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Under the swaying SCV palms

A palm tree in Southern California can be a best friend or worst enemy

Posted: August 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Richard Green of Green Landscape Nursery with a sago palm - a slow-growing, temperature-tolerant palm.

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When it comes time to select trees for their landscaping, many SCV homeowners overlook one of the best choices: the palm. According to Richard Green of Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus, in general, palms are slow growing, drought tolerant and low maintenance, and they have a root “ball” that usually doesn’t cause problems with sidewalks and retaining walls and such.

Beyond that, palms can bring an attractive “tropical” look to your yard. However, not all palms are perfect for all landscaping situations, especially the Mexican fan palm, which we will get to farther on. So you need to consider where your palm will be planted and who and what will be around it.

That’s for the palm’s benefit and for yours.



Palm pleasure

Green escorted our Signal team around his Placerita Canyon Road growing grounds, where, in addition to many other types of trees and plants, there is a host of palms of many types and sizes, each planted in a large container. In fact, the rows of these palms create a “jungle” that, to a small extent, shaded some of the heat out of the 110-degree afternoon we visited.

“We stock only the palms that do well in the Santa Clarita Valley, where we have the extremes of hot and cold,” Green said. “And there are some types of palms that will do well in the Los Angeles area or San Fernando Valley, that can survive in Santa Clarita if they are sheltered and not completely exposed.” Cold is the problem, as palms generally tolerate heat very well, he said.

He added that all palms are evergreen “unless you’ve done something wrong or nature has been very severe.” And you can “jam palms together” without problems. “They do well on slopes or flat, in wet or dry conditions and in sun or shade,” he said. But he said adequate watering will help your palms look their best and help them handle extreme weather conditions better.



Queen palm

“The queen palm is the palm most commonly sold in the SCV,” Green said. As palms go, he said, it is a fast grower. The queen can grow to 30 feet or more. It sheds a few of its pinnate (resembling a feather) leaves each year, but is easy to groom. The queen has no thorns and Green said it will “augment your view rather than block it.”

The queen palm can tolerate sun or shade and various amounts of water. You can plant it in a dry planter or even with lawn surrounding the base.



Sago palm

Green said the second most commonly sold palm in the SCV is the sago palm. Its pinnate leaves that can be a little spiky, so you might not want to plant it right next to a walkway. The sago is very slow growing, only about one-half to one inch a year, which makes larger specimens expensive. It can get up to 15 feet tall, but this might take 60 years.

The sago is extremely tolerant of hot or cold. Green said that severe cold might burn the leaves, but they’ll grow back the next year. The sago will do well in sun or shade, but semi-sun produces longer leaves.

“If you plant it in a pot, it only requires infrequent watering,” he said.

He added that if you plan to plant your sago in full sun, make sure the one you get at the nursery has been kept in full sun so it is acclimated to that.

Green offered an interesting note when he said that the sago is the only palm to survive the last ice age and the only one still in existence that has pollen associated with dinosaurs, such as the T-rex.



Dwarf fan palm

The dwarf Mediterranean fan palm has palmate leaves (split into several parts) and spikes on the branches leading up to the leaves. It has a fairly “hairy” trunk and there are often multiple trunks, with this cluster creating a nice look.

“Since it grows slow, you can keep it trimmed up and so the cluster looks great around pools,” Green said.  

Green explained that the slow growth will make larger Mediterranean fan palms costly to purchase. “Once you get trunks in excess of three to four feet, they sell by the foot,” he said.



Windmill palm

The windmill palm is a slow grower, typically reaching eight to nine feet tall. It might reach as tall as 18 feet, however, if given enough time. The windmill has palmate leaves and Green said it looks a lot like the dwarf Mediterranean fan palm. It has a single trunk and no noticeable spines, so it is ideal round pools. It will tolerate sun or shade and Green said it has the hairiest trunk of all.



