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Tropical palm treePalms and cycads are truly beautiful plants that enhance any landscape with their tropical appearance. In South Carolina, they are fairly tolerant to many problems that are common in tropical areas farther south. More information about palms is available by requesting HGIC 2007, Palm Problems.
Palms and cycads are very versatile in the landscape. Some types of palms have a single trunk and can be used as solitary specimen plants while others are clumping and are used in groups. Grouping together palms of the same species or with plants other than palms makes an interesting tropical landscape. Multi-trunk palms make excellent specimen or accent plants.
Cycads can also make wonderful specimen plants or can be used along with palms or many other plants to create a tropical landscape. In South Carolina, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is grown in the eastern part of the state. Although palm-like in appearance, sago palms are not true palms but are primitive plants called cycads. They grow slowly and can be easily overgrown by other nearby plants in the landscape, if not provided adequate spacing.
Planting: It is best to transplant young palms from containers, since they are not very tolerant of root disturbance until visible trunk development has taken place. Palms establish most quickly if transplanted during the spring and early summer when the soil temperatures are on the increase. This is the time of active root activity for this tree.
Soil conditions in some parts of South Carolina are less than ideal for growing palms and cycads. The ideal situation is to have the entire planting area uniformly rich in organic material, well-drained and slightly acidic in reaction. Begin a regular fertilization program when the appearance of new leaves indicates that establishment has been successful.
Watering: The initial irrigation after planting should be deep and thorough. The root ball and surrounding backfill should remain evenly moist, but never saturated during the first four to six months after installation. A berm can be mounded up at the edge of the root ball to retain water during irrigation. Supplementary irrigation is necessary unless adequate rainfall is received during this period. Remember that it is important to have good drainage and not to overwater.
Most established palms and cycads require water during the summer, which is the period of their active growth. Apply mulch around the trunk, keeping a small circle (several inches) around the trunk free of mulch. Mulching helps to conserve moisture and reduce weeds.
In South Carolina it is usually adequate to fertilize palms growing in the upper Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions using a granular, slow-release form of 10-10-10. Apply fertilizer in the early spring, late spring and again in the early summer. At each application use a maximum of one pound per foot of trunk height. Small palms with no trunks should not receive more than one pound per application. In heavy clay soils use half this amount. Do not apply granular fertilizers after August 1.
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