By Lynn Langley.
It is such a pleasure to listen to someone talking about something he or she is really enthusiastic about. Jason DeWees of East West Trees is just that kind of person, and his passion for palms clearly came through with his presentation at the July 9 meeting. Jason shared glorious pictures and stories from his new book, Designing with Palms, and along the way, dispensed quite a bit of information about palms. I’m sure members of the audience left with new ideas for using palms in their landscapes.
Jason began by sharing a lot of important basic information about palms, including their history and geographic range. Date palms were one of the earliest domesticated fruit trees, and they have been found depicted in pictographs. There are 2500 species of palms living in areas from 11,500 feet in altitude to sea level, and from as far north as Portofino, Italy, down to New Zealand. There are over 400 species in Southeast Asia alone.
Palms have two major leaf shapes: feather and fan. Palms are also distinguished by whether they are single-stemmed, like the King Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), or multi-stemmed, like the Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii).
Great for small gardens, Jason noted that palms can create a strong vertical element in a small space that pairs nicely with the natural architectural foils of the distinctive leaf structure. Palms are also of cultural significance in many places. For example, in Japan, the Chinese Windmill Palm is used to make clappers for the large gongs in Buddhist temples.
Jason said that unlike the large, potentially destructive taproots of other trees, palms have thin, fibrous roots that are constantly reproduced from the base of the trunk, where they are thickest. As the roots grow out, they become thinner, reducing their danger to hardscapes and foundations. These finer distal roots also allow penetration of denser soils.
A practical result of palms' root structure is that large trees are relatively easy to transplant since they can be grown in comparatively small boxes. When transplanting, it is important to keep the root ball intact, in a well-drained medium, and place it slightly lower than the soil level to encourage new roots to sprout from the base of the trunk.
Finally, Jason gave us some palm care pointers. As a family, palms are heavy feeders. Jason recommended a broad-spectrum, low-phosphorus fertilizer with micronutrients (including magnesium, boron, manganese, and calcium).
With regards to pests, Jason mentioned that the South American palm weevil and Fusarium wilt (which only affects Canary Island Date Palms) are seen in Southern California. Care must be taken, as always, to use very clean tools when pruning and caring for the palms so as not to spread any disease.