By Teo Spengler
With its shiny, feathery fronds, arching branches and ornamental fruit, the Canary palm is not of the low-maintenance school. You'll want to read up on care of Canary Island palm trees to be sure the plant stays healthy and happy. Click here for more info.
Can you enjoy growing rare, exotic plants on a small scale and make a little money, too? This article is not about how to start, operate or manage a nursery, or how to make a profit doing so. I honestly know nothing about the business of horticulture. Nor does this article discuss the more common plants most Dave's Garden readers know and grow. I know next to nothing about most of those kinds of plants either, or whether any would be a good investment. This article simply discusses some of the things I have discovered about the potential investment possibilities of collecting, owning and someday reselling a private collection of exotic plants. Some, it turns out, may actually be decent financial investments.
Probably one of the last things you think about when spending every single penny you have on plants like I do (don't you, too?) is what sort of investment value these accumulated plants have. For the most part, plants are not great investments, at least in terms of being able to turn them around and make a profit. Few plants increase in value over time in such a way that you can make a significant profit down the road. For example, many of the plants in my yard are either worth about the same as when I bought them, or far less because they're struggling, look terrible or have long since died. Or they would be worth more had they been kept in pots digging up many species of large trees or palms is hardly worth the hassle and expense to move them, or because of the likelihood they won't survive the experience. But surprisingly, many of them have increased in value and stand to increase more over time. Of course, invariably these are the last plants I want to part with, but at least the possibility of profit exists if I change my mind. I am not sure most amateur growers can say this about their private collections.
A few examples of private gardens full of good investment plants, i.e., plants that continue to increase in value as they grow and can be moved relatively easily.
One thing I have learned over my years of collecting rare succulents, cycads and palms is that size does matter. A small tree aloe can be purchased for $10 and sold 5 years later for $200 or more. Some cycads increase in value exponentially as their caudex size enlarges. A large landscape palm that is known to move well can sometimes be offloaded for thousands of dollars. These are just a few examples of what could be considered ‘investment plantings'.
(left) Aloe dichotoma seedling that cost about $10. (middle) My plant about 6 years later worth well over $200. (right) Large landscape plant worth a LOT decades down the road.
Realistically, few hobbyists acquire plants for the purposes of making a profit later on. That is something usually left to the professional plant growers and dealers. But some collections of plants increase in value significantly, requiring wills to be drawn up to direct their care and ultimate distribution. I have seen plant collections passed down from one generation to the next, or sold following the death or illness of the original collector. Some of these collections are literally worth a fortune and only continue to increase in value over time, from owner to owner.
Part of someone's old collection of Ariocarpus cacti, now in the possesion of a nursery that will make a profit on these specimen plants.
The following are examples of plants that have investment potential.
Cycads. I think this is one of the very best group of investment plants there are. The turn-around is somewhat slow, particularly if you start with seeds or dinky seedlings. But the potential profit is enormous if you collect a large number of rare species and plans on living long enough for them to grow to maturity. Back in the 50s and 60s when these plants were legal to import from around the world, one could amass a large collection quickly for relatively little money. Fortunately relatively few individuals actually took advantage of this situation or there would be no cycads left in the wild today. Many are on the endangered list and exporting/importing large plants is illegal. Unlawful collecting has nearly decimated many species of Encephalartos thanks to the seemingly limitless demand for these rare and unusual plants. And why? Because they are worth a lot of money. Large plants of some of the rarer Encephalartos are easily worth over $10,000. Some very rare old plants approach ten times that amount! A collection of mature plants can be worth millions of dollars, easily enough to retire on, if you are willing to part with them. More often than not, most collectors keep the plants until they die, so only relatives see the investment returns.
The only risk is buying a plant and then killing it. If you do not take good care of your plants this can happen, but cycads are fairly easy to keep and thankfully, most are also easy to dig up with a good likelihood for survival. Cycads are one of the easiest costly collectable plants to find buyers for finding a buyer is often the weak link in the collecting-owning-selling process.
