Palm Care after a Freeze

Trying to grow tropical palms in sub-tropical and temperate climates means cold damage is inevitable.  This year’s cold weather is not atypical for Florida.  For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a series of hard freezes destroyed much of the citrus industry located north of Orlando, which is why that industry pushed south to Immokalee.  During that same time period, severe freeze damage occurred on palms throughout the state.  The only difference between then and now is that there are a lot more palms planted in communities that did not even exist in the early 1980s.  So, for many people, this is their first experience with severe cold damage.

Tropical and sub-tropical plants can be damaged at temperatures above freezing.  Patience is essential with cold-damaged palms!  Avoid the temptation to immediately trim damaged leaves.  In most cases, the petiole and rachis will still be green.  As long as any green tissue remains, the leaf should not be removed.  Damaged leaves may provide some protection during subsequent cold events, plus green tissue is photosynthetic tissue.  Even a completely dead leaf may provide some insulating protection, especially against a freeze or frost.  Once the palm has produced substantial new growth (2 to 3 new leaves), damaged leaf tissue can be removed.  If trunk damage is observed externally due to a freeze, it is likely that there is substantial internal damage to the vascular and structural trunk tissue.  These palms should be removed as they can pose a structural hazard in the landscape.

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