A Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis) is among the most stunning of fan palms for tropical landscapes because of its massive silvery gray fronds and imposing architecture. It's best to plant this palm when young and small exactly where it is to grow the rest of its life since it does become large, massive and heavy to relocate if needed. Plant this palm in a fertile sandy soil that has good drainage and organic matter in a full sun exposure. It grows well in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 10 and warmer where winter frosts may only rarely and lightly occur.
Root-prune the bismarck palm four to eight weeks prior to the scheduled transplanting date. For a palm less than 15 feet in height, a root ball of shovel-width radius outward from from the trunk edge provides for adequate root survival. Slice garden shovel blades into the ground around the palm's trunk to sever existing roots. If the root ball is large, partially digging around the palm to cut the roots by creating a hole may allow for easiest pruning. To prevent the palm from toppling over, make alternating bands of cuts around the root ball mass so that 1/2 of the root ball is severed. For example, think of the root ball like the face of a clock and cut roots between the hours 12 and 2, 4 and 7 and 9 and 11.
Water the root zone of the palm one to two days in advance of digging out the entire root ball mass. You want the soil to be damp and clinging so that roots remain covered in as much soil as possible. Sandy soils will naturally crumble away while heavier soils will better remain intact. Use care not to over-water the soil so that it is muddy, too soft, or overall too impractical to work in to dig and transplant the palm.
Prune away the lowest fronds on the Bismarck palm with a pruning saw. Remove all lowermost fronds that drop below the horizontal plane on the canopy. Retain any fronds that are upward-angled from the growing tip of the palm.
Bundle up the remaining fronds on the palm so that they are clustered together in a bundle straight up from the trunk. Tie them together with nylon landscape strapping or other non-wire rope or cable. This frond bundle keeps leaves out of the way during the transplanting event and helps protect the integrity of the palm's growing tip. Always handle the palm with consideration to the safety and preservation of the healthy condition of the growing tip and upper trunk.
Bring in a tractor or other machine with hydraulic lift arm or attachment and park it with the lift arm next to the palm trunk. Situate the vehicle so it can maneuver with ample room if needed--do not block it or impede it with other vehicles or supplies. Keep the hydraulic arm at least 12 inches away from the trunk to prevent any irreparable scraping or puncture wounds.
Tie an industrial-grade nylon strapping cable around the machine's hydraulic arm and the base of the trunk (not near the growing tip). As the root ball is further cut and the hole dug around the palm, the cable can be made taut to provide support to prevent the palm from tipping over. This strapping cable also acts to lift the heavy palm to move it across the property or to a flatbed moving truck.
Dig away the soil around the root ball of the palm, severing the last of the roots to free the palm from the soil. To cut the bottommost roots, the hydraulic arm and strapping cable can be lifted to better allow shovel blades to cut the last roots. Take the time to watch the strapping cable's angle and quality of grip on the palm's trunk. Once the palm is lifted from the hole, you ideally don't want any slipping of the strap. Take the time to reposition the cable so that when lifted, the root ball remains low and the palm travels in a mostly upright position.
Lift the Bismarck palm from its hole with the hydraulic lift and transport it immediately to its new planting hole. Keep people away from the root ball and trunk in case it drops, although some assistance may be needed to prevent the palm from swaying or spinning awkwardly as it is moved by the machinery. Drive the machinery slowly so everyone can monitor weight balance, palm condition and safety of workers during the process.
Plant the palm at the same depth as it had been growing in its new planting hole. Replace soil around the palm while the strapping cable and hydraulic arm steady the plant. Compact the soil with foot pressure as the hole is filled. Do not remove the strapping cable support yet.
Water the root ball and soil in the planting hole immediately, using a garden hose. Plunge the end of the garden hose with your hand into the softened backfill soil in the hole. This watering naturally compresses the soil, removes air pockets and ensures soil particles come in contact with all parts of the palm's root ball. Monitor the flow of water as well as how quickly the water soaks away in the soil. Do not overwater so that the planting hole becomes soft and mucky. Add enough water so that the soil is wetted and compacted without undermining the strength or weight of the soil that is holding up the palm.
Remove the strapping cable only when the planting hole is fully refilled and the palm will stand firmly without support. Carefully back away the hydraulic arm and machinery so as to not scrape the palm trunk as well as to minimize any ground rutting in the landscape.
Keep the Bismarck palm's planting hole moist for the next four to six months by irrigating it as needed. Do not allow the soil around the palm's root ball to become dry, but also ensure it's not soggy and waterlogged. The palm is regrowing new roots from the root ball into the surrounding soil and will continue as long as the soil temperature remains above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Roots grow faster when the soil temperature is closer to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the nylon rope from around the bundled fronds about three to five weeks after the transplanting event. Allow the fronds to naturally return to their former angled positions via gravity and wind.
Things You Will Need
- Pruning saw
- Nylon rope or landscape strap
- Industrial-strength nylon strapping cable
- Tractor, fork lift or crane with hydraulic powered lift or cable hook
- Garden hose and water supply
- To prevent any ruts or sinking of heavy landscape equipment during the transplanting and transportation processes, do not conduct the work after a rainstorm or when the soil is unusually soft. Consider using thick panels of plywood to lay down over the lawn or other soft soil to prevent the machinery tires from sinking into mud.
- Do not underestimate the weight of a root ball and trunk of a palm. It is worth the time and money to use a machine to facilitate the transplanting if a couple people can't manage to do the task by hand and back muscle.
- Palms regrow their roots and establish more quickly when the transplanting is done in the late spring or early summer months when the soil is warm.
- Employ a trained, experienced person to guide the use of any heavy machinery during the palm transplanting. His knowledge, directions and safety recommendations will make the process smoother.
- Do not place undue pressure onto the crownshaft of the Bismarck palm during the transplanting process. Once this growing tip is cracked or damaged, diseases or insect pests can attack the injured palm; once the growing tip dies, the entire palm is rendered useless.
- Large palms need supplemental bracing with wood 2-by-4s to keep them steady and upright, especially when near roads, walkways, homes or other inhabited spots. These braces must be removed no longer than one year after installation.
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