(left) This dinky Encephalartos latifrons seedling sells for over $200--fairly pricey for such a small plant. (right) If you can get yours grown to a mature specimen size like this (probably several hundred years old), you can leave your descendants a plant worth a literal fortune.
Even relatively common cycads have great resale value. This Encephalartos woodii can sell for over $30,000 a small garden of cycads like these Ceratozamias can make a beautiful garden and then be sold for a profit years later.
Palms. From an investment standpoint, few palms are a good buy, especially if planted in the ground. Most palms worth any significant amount of money are the large, easy to move, landscape specimens. Super rare, large palms are also expensive but finding a buyer for them is not always easy. Rare palms are a large purchase risk since there is little information or experience regarding their ability to be moved. Many common species are infamous for being ‘bad movers'. Large Archontophoenix (King palms), Braheas, Rhopalostylis, Bismarckias etc. are fantastic landscape palms, but difficult to move without killing them. So the risk involved usually cancels out the estimated value of the palm and the best a seller can hope for is a palm being moved for free--no profit there. Same goes for most Washingtonias, Queen Palms, Butias, Trachycarpus and Sabals. These palms are easier to move but they don't bring as much money, thanks to being very common. Again, about the best you can hope for is someone digging up the palms at no cost.
(left) My own yard full of palms but few have any investment value. (right) Old palm garden with some really good investment palms, but mostly ones that are not.
(left) King palms might be worth a lot of money in pots, but in the ground they are nearly worthless as they so difficult to move without killing them. (right) The same goes for this magnificent Bismarckia.
Brahea armata and Rhopalostylis don't move well and are not good investment palms
Washingtonias and Sabals move well, but hardly worth it since they are relatively cheap.
The only profitable species are Jubaeas (Chilean Wine Palms), Howeas (Kentia Palms), Chamaerops (Mediterranean Fan Palms) and large Phoenix species (notably Phoenix canariensis and P. reclinata.) Of these, a Jubaea is probably the best investment, though it can take decades to see the profit on such a plant. Still, the older and larger it gets, the more it will be worth. Even large seedlings can usually be sold for a profit. Expect 10 to 20 years of growing these palms to be able to make good money on them in 40 to 60 years they will be worth some real money. And be sure to have them planted where they are easy to get to, or the hassle of removing them will offset the profit made in selling them. Older potted palms are in general a better investment but they take up a large amount of room and don't always look that great in the landscaping. In summary, with a few exceptions palms are not a good species for investment planting.
(left) A Jubaea is worth a fortune at this size. (right) Field-grown Jubaeas in a private garden are a good investment.
More palms that can be sold for a profit: (L-R) Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Date Palm), Phoenix dactylifera (true Date Palm) and Phoenix reclinata (Senegal Date Palm)
(left) Large Chamaerops specimens have good resale value. (middle) Howeas can be sold for a small profit. (right) Rhapis humilis (Slender Lady Palm) can be sold for a profit.
Caudiciform Succulents. One of the most impressive additions you can make to a rare plant collection is a large caudiciform. These are great, weird and often admired plants, and can actually be fairly good investments if someone knows where to sell them. And that is probably the main problem when it comes to trying to make a profit on any rare plant species, particularly with ones that don't have large public appeal. A large Dioscorea elephantipes, for example, can sell for nearly $1,000. But it can take nearly a lifetime to get to that size, and the risk of losing it in the meantime is high (easily rotted.) And then it may take another lifetime to find an appropriate buyer. Just because a plant may be worth a lot of money does not mean it is easy to find a buyer. I have a number of these plants in my collection and have no illusions about making any profit on them when they eventually ‘go' they will probably be sold as part of the entire collection. Their true value may only be realized if a well-known nursery buys them and then finally makes the profit reselling them. More likely they will just end up in another collector's collection and then eventually go to yet another collector, etc.
