Container production of palms

Material Information

Container production of palms
Series Title:
Meerow, Alan W
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Place of Publication:
Gainesville FL
University of Florida, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
8 p. : ill ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Palms -- Florida ( lcsh )
Landscape plants -- Florida ( lcsh )
City of Gainesville ( local )
Seedlings ( jstor )
Overhead irrigation ( jstor )
Commercial production ( jstor )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (p. 5-6).
General Note:
Caption title.
General Note:
"June 1996."
Circular (Florida Cooperative Extension Service) ;
Statement of Responsibility:
Alan W. Meerow.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Marston Science Library, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Engineering and Industrial Experiment Station; Institute for Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS), University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida
Resource Identifier:
35521468 ( OCLC )


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text


The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source

site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.

Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
of Florida



Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Container Production of Palms1

Alan W. Meerow2

Container-grown palms are raised fol essentially
three markets:

* liners for field production
* wholesale or mass market retail sales for
residential landscapes, and
interior specimens, both mass market houseplants
and interiorscape use.

The largest market for container production is the
interior. Palms are outstanding plants for the interior
environment. Properly acclimated, a large number of
subtropical and tropical palm species are capable of
residing under low light conditions for a relatively
long period of time.


There are basically four production regimes for
growing palms in containers. Three of these are
largely oriented toward growers in the tropics, where
cold protection is not as crucial a consideration and
the production environment is thus much less
controlled. It is, however, absolutely essential that a
specimen-sized palm intended for indoor use be
acclimated for at least 1 year prior to exposure to low
light conditions. A palm leaf produced in full sun will
not survive under typical interior conditions (Broschat
et al., 1989).

Containerizedsun-grown-Container palms produced
in full sun will either be used as liners for field

1. This document is Circular 1163, Florida Cooperative Extension
Publication date: June 1996.

Cirou.Iar 1163


production or landscape plants (retail or wholesale).

Containerized, full sun grown, shade acclimated-
This production strategy is also largely limited to
tropical and subtropical areas due to climatic
considerations. The palms remain containerized
throughout production, but are grown first in full sun
for several years. Though foliage may bleach in some
species (e.g., Lady palm-Rhapis excelsa, Bamboo
palm--Chamaedorea seifrizii), exposure to full sun
stimulates increased suckeringg" of many cluster

Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

2. Alan W. Meerow, Palm and Tropical Ornamentals Specialist and associate professor, Department of Environmental Horticulture, Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research,
educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap,
or national origin. For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office.
Florida Cooperative Extension Service / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences / University of Florida / Christine Taylor Stephens, Dean

Container Production of Palms

palms, and larger caliper on solitary palms. The palms
are moved to 70-80% shade for the final 3-12
months of production time. Palms treated in this
manner are usually smaller than specimen size, but
both mass market and intermediate size interiorscape
products can be successfully produced.

Containerized, shade grown-This is the exclusive
method for production for interior palms in more
temperate areas (in greenhouses), though growers in
tropical areas also grow a number of species in
containers under open shade throughout the entire
production cycle. Palms produced under shade usually
have darker green leaves, but growth tends to be
slower and less compact. Using a lower degree of
shade (50-63%) during the first part of the
production cycle and then shifting to heavier shade
(70-80%) for the final year of production provides
some degree of compromise, if the additional costs
can be justified. Retractable shade systems may
provide an even better solution in the future. The vast
majority of the palms produced in this manner are for
the mass market or small specimen interiorscape

Containerized field grown specimens--Palms are
grown to specimen size in the field nursery in full sun
or (in the case of understory palms) as an interplant
with an upper canopy species. When the palm
achieves the desired size, it is dug, containerized and
moved under 70-80% shade for at least 1 year before
sale. This method is largely reserved for high market
value large specimens (15-40 ft overall height) and is
restricted to subtropical and tropical regions. Smaller,
mass market palms can be produced similarly,
however labor costs are high.


Growers of containerized palms can choose to
grow their own liners from seed or purchase seedlings
from another nursery. A grower wishing to produce
material from seed is referred to Palm Seed
Germination (Cooperative Extension Bulletin 274).

