Sunday, September 22, 2019

Let's stop buying Queen Palms

Why on Earth are we obsessed with growing Queen Palms in the Desert Southwest???

Syagrus romanzoffiana

Let us get into this one a bit.  I have killed upwards to thirty of these plants trying to get them to grow and give me the false feeling that I am in Florida or Bermuda.  Guilty.  I really have a good idea of how plants work and what they need and I have killed A LOT OF THESE!  I have sold hundreds of these in my past as a nursery salesman.  I want to start with some simple botanical information on these fragile palms (only fragile in the Arizona desert).  Here's some data I have pulled.


South America
     Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina

They thrive in large stands and are found in forest areas along rivers, steams and coasts, mostly seasonally dry, swampy areas.  Tropical climates that never fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rainfall of 60 inches or more and never below an inch monthly precipitation.  They thrive in acidic, well-drained soil.

So let's do this step by step for Arizona:

-North America
-Relatively no rivers, streams or coasts
-Fall below 50 degrees in the winter and get way hotter and drier than Brazil in the summer
-Yearly rainfall...well let's take that 0 off of 50!
-Alkaline soil
-Poorly drained soil

Yet, we keep buying them and you see them everywhere!  You can grow them here but you will work for them.  Our soil has none of the nutrients nor the micronutrients that they want.  You need to fertilize them once a month thru the summer and they need additional water that might adversely affect other desert adapted plants if you try to use your drip system.  So we do all of this and then we get a really hot summer and the palm gets stressed, or a really dry summer and the palm gets stressed, or we don't get enough manganese to the palm and it gets frizzle-top and gets stressed, the salts in our water causes salt burns to the fronds and we prune too many off and the palm gets stressed, we get one of our cold AZ winters and the palm gets stressed and then WHAM!  Fungal infection.  Crown Rot.

Yes you can see some of the Queen Palms that have been around for years.  Doesn't mean they are happy or thriving.  They are usually living on the edge and any tiny little thing could push a seemingly mature Queen palm right off the edge.  You can invest several years of hard work into one and for no fault of your own you might get a fungus in the crown that you might miss and you will lose the entire palm.

The salts in our water and the fact that our soil does not drain well constantly gives our palms those brown tips.  But if we cut too many of the fronds off we are drastically decreasing the ability of our palm to photosynthesize. It becomes a loop that will eventually destroy the palm.  Even the older giants that have been around a while are susceptible to a myriad of problems when the harsh desert summer wreaks havoc on them.

I have two left in my pool area and when they grab the great palm haboob to heaven,  I will be replacing them with palms that are more adapted to our extreme desert climate.  Some great replacements include Mediterranean Fan palms, Mexican Blue Palms, Fan palms (California Fan palms are slower growing, have a fatter trunk while the Mexican Fans are fast growing with the long slender trunk), and Date palms.

I encourage you to check out to check out some of the more desert adapted plants.  We are facing some extreme weather challenges in our future and having plants that belong here and can handle our weather will only make our landscape challenges easier!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Poor Pruning practices of trees

I really try to discuss original content within my journals, but I will be borrowing some information from a few professional arborists, to address some bad tree pruning I see everywhere in the valley. Certain trees are getting taller and taller but are shaped like Q-tips. This is a result from a terrible pruning technique called "Lion-tail” pruning, and it’s not pretty. I will also give a couple tips about differences between native versus non-native pants.

Native plants, you see growing in the natural desert, need very little outside care once you get them established in your yard.  No one is running around in the desert fertilizing these plants, so you really don't need to be fertilizing the native plants in your yard either.

On the other hand, non-natives plants such as ash trees, citrus, pines, hibiscus, bananas, eucalypts, orange jubilees, queen palms, plums, ficus, and lantanas need some sort of food!  Unless the land you live on naturally supports the growth of the plant, you typically cannot just plant something in the ground and expect it to thrive in the metropolitan valley. The same goes for other regions too. For example, I would never go to North Dakota and plop a Saguaro cactus in the ground and just expect it to grow! Granted, that is a little extreme since not even fertilizers would help that poor little doomed succulent. 

I have rarely seen landscaping companies that offer fertilizing services. There are a few quality landscapers that do, but in all my years at the nursery work, I didn't sell too many fertilizers to most of them. It is a money maker for them to have plant die and have you pay to replace it. I am sad to say I also liked the replacement fee, when I worked as a landscaper myself.  “Oh no, your lantana died! I will replace it for $30 (I COULD PICK ONE UP FOR UNDER $2)!!”  It seems horrible and I still feel bad about it, but at some point, you must realize, most landscapers don't care that they profit from your plant losses. You have no idea…and they know it too.

Now, back to this poor pruning. When trees are pruned to look like Q-tips or kites on little pieces of string, this is inevitably shortening their lives. It sets the tree up to be more susceptible to diseases and creates homes for damaging insects. Grubs and borers love to kill trees but are easily treated on a healthy tree. You should thin out branches subtly before a monsoon or desert storm to allow wind to pass through, but keeps the tree strong enough to prevent snapping branches.

Leaving the trunk and branches exposed to the hot Arizona sun will just further the susceptibility to other problems. If an ash trees can sun burns, its branches will die. This happens to a lot of desert trees. For example, look at the all of the mesquites that get pruned with the Lion-tail method and a monsoon hits the neighborhood. Their branches twist because of the wind. Palo Verde and Sissoo trees do this too!

As described in December 2016 issues of Arborist Now, Urban Forestry;

“Lion-tailing is a common form of over-pruning. It is very important to maintain well-spaced inner lateral branches when it comes top pruning your trees. Even distribution of foliage along any given branch is absolutely necessary and is very important. Lion-tailing occurs when a tree is essentially stripped of most or all of its interior branches and foliage while only leaving just a minimal amount of growth at the end of the branch.

Lion’s tailing is also hazardous. As all of the weight is concentrated on the ends of the branches, the majority of the new growth is added on these bushy ends. If a tree’s branching structure in does not support evenly distributed weight, much more stress in placed on the branch, allowing more breakage to likely occur.  

Often as much as 50 to 75 percent of tree foliage is removed. This unfortunate practice is becoming as common place. If it looks unnatural, or over-thinned it probably is. The result is unhealthy and structurally weakened trees. Trees need leaves to survive!”

Proper pruning techniques are vital. Therefore, “hat-racked” (topping) and “over-lifting” (removal of too many bottom branches) and “lion's-tailing” (gutting) pruning styles are justifiably considered malpractice in arboriculture.

When you have a tree in your yard, it should just be a beautiful looking tree.  At first glance, the pruning work should go unnoticed, not look like some twisted Q-Tip mess that will die in the next wind or be food for grubs or borers. Good pruning is simply an art with the ending result as subtle. The finished product should be understated and natural looking.