(left) Old and probably pricey Dioscorea elephantipes. (middle) Adenia glauca that is likely worth a lot of $. (right) Mature Pachypodium geayis are easy to move and can sell for a good profit to the right customers.
Other Succulents. Plants that grow offsets can often support their initial costs if you sell their suckers/offsets. Removing the suckers of succulents like certain aloes and agaves can allow you to make a little money back and keep these plants from overtaking the garden, becoming a huge, unsightly mess. However, few species can be sold for significant amounts of money unless they are very rare. Rare plants usually cost a lot of money up front and are usually rare for a good reason, such as being very hard to grow, being nearly extinct or being very unpopular. Plants that are rare because they are hard to grow are not likely to be a good investment unless you have discovered an easy, sure-fire way of keeping them alive. Then these plants might make you a small profit. Plants that are nearly extinct have a tendency to be expensive initially, but by the time you have grown an offset or a seedling large enough to sell, it is likely that other growers and nurseries have grown them too, and often on a much larger scale.
I have spent a lot of money on some rare species that just ten years later have become relatively common, and they are worth far less than what I initially paid for them. I find this happens over and over again in the succulent world the prices of many plants have fallen significantly since I started to collect them. This is also the case with a number of palm and cycad species as well plants are becoming far more common in cultivation as the plant collecting hobbies seem to grow. Plants that are good investments in the succulent world are those that have been grown for decades and slowly increase in size to the point they have turned into what are called ‘specimen plants'. Then they can be resold for a profit if the right buyer can be found. The good thing about many such succulents is they take minimal care. You can grow most in the same pot or same small plot in the garden for 20 or more years without doing anything but providing a modicum of water and keeping the bugs off them. Few other plants can be kept for two decades then resold by simply digging them up and stuffing them back into a pot or selling them in their original pots. I see many collections of specimen plants sold as a unit for lots of money--but again, often by relatives, not usually the original collector.
Though not worth much, this Agave americana 'Mediopicta' is a good source of dozens of offsets each year. They can be sold for a small profit at your local cactus club meetings.
Offsets of these two variegated Agaves can be worth quite a bit, particularly the one on left: Agave attenuata the plant on the right is Agave victoriae-reginae.
Several of my Ariocarpus cacti are not worth much now, but if I can grow them to this size, they will really be worth something--and I will probably have to live another 50 years for that happen.
These three Euphorbias of mine ('Wundulate', E. lactea 'Ghost' and E. virosa) may not be worth much now, but I can keep them for a couple dozen years, they could be worth something (see below)
These are all 'specimen' plants of the above seedlings and can go for a decent amount of money if you can find a buyer for them.
My Beaucarnea guatamalensis is a great landscape plant and keeps making new heads which I just snap off, stuff in some soil, and soon I have healthy seedlings I could sell if I ever got around to trying.
Other exotic plants. Some plants that can be profitable include bamboo, plumeria and bird of paradise. Bamboo is actually a pretty good investment as long as you can find buyers and you don't mind the hassle of sawing off sections of your plant now and then to re-establish in pots. If you have been to a bamboo sale, you soon discover bamboo can sell for quite a lot of money, particularly the larger or rarer species. But I seriously doubt too many homeowners make a fortune off their bamboo offsets. Bamboo is a lot of work (clean up, high water requirements, and hard to divide without the proper tools and help.) Bamboo tends to take up a lot of room, too. For that reason I have only a few small clumps in my yard most likely I will never see a profit on any of it.
(left) Bambusa oldhamii makes a great garden plant but it can also be divided and sold in 5 gallon pots for a decent amount, not ever touching the original plant. (right) Himalayan Blue Bamboo is a pricey and profitable species.
Strelitzia or Bird of Paradise, particularly the rarer leafless forms or yellow-flowered forms, can make a small profit by dividing them now and then. I would have no idea how to sell a plant like this, though, so realistically I will never see any investment value in these plants.