Transplanting the Seedlings

Palm seedlings may be transplanted either
immediately after germination or after 1 or 2 leaves
have formed. The objective is to lessen the degree of
root disturbance to the seedlings; thus it is best to
transplant before roots begin to circle the container
or roots of adjacent seedlings become entangled.
Transplant in the warmer months of the year, when

root growth will be rapid. Seedlings will usually have
one long root at the time of first transplanting.
Seedlings should be first transferred from the
germination container to a small liner pot that just
accommodates the root system and allows some
subsequent root growth. Deep liner pots with
essentially open bottoms are being used by a
increasing number of growers. Palm seedlings benefit
from the deeper root run, and long roots emerging
through the bottom opening are "air pruned" and
cease growth, thus significantly eliminating the circling
of roots around the inside walls of the pot. Two
strategies are then possible for subsequent
transplanting of the seedlings. They can be shifted
successively to slightly larger containers as they grow
(frequent small shifts), or they can be transplanted to
larger containers than their size might seem to
warrant (fewer and larger shifts). Frequent small
shifts lessen the chance of ioss due to over-watering,
but increase labor costs. Transplanting into large
containers lowers labor costs and provides for more
unrestricted root growth, but may promote increased
loss due to root rots when the seedlings are small.
Thus, larger, less frequent shifts will require careful
irrigation monitoring while the transplants establish in
the new containers.
Palms are very intolerant of being planted too
deep, regardless of age or size. For palm seedlings,
planting as little as 1/2" too deep can result in severe
production setbacks and, ultimately, death of the
seedlings. Palm seedlings should be transplanted so
that the point on the seedling stem just above where
the root system appears to begin lies at the soil
surface. This point is sometimes marked by a
noticeable swelling, particularly on older seedlings.
Do not sever the connection of the seed to the
seedling palm. If the seed is still attached to the plant
by the cotyledonary petiole (remote germination),
drape the seed over the edge of the pot or allow it to
sit on the soil surface.
Some growers prune palm seedling roots when
transplanting. This is not recommended, and usually
results in growth setbacks or even death of some of
the seedlings. If the seedling root is longer than the
transplant container, it can be allowed to slightly
curve upward or around the inside perimeter of the
container. A better solution is use pots large enough
to accommodate the full length of the root.
Ideally, newly transplanted seedlings should be
placed under light shade (30-50%) for several weeks,
or until new growth is apparent. If this is not possible,
irrigation frequency must be carefully monitored so
that the transplants are not water-stressed during

Page 2

Container Production of Palms

Division of Clustering Palms

Clustering palms, that is those that produce new
erect shoots from a common base or system of
rhizomes, can be divided carefully as a means of
increasing stock. Species that produce new shoots at
some distance from the parent stems (e.g., Rhapis
species) are the most easily divided. In South Florida,
containerized Rhapis excelsa (Lady palm) are typically
propagated in this manner from clumps established in
the ground. Divisions from the parent plant are made
with a sharp spade and carefully lifted with as much
of the root ball as can be managed. Newly separated
divisions are potted and kept shaded and well-watered
until established (4-6 months). A drench with a broad
spectrum fungicide is advisable after potting.



A container medium for palms should be well-
drained, well-aerated and slow to break down (some
palms may remain in the same container for several
years); percent air space of 10-15% is advisable with
a water-holding capacity of 30-40% by volume. A
2:1:1 (v:v:v)mix of peat, pine bark and wood shavings
works well for short term crops, as does a 2:2:1
peat:bark:sand mix. Indications are that either
cocopeat or coir dust (coconut mesocarp short fibers)
is an acceptable substitute for peat. Slower growing
palms benefit from a mix with a higher sand fraction.
Many other mixes are possible as long as they are
slow to break down and meet these porosity and
water-holding characteristics.


Good quality container palms have been produced
with overhead irrigation, drip or trickle irrigation, and
sub-irrigation. Overhead irrigation can detract from
the saleability of the palms if water high in iron and
calcium carbonate leaves deposits on the foliage.
Overhead irrigation may lessen problems with two-
spotted spider mites. For small, mass-market
containerized palms, drip irrigation is the most
sensible system to consider and can be integrated with
a fertigation program for maximum success. Irrigation
frequency of containerized palms will vary
considerably depending on the species grown, the
prevailing temperatures, the type of growing medium,
and the size of the container. This makes it difficult
to generalize. A reasonable rule-of-thumb is to

program irrigation so that the medium remains evenly
moist but never saturated.


