time
necessary for complete replacement will vary with
species, but one leaf every two months is a reasonable
average across a broad spectrum of palm species.

Broschat, T. K. 1991. Effects of leaf removal on survival of
transplanted sabal palms. J. Arboriculture 17: 32-33.
Broschat, T. K. and H. M. Donselman. 1984a. Root regen-
eration in transplanted palms. Principes 28: 90-91.
Broschat, T.K. and H.M. Donselman. 1984b. Regrowth of
severed palm roots. J. Arboric. 10: 238-240.
Broschat, T. K. and H. Donselman. 1986. Factors affecting
palm transplant success. Proc. Fl. State Hort. Soc. 100: 396-
Broschat, T. K. and H. Donselman. 1990a. IBA, plant ma-
turity and regeneration of palm root systems. HortScience 25:
Broschat, T. K. and H. Donselman. 1990b. Regeneration
of severed roots in Washingtonia robusta and Phoenix
reclinata. Principes 34: 96-97.
Broschat, T. K., H. Donselman and D. B. McConnell. 1989.
Light acclimatization of Ptychosperma elegans. HortSci. 24:
Giblin-Davis, R. M. and F. W. Howard. 1988. Notes on the
palmetto weevil, Rynchophorus cruentatus (Coleoptera:
Curculionidae). Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 101: 101-107.
Tomlinson, P. B. 1990. The Structural Biology of Palms.
Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose of the May 8 and June
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