These Bird of Paradise varieties divide easily and are still sought after, making them potential investment plantings
If you live in a particularly good climate for growing these plants, Plumeria can make you some money. They are so easy to make cuttings from and a larger tree can provide many dozens of cuttings a year. And cuttings are fairly easy to sell and distribute. I don't live in a decent Plumeria climate, but others who live not too far from me have thriving sideline businesses from their small collection of backyard plants. All you need is an eBay account in good standing and a few aggressively growing Plumeria, particularly of the less common flower colors, and you can have a small source of income along with a nice looking collection of plants in the yard.
Though realistically few private growers are shrewd enough to collect rare plants both for personal enjoyment as well as financial gain, it is interesting to know that at least the possibility exists. I am certainly not one of them (shrewd is probably one of the least likely adjectives one would apply to me.) And I have gotten into the plant collecting habit a bit late in life to see a decent profit on most of my exotic plants. But at least I know that when I pass on someday, my relatives will not necessarily have to bulldoze the yard right away to sell the house. They will be able, should they find someone with plant knowledge to assist them, to sell most of my collection for a decent profit first. and then bulldoze the yard to sell the house. It makes me a feel a tad less guilty spending all my money on plants when I think that someone might benefit from my own form of investment planting.
(left) My backyard full of plants that could potentially all be re-sold should something happen to me if I can keep them healthy for 10 to 20 years could actually be worth a lot more than they are now.
View of my garden today with some plants that are already worth more than when I bought them, if I could find a buyer for them that is. Of course I don't want to, since I am still alive and enjoying them. but someday.
Though it may seem like a simple concept, there are a few things about watering palms that one might not think of. The following article goes over some ways to water palms in the landscape.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 31, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
This article is more about general watering strategies, but with palms as the main example. There are many ways to water plants and palms are not terribly unique in their water requirements so what is discussed below could be applicable to many other kinds of plants, particularly of tropical or warm weather plants in arid regions (where rain cannot be relied upon to help). However there are a few special considerations when trying to keep your palms healthy and happy and watered at the same time.
Unlike many trees or shrubs the same size, palms have relatively wimpy simple and shallow roots. Compared to many of the other plants I grow (cycads, cacti and succulents), however, palms actually have relatively large and aggressive root systems and will usually out compete the root systems of these other plants if planted in the same pot/planter or small section of garden. This works out well for the palms in my garden, and can even work out well for the succulents as the palm roots will suck up most of the water keeping the nearby succulents from sitting in too-moist-a-soils. But for cycads, this is not always a good thing as they often dehydrate then. But that is another article.
All palm roots are basically the same size and shape and don't grow too deep
Watering palms in these gardens (shots of my yard) involve special considerations as one needs to water these roots well, but without overwatering the surrounding succulents and cycads
But compared to most other similar sized plants, palms have small and weak roots. If you plant a palm under an elm, for example (something I have done repeatedly) your palm may suffer as elms have a much more extensive and aggressive root systems and keeping your palm roots happy can require nearly constant watering. Thankfully palms don't need a lot of room for their roots, so completely taking over and crowding out a palm's roots is not so easy. But know your plants roots and that will help you to design some appropriate watering strategies.
For the most part, palms are very tolerant of watering extremes. Of course there are hundreds of exceptions, but most commonly grown palms can handle both excesses of water as well as periods of drought fairly well. This sadly leads to much abuse of palms in public landscaping with many public plantings being grossly under-watered simply because the palms can tolerate it. but they don't like it and may not thrive or look good. This commonly adopted public watering strategy is one of the reasons many people don't like Queen palms or Trachycarpus since under-watered trees usually survive, but rarely look good. This in turn gives these palms a bad name.
Here's one extreme- this Majesty palm is planted IN the water yet it's happy as can be
Both Queen palms are somewhat healthy but the wispy sad one on the left gets just enough water to keep alive, while the robust monsters in the right photo get watered every time the lawn does and show their appreciation!