Tropical palms grow most productively at
temperatures between 75-95 F. Air temperatures up
to 100"F will usually not have any deleterious effects.
It is important to recognize that the root activity of
many tropical palm species will decrease markedly if
soil temperatures drop below 65" F. During the winter
months, irrigation and fertilization frequency may
need to be reduced accordingly in unheated growing

Palms seedlings do not generally require
fertilization during the first 2-3 months after
germination. During this time, all nutrients are
supplied by storage tissue in the seed. After this
period several fertilization strategies are possible.


Injection of soluble fertilizers into irrigation water
works best in tandem with drip irrigation and/or fast
growing species. Injection of nutrients into overhead
irrigation systems is wasteful and potentially polluting.
For slow-growing palms, fertigation may result in
excess soluble salt accumulation in the root zone.
Constant feeds of 150-200 parts per million (ppm)
nitrogen and potassium and 50-75 ppm magnesium
are recommended. The containers should be leached
with plain water once per month if not exposed to
rainfall. The program should be reduced if
temperatures drop below 650F.

Slow-release fertilizers

For a short term palm crop, incorporation of
slow-release fertilizers in the medium before potting
is a good idea. Per cubic yard of a peat-based
medium, incorporation of 12-15 lb of NPK, 1-2 lb of
micronutrient blend, and 5-7 lb of dolomitic
limestone (for pH adjustment as well supplementary
calcium and magnesium) should provide sufficient
nutrition for the first 6-12 months of growth. New
resin-coated "total" fertilizers are becoming available
with release durations of up to three years. The high
cost of such fertilizers may be offset by the reduced
labor for a short-term crop. A 3:1:3:1 ratio of
nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium
appears excellent for palms (Broschat and Meerow,

Page 3

Container Production of Palms

1991), though this exact ratio may not be as important
for organic container media as for field soils.

Granular top-dressing

Most "palm specials" in the United States are
formulated for landscape or field nursery use. There
are a number of granular fertilizers available for use
as container top-dresses for nursery stock, and they
work adequately for palms. A 3:l:3:1N:P:K:Mg ratio
is recommended (Broschat and Meerow, 1991). While
it is also recommended that 50% of both N and K be
in slow-release form for landscape and field nursery
use, the good cation exchange capacity of most
container media makes this less urgent a priority,
unless irrigation and/or rainfall is frequent and heavy.

Foliar feeds

Many indoor palm growers carry on a regular
program of foliar fertilization, even though research
has not supported this method as the most effective
way to fertilize. This is an extremely inefficient way to
provide macronutrients; palm leaves can only absorb
marginal quantities of N, P, K and Mg through the
leaves. While micronutrients can be applied as a foliar
spray, even chelated forms are best applied to the
root zone for maximum efficiency of uptake. Foliar
applications of micronutrients should not be
performed more than once per month.
Foliar analyses are valuable diagnostic tools for
container grown palms if sub-optimal nutrition levels
are suspected in the crop. In table 1, suggested foliar
nutrient levels are listed for several ornamental
palms. Further information and color pictures of
common palm nutrient deficiency symptoms are
available in University of Florida Publication SS-
ORH-02, Palm Nutrition Guide.

Weed Control

Preemergent herbicides should be applied to
weed-free container medium surfaces before weed
seeds germinate. Some herbicides require
incorporation into the soil either manually or by 1/2-2"
of precipitation or overhead irrigation. Palm species
tolerant of preemergent herbicides are listed in table
1. Each herbicide listed in table 1 has been tested for
safe weed control in selected palms. Other palm
species must be tested for possible plant toxicity
before being added to the label for use in commercial
palm production.
Postemergent herbicides are applied to actively
growing weeds. They are most effective when the

weeds are small. These herbicides should be applied
one or more hours before any rainfall or overhead
irrigation. Weeds should not be cultivated for several
days after application or effectiveness may be
reduced. The only postemergent herbicides registered
for use in palm nurseries are Fluazifop-P-butyl
propanoate (Ornamec) and sethoxydim (Vantage).
These two herbicides will only kill annual and
perennial grasses; they are ineffective on broadleaf
weeds and sedges. In some cases, both must be
applied as a directed spray around the base of palms.
Glyphosate will kill grasses, broadleaf weeds, and
sedges. Should glyphosate drift onto leaves or green
stem tissue of palms (and possibly exposed white
roots as well), plants may be stunted and new leaves
deformed. However, palms should grow out of this
injury within a few weeks (Donselman and Broschat,

