While many palm species are adapted to windstorms, a hurricane or major storm can damage even the most tolerant palm trees. Make sure to wait until after the storm to venture outside and assess damage. Once an assessment has been made, you can begin to care for your damaged palm trees.
It is important to understand how palm trees grow. The growing point of a palm is the palm bud or palm heart, which is located at the top of the trunk surrounded by leaf bases. All new leaves come from this bud. If the bud is severely damaged, new leaves fail to develop and palm will eventually die. Unless the palm trunk is broken or it is otherwise obvious that the bud has been damaged, there is no way to predict which palms will survive wind damage. Certain palm species are more tolerant of high winds than others. This includes the native sabal palm and royal palm, both survive high winds, but in very different ways. While sabal palms lose very few leaves, royal palms shed most of their leaves.
It takes 6 months or more before it is apparent that a palm will recover. Recovery consists of new leaves emerging from the bud. In some cases, the new leaves will not look normal. However, over time, each emerging leaf should appear a little more normal than the one before. It is recommended to monitor damage over the following two years. Sometimes problems occur before storms, but are not noticed until after a storm when close inspection of the palm trees is taking place. The challenge is determining which problems existed before and which are caused by the storm.
Broken Palms – if the trunk of a single-stemmed palm is broken, it should be cut at the base and removed. If possible, the stump should be removed or ground up.
Uprooted Palms – Palms should be stood upright as soon as possible and replanted at the same depth at which they were planted previously. Bracing is necessary and should be kept in place for at least 6 months.
Leaf Removal– If the broken leaves are still green, it is recommended to leave the attached. If only a few leaves are broken, then removing only these leaves may be acceptable.
Fertilization– For palms that are not uprooted, maintain the same fertilization program that was in place prior to the storm. Replanted palms need to exhibit new growth before fertilizer is applied to the root zone.
Fungicides– The only chemical pesticides that may have an effect on both fungi and bacteria are copper-based fungicides which should be applied as a drench to the bud (only if the bud is damaged), not the soil. All fungicides must be used in accordance with the label. Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agriculture Agent to learn about pesticides and their applications. It is best to reserve fungicide use for those palms that are highly valuable or severely damaged.
Yellow New Leaves Immediately After the Storm– Most commonly seen on royal palms, it has been observed on other palms as well. New sprouting leafs, known as the spear leaf, are unopened and stands upright. In a windstorm, these leaves can be forced open prematurely and the leaf turns the color of a mature palm leaf. If the bud is not damaged, the palm will produce a new canopy. It will take a year or more for the entire canopy to be replaced.
Soluble Salts in the Soil– If the landscape has been flooded with salt water, the evaporated salt can cause serious injury to many species of palm. If a significant rainfall doesn’t occur after the flood recedes, it may help to heavily leach the soil around palms with fresh water as soon as possible.
Palm trees are beautiful for a Florida landscape and tough enough to ride out the storm. However, sometimes they can be damaged if the storm is dangerous enough. For more information on damaged palm care, click here.
Jana Hart- Extension Agent- FCS/4-H