Palms have long been a signature plant for Southern California. Lotusland’s palm collection, which is still increasing, began in the late 1800s when R. Kinton Stevens started a nursery for the introduction of exotic plants to the Santa Barbara area. The many majestic Chilean wine palms (Jubaea chilensis) that grace the gardens today date back to that early beginning. Madame Ganna Walska added many other varieties of palms as she developed Lotusland into the magnificent garden it is today.

Care of palm fronds and trunks

  • Never injure palm trunks if possible. Do not rip old fronds down; if they have to be removed cut them cleanly and sterilize tools between palms to prevent infection.
  • Because palms, like all monocots, do not produce secondary wood, they have very different growth characteristics and requirements than woody trees. For example, palms cannot form calluses over wounds the way that woody trees can, so injury to their trunks is permanent.
  • Injuries can eventually develop into trunk cankers, which can weaken the trunk and result in trunk failure.
  • Do not use spikes to climb the trunks, as they cause permanent injuries.
  • Since the palms depend on green fronds to manufacture their food, removing living, green fronds places them under serious stress and makes them vulnerable to disease. Knowledgeable arborists have long campaigned against the excessive removal of palm fronds.

Fertilizing palms

  • Although some palms do suffer from nutrient deficiencies, trying to cure those deficiencies by adding individual nutrients to the soil may only be temporary and can lead to more imbalances in the soil later.
  • It is much more sustainable to condition soils with compost and use an all purpose organic fertilizer at planting to help palms become established.
  • Annual fertilizing and deep watering is recommended for most palms to keep them growing vigorously.
  • All purpose organic fertilizer is usually sufficient to grow most palms.

Mulching palms

  • It is very beneficial to maintain a thick layer of mulch around the root zone of palms.
  • Always apply a thick layer of mulch—4″ deep—to palms after planting and renew as necessary through the year. Research has proven that the addition of mulch increases the rate of growth in many species of palms.

Species selection

  • Choose palms that will grow in the coastal climate. Southern California is fortunate to have a climate suitable for growing palms from many places around the world.
  • Many palms do well at Lotusland, although we have experienced injury to some from the more tropical regions on those rare occasions when the temperature drops below freezing. This damage appears a few weeks after the freeze, when the new foliage turns brown. While most palms recover from this injury, we have had a few that went into decline and died some months or years later.
  • It is important to research the temperature requirements before purchasing palms. Suitable microclimates, near a south-facing wall, for instance, can often be found for the more tender ones.
  • Carefully examine new palms added to a garden for pests or disease.