Cold protection

Palms in heated greenhouses are generally safe
from freeze damage unless heaters fail. In open
shadehouses or in the full sun container nursery,
special protection is necessary. Anti-transpirant
chemicals applied to the foliage may help prevent
cold damage, but there is insufficient research proving
that these chemicals provide significant cold

Overhead irrigation (Icing)

Icing the plants with overhead irrigation works
well if performed properly. The irrigation must be
turned on before temperatures reach freezing and
should continue until the ice visibly melts from the
plant surfaces. The weight of the ice can, however,
cause breakage of palm leaves.

Thermal blankets

Specialized fabrics for covering container plants
are available for use during short periods of freezing
weather. Unfortunately, the small increment of
protection (2-3 F) is usually reduced by at least half
after the first night.


Container palms, like other tropical foliage plants,
are subject to a number of generalized plant pests
such as mealybugs, thrips and scales. False oleander,
black thread and brown scales are the most common

Page 4

Container Production of Palms

scale insects on Florida container palms. Supracide (a
highly toxic, restricted use insecticide) and Cygon 2E
(demethoate) have proven effective on both scales
and mealybugs. Lannate has successfully controlled
number of thrips, but has now lost its ornamental
label. Several pests are particular problems on
container palms, however.

Two-spotted (red) spider mite

Spider mites are a particular problem on
greenhouse-grown indoor palms, and on many
Chamaedorea species. The predatory mite species,
Phytoseiulus persimilis has been very successfully used
to control two-spotted mites on palms in the
greenhouse environment and in shadehouses as well.

Banana moth (Opogona sacchari)

The larva of this moth has been a destructive pest
on Chamaedorea species and arecas chiefly, but other
palm species, especially slender stemmed species, are
susceptible as well. The pest is confined to South
Florida. The caterpillar tunnels through the stems of
the palms. Lindane and Sevin have had some success
in control, and Dipel (Bacillus thungeriensis) may be
effective as well. Parasitic nematodes have also been
fairly effective in controlling infestations of this insect.


The most complete and current review of palm
diseases can be found in Chase and Broschat (1989).
Several disease problems are particularly prevalent in
container palm production in the United States.

Gliocladium blight (Pink rot)

This fungal disease is a serious problem on
Chamaedorea species and areca palms. The causal
agent is not active at temperatures above 85 F, thus
it is primarily a winter disease. Oozing lesions occur
on the stems, and leaves turn brown and droop. The
fungus produces salmon-pink, powdery fruiting bodies.
The disease is easily spread if affected leaves are
pulled off the plant prematurely, thus leaving an
entrance for new disease inoculum.

Leaf spots

Leaf spots diseases caused by various Bipolaris,
Exserohilum and Phaeotrichones fungi (often called the
Helminthosporium-complex) affect a broad range of
indoor palms. The disease is easily spread by

overhead irrigation and poor greenhouse sanitation.
Cercospora leaf spot is frequently a problem on
Rhapis palms, cylindricladium on kentia (Howea
forsteriana), and anthacnose (Colletotrichum) on
various species.

Phytophthora bud rots

Often this disease is not observed until the spear
leaf wilts, turns brown and then black. If pulled, a foul
smell is often noticed. Unfortunately, at this point, it
is too late for control measures. This soil borne,
warm-season disease is aggravated by wet conditions.
Soil drenches with metalaxyl (Subdue), or foliar spray
with fosetyl aluminum (Alliette) are the best controls
in the early stages of infection. Bacterial bud rots are
less common, but frequently the cause of bud loss
after freeze damage (Meerow, 1992).


