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!

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