Though Florida is considered by many to be one of the few places where you can experience the tropics in the continental United States, most of the land mass is considered subtropical. Thus, of the more than 2,600 species of palm currently known to exist, there are approximately only 12 native to Florida. Though many other species have been introduced, you should consider that many palm species in Florida may be pushing the extent of their range. Therefore, selection is important.
The plants native to Florida include the Florida royal palm (roystonea elata); buccaneer or Sargent's cherry palm (pseudophoenix sargentii); Florida silver palm (coccothrinax argentata); Everglades palm (Acoelorraphe wrightii); saw palmetto (serenoa repens); Keys thatch palm (thrinax morrisii); Florida thatch palm (thrinax radiata); and nearly a half dozen types of sabal palms. Some of these palms have a very limited natural range in Florida, with most being found in the southern portion of the state or perhaps even limited to the Florida Keys.
Though the state produces mental images of beaches, sun and sand, there are four different USDA growing zones in Florida. Some areas, especially along the northern border, may experience temperatures below freezing routinely, which could be devastating to a number of different palm species. Therefore, if you plant palm trees in Florida, whether you are looking at native species or those introduced, choose varieties that have the capability to stand up to the weather for your specific area.
Also consider the soil conditions when looking at palm trees in Florida. Often, the species found at the beach or near the beach will be distinctly different from those found inland. Palms have varying degrees of salt tolerance, and some may not be able to live near the ocean because of salt spray. Nearly all palms require a sandy, well-drained soil with plenty of nutrients, which is something found in many, but not all, areas of the state.
Generally, palm trees, with their leather-like leaves, are able to retain moisture quite well and can stand up to drought conditions. However, there are times when supplemental watering may be necessary, especially during the fall and winter, which is generally when Florida receives the least amount of moisture. Any signs of stress, such as wilting or lack of growth, could be a sign that you need to water more frequently.
If you have newly planted palms, you may also wish to consider staking and bracing. Palm trees generally have very shallow root structures and are top heavy. Therefore, during Florida's summer afternoon thunderstorms, along with any tropical systems passing through the state, palm trees are susceptible to windy conditions and topple over. Further, new root ends could snap off, eventually causing the tree to die. Leave braces in place a minimum of six to 12 months.
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