Residents and visitors of Anna Maria Island are finally coming out of a particularly cold winter. Sadly, that’s more than can be said for many of the beautiful palms that grace the island. Cold-hardy palms survived fine, and are completely green. But many coconut palms are looking very brown. The other evening we were alarmed to see in a neighbor’s yard that the entire head of a coconut palm had fallen over, and was just hanging.
We have been staring at several of our own coconut palms. They are mostly brown now, and have dropped many of their fronds and coconuts. We think it’s very likely they will not survive, but since they are so tall, it’s impossible to see exactly what’s happening in the bud. A few of them still have signs of pale green in the newer fronds.
The University of Florida extension service is always a very helpful source of information about growing plants in this area. Regarding the treatment of cold-damaged palms they say the following, in their publication # ENH-92:
Protecting the Damaged Palm While Waiting for Warm Weather
To avoid attacks by primary or secondary plant pathogens, it is important that steps be taken to insure protection of the healthy bud until active growth resumes.
Remove the cold-damaged portion of the leaves. Leaves should not be completely removed if they are green (even if they are spotted from the cold). The green intact portions of the palm are important to assure adequate photosynthesis during the recovery stage.
- Immediately after pruning, spray the palms with a fungicide containing copper at the recommended rate. The use of fungicide is recommended only for palms not bearing edible fruit. Include a spreader sticker.
- Repeat the copper spray 10 days after the first treatment or use another broad spectrum fungicide. Contact your county agent for current fungicide recommendations. In all cases, these sprays must cover the damaged tissue and healthy bud thoroughly. Copper sprays should not be repeated more than twice because of the possibility of copper phytotoxicity.
- Palms growing in containers may benefit from a soil drench of fungicides that suppress root diseases. Contact your county agent for current recommendations of available fungicide formulations.
- Occasionally, cold damage is so severe or disease has already progressed to the point where the spear leaf becomes loose and pulls out easily. With these palms, there is still a chance of recovery if the meristem (growth point) is alive. To treat these palms, remove as much dead and decaying material from around the bud as possible so it can dry out. Drench with a copper fungicide in the bud using the force of the sprayer to clean out the bud as much as possible. Follow up ten days later.
For more information from the University of Florida IFAS Extension division, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg025.
It should come as no shock that coconut palms are very sensitive to the cold. We always have heard that Anna Maria Island is at the very northern boundary of where these beautiful tropical trees survive. In fact, it’s very unusual to see them on the mainland across the bridge. The tempering effect of the water keeps island temperatures just mild enough for the coconuts to endure most winters here.
Many cold-hardy palms survive freezes. In fact, we were surprised this winter to see heavy snow fall while visiting Georgia. There were many palm trees at the motel where we stayed during this storm. On a return trip a month later, we saw that all the palms that had been laden with snow were still alive. Obviously, someone had done a good job selecting cold-hardy palms for this part of central Georgia.
There are many beautiful cold-hardy palms, including the Florida native saw palmetto. The Chinese windmill palm is another, and it can grow to 40 feet. The dwarf palmetto, or sabal minor is very cold-hardy. But even the full-sized sabal seems to have done fine with the cold this winter.
As we wait to see what happens to our tall coconut palms, we are glad that several smaller palm trees that we’ve planted from sprouted coconuts are doing quite well. With time, they will replace the tall trees, if we lose those.