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Florida's Warming Climate

15 years ago

South Florida has recently even been declared a true-tropical climate (versus formerly known as sub-tropical). The new tropical zone line is drawn approximately between Bradenton on the West Coast and Vero Beach on the East Coast, which begins some 80 miles South of Orlando.

The following article is as published in the Sunday, June 15, 2008 Orlando Sentinel:

CENTRAL FLORIDA'S Warm weather makes palms a hot item

Jon Vanzile : Special To The Sentinel

June 15, 2008

Don't tell Al Gore, but global warming might have a few hidden benefits.

In the past 10 years or so, gardeners in Central Florida have reported success raising palms that once would flourish only in the warmer South. Now, instead of a half-dozen cold-hardy palms, intrepid gardeners are trying their hands with royal, Bismarck, Christmas, foxtail, bottle and even a few scattered coconut palms.

"Our weather seems to have eased up a little bit over the last few years," says Marlene VanderPol, owner of VanderPol Nursery in St. Cloud. "I've got a Bismarck in my yard that's gorgeous, and I even have some beautiful royals."

These palms join the ranks of those that have long been common in Central Florida, including queen palms, pygmy date, Canary Island date, pindo, Washingtonia, areca and fan palms.

Although palms are central to many landscapes -- they offer an incomparable tropical look -- they do require a few special touches to thrive. The most important tips, says David Gilliam of PalmCo Quality Palms in Pine Island, touch on adequate fertilizer and protection from cold.

"Nobody feeds their palms enough," he says. "We typically fertilize four times a year with a slow-release palm fertilizer."

Although the soil in Florida is adapted perfectly for native palms, such as sabals, it lacks certain micronutrients that other tropical palms need, especially magnesium. If your palm has yellow leaves, try dissolving a cup or so of common Epsom salts in a bucket to feed your plant. Epsom salts offer a shot of magnesium. Also, it's important to use a specially designed palm fertilizer with micronutrients to keep palms looking their best.

However, Gilliam recommends against fertilizing within 90 days of planting because the fertilizer might burn the sensitive new roots on your palm.

Pruning is another sensitive issue. Many say it's a good idea to prune palms, especially Washingtonia, at the "9 o'clock and 3 o'clock" positions. With date and other palms, even less pruning is better. Palms draw nutrients from old, yellowing branches, so you weaken the plant when you cut off the declining branches, making it more susceptible to pests and disease. Other varieties, including royal and foxtail, are self-pruning and naturally shed old branches.

"For the most part, you want palms to have the fullest head possible, even with Washingtonia," Gilliam says. "Basically, the less pruning the better."

Finally, cold protection is always an issue. If you're trying to grow tropical palms, such as a foxtail or a royal, it's a good idea to locate them in a protected area where cold winds are less likely to damage the leaves. If frost is predicted, turn off your morning sprinklers, and if possible, throw sheets over small palms.

The idea is to protect the young plant from ice and cold winds. Even an hour of ice can destroy the plant's delicate tissues and eventually kill it.

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