Palms grown for export into the European market
must be produced in a media that contains no conifer
Palms grown for the California market must be
produced on raised benches at least 18" above the
ground and treated with approved insecticides for fire
ant control.
Growers interested in certification for either
market should contact the Florida Department of
Agriculture, Division of Plant Industry for the latest


Production times vary widely depending on
the species and the finished size. For fast-growing
areca palms (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), a 8-10"
container crop can be produced in 1.5-2 years from
seed, while a slow-growing species such as kentia
(Howea forsteriana) may take 3-5 years from seed to
a finished 10" container.


Broschat, T. L. and Meerow, A. W. 1990. Palm
nutrition guide. University of Florida Extension
Circular SS-ORH-02, Gainesville.

Broschat, T. L., Donselman, H., and McConnell, D.
B. 1989. Light acclimatization in Ptychosperma elegans.
HortScience 24:267-268.

Page 5

Container Production of Palms

Burch, D., Atilano, A. and Reinert, J. 1983. Indoor
palm production guide for commercial growers.
University of Florida Extension Fact Sheet OHC-8,

Chase, A. C. and Broschat, T. K. (editors). 1991.
Diseases and Disorders of Ornamental palms.
American Phytopathological Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Donselman, H. and Broschat, T. K. 1986.
Phytotoxicity of several pre- and postemergent
herbicides on container grown palms. Proc. Fla. State
Hort. Soc. 99:273-274.

Meerow, A. W. 1991. Treating cold damaged palms.
University of Florida Fact Sheet OH-92, Gainesville.

Norcini, J. G., Meerow, A. W., and Meister, C. W.
1991. Weed control in palm production. Florida
Nurseryman 38(12):12-14.


-* w 7 a"-WI a s RY

Page 6

Container Production of Palms


=,)C J~f "JL'Y 3 1262 05588 6799 ;
19--- _. -_ ,_-_ ___ _---- v-= j


Table 1. Critical concentrations of 13 elements in: Group I-Chamaedorea elegans (Neanthe bella), C. erumpens and
Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (Areca); Group II-Howea fosteriana (Kentia) and Rhapis excelsa (Lady palm). Concentrations above
the maximum range are considered excessive. All data from Chase and Broschat (1991).

Element Group Deficient Low Normal High

N (%)

S (%)

P (%)

K (%)

Mg (%)

Ca (%)

Na (%)

Fe (ppm)

Al (ppm)

Mn (ppm)

B (ppm)

Cu (ppm)

Zn (ppm)



0 26-0 39






0 85-2.25


2.80-4 00

Container Production of Palms



Table 2. Herbicides labelled for use in or around palms.

Latin Name Common Name Herbicide(s)

Butia capitata
Caryota mitis
Chamaedorea cataractarum
Chamaedorea elegans

Chamaedorea seifrizii
Chamaerops humilis

Chrysalidocarpus lutescens
Licuala grandis
Livistona chinensis
Phoenix canariensis

Phoenix dactylifera
Phoenix reclinata
Phoenix roebelenii

Phoenix repicola

Phoenix sylvestris
Ptychosperma macarthuri
Syagrus romanzoffiana
Trachycarpus fortune

Veitchia merrilli

Washingtonia filifera

Washingtonia robusta

Pindo palm, Jelly palm
Fishtail palm
Cat palm
Parlor palm

Bamboo palm
European fan palm

Areca palm
Licuala palm
Chinese fan palm
Canary Island palm

Date palm
Senegal date palm

Pygmy date palm

Cliff date palm
Wild date palm
Macarthur palm
Queen palm
Windmill palm

Manila palm, Adonidia, Christmas
Desert fan palm
Washington palm

Southern Weedgrass Control
Ronstar G

Gallery, Snapshot DF
Gallery, OH-II, Ronstar G,
Snapshot DF
Gallery, Ronstar G
Southern Weedgrass Control,
Ronstar G
Ornamec, Southern Weedgrass
Southern Weedgrass Cotnrol
Southern Weedgrass Control
Ornamec, Southern Weedgrass
Southern Weedgrass Control
Southern Weedgrass Control
Ronstar G
Southern Weedgrass Control,
Ronstar G

Southern Weedgrass Control
Devrinol, Ornamec,
Southern Weedgrass Control

Page 8