Pigmy date palm

Green said you will see the pigmy date palm “in all the stores,” and that it is a good palm for a porch area or a pot. It has pinnate leaves and needs regular watering but might do best where semi-sheltered from the extreme heat or cold.  

“It’s in the date palm family but all the rest are larger trees,” Green said. The dates are tiny and not edible, and this palm has long needles inside.

The pigmy date palm will grow to eight or nine feet tall when it is very old.



Pindo palm

Also called the “jelly palm” because its fruit can be made into jelly, the pindo palm is slow growing but can reach 10 feet in height. It grows full, with arching pinnate leaves, like a fountain, Green said. It will do well in sun or shade and is not affected by extreme drought.

“The gray-green color makes a nice contrast to other foliage,” Green said, and it will have harder ridges on the main arms when it is older.



Blue armata

The blue armata or Brahea armata palm is so slow growing that Green said, “In your lifetime it can grow six to eight feet.” It has palmate leaves with a blue-gray color. It can take sun or shade but needs regular watering. It has no spines on its branches or leaves.



Mexican fan palm

Green said the Mexican fan palm is often called the “bird poop palm” because birds scatter the seeds and these can grow palms almost anywhere, including in brake dust along the center dividers of freeways.

He noted that people will often get overjoyed to see palms sprouting up voluntarily in their yards, but the Mexican fan palm can cause several problems, and “you should remove them immediately” when you see them starting.

Most notably, it is not “self-cleaning” like other palms. Green said it holds onto its old, dead leaves, and so you get a big thatch of dead material under the green leaves.

This material, against the trunk, makes a home for rats and is a fire hazard.

“It takes a tree service to maintain one that is 20 feet high,” Green said.

Green related a story he’d been told that the fire that jumped Whites Canyon Road in Canyon Country a few years ago sent flaming Mexican fan palm leaves flying with the wind, landing on homes and burning them out.

“They are very robust and require very little water when established,” Green said, but they are very expensive to remove.



Date palm

Though he sells them, Green said, “One palm you want to avoid near you home is the Canary Island date palm.” This is because of the huge, dagger-like spikes that grow where children might come in contact with them.

“Unless you are going to plant them way up on a hill where kids can’t venture, you might not want them for regular residential applications,” he emphasized.



Raphis palm

An extremely slow growing palm, the Raphis will do well in the SCV if you can give it partial shelter, such as back in a porch area, under the eaves of your home.

“Don’t leave it out in the open in our valley,” Green said.

The Raphis palm is extremely slow growing but can get to 10 feet tall in 40 years. It has multiple trunks and dark green palmate leaves.



Maintenance

Depending on the type of palm trees you have, there may be more or less maintenance involved in keeping them looking the way you want. And, should you have a problem palm you need removed, the size and location of the tree will affect the difficulty, and therefore the cost, of the removal.

Roy Boak, of Roy Boak Tree Service in Canyon Country, said that the yearly cost of maintaining a 15- to 20-foot tall palm tree might be $60 to $70, “depending on how much shag there is, how much there is to trim.”

He noted that the shaggy Mexican fan palm might cost more. Of course, having more palm trees trimmed at one time might lower the cost per tree.

Boak said removal of at 30-foot tall palm might cost $800 to $900.

This is taking the tree down to ground level and grinding out the stump. But sometimes you can’t get the whole stump out.

The stump might require a backhoe to remove, which will increase the cost significantly.

Green Landscape Nursery is located at 26191 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, CA 91350. The phone number is 661-255-8838. You can reach Roy Boak Tree Service at 661-250-8078.

 

Queen palm: Great looking

Sago palm: Very slow growing

Dwarf fan palm: Slow growing and multiple trunks

Windmill palm: Single trunk, ideal around pools

Pigmy date palm: Good for a porch

Pindo palm: Gray-green color contrasts well

Blue armata: Blue-gray leaves

Mexican fan palm: Get rid of it

Date palm: Dagger-like spikes

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