A common house palm, Chamaedorea elegans (Parlor Palm) is a rainforest species that grows where there is ample water most of the year. However, this species is surprising and impressively drought tolerant, surviving and even managing to look half way decent despite prolonged periods of neglect (one of the reasons they make such good house plants) particularly in low light situations where little photosynthesis is going on. But this palm is almost impossible to overwater as well.
Chamaedorea elegans does amazing well if hardly watered. or excessively watered. (photo by MrRedwood)
In the words of Pauleen Sullivan, one of the most experienced and wisest palm growers I know, it is impossible to overwater a palm. As I mentioned, there are exceptions to this rule (particularly if a palm is planted in poorly draining soil) but for the most part it's true. Dypsis decaryi (Triangle Palm) is one of these exceptions and overwatering this palm can result in its demise. In general, however, the more the average palm is watered, the faster it grows. If one lives in a climate where water is cheap and plentiful this can allow one to obtain a large, mature palm garden in a short amount of time.
A good choice for this drought tolerant garden, Dypsis decaryi will sometimes die if overwatered in a dry climate. for some reason this is not a big concern if grown in a tropical climate
The good thing about palms is they also grow well on amazingly little amounts of water. This is particularly good to know if one does NOT live in a climate where water is cheap and plentiful (such as here in Southern California, where we basically live in a desert and all out water is ‘borrowed' from northern California or rapidly depleting aquifers). And it is in this type of climate where one learns (one hopes to learn) how to water palms efficiently and effectively.
The hose: Despite my 15 years of growing palms and a schedule that requires me to spend most of my waking hours working, or driving to and from work, this is still my preferred method of watering. This is NOT the most efficient or effective way to water, though. so do as I say, not as I do. Dragging about a hose and watering everything that way has its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage to me is it gives me time and an excuse to stare at my palms. Inspection of one's palms allows one to catch problems before they get too serious (this is true only if one THINKS as well as stares), like insect infestation, dehydration, rot, pruning needs etc. And I like to look at the plants. After all, the reason I like these plants is that I enjoy looking at them. There is really no other reason I grow them, other than perhaps hoping to learn something about them I can pass on to others. but really, it's the selfish pleasure of just getting to look at them. Other ‘remote' watering strategies do not afford one nearly so much ‘staring' time.
Two shots of my own hoses. not too attractive and always underfoot. but really HANDS ON! Last shot shows a soaker hose, a great way to deeply soak the soil, but pretty inefficient use of water in that it waters anything in its path.
With a hose I can easily water JUST the palms leaving that useless grass stuff to get its own water
Another advantage of watering with a hose is I can spray each palm's foliage in an individualized fashion. Pauleen Sullivan also said that palms like to have their faces washed. in other words, they appreciate their foliage wetted frequently (most palms live naturally where rainfall far exceeds what we get here and appreciate any humidity they can get). There are some limits to ‘face washing', though, and this is particularly important to know if one waters palms with a hose, or especially with a broadcast sprinkler system (see discussion below). Some palms do NOT like to have their crowns repeatedly soaked with tap water, particularly during the cooler times of day or year. One of the most common reasons for bud rot (the bud is the growing center of the palm where the new leaves come from) in palms is excessive watering of the crowns. Palms that are exceptionally predisposed to this problem include most of the pinnate-leaved palms that do not have crownshafts. Why these palms as a group are particularly sensitive to this crown watering is unknown to me. and the ‘fact' of this is not really a ‘fact', but more of a personal observation. Some fan palms are also predisposed to this bud rot from overwatering their crowns, particularly the blue fan palms (blue Braheas, Chamaerops ‘cerifera', some blue Livistonas etc.). This is a lesson I have ‘learned' over and over and over again (obviously I am a slow learner) and my hopes are that you will pay particular attention to this warning so you do not have to learn from your mistakes as often as I have had to. Curiously these palms do not appear to be the least affected adversely by rainwater. There is obviously something about tap water (chemicals, lack of oxygen, lack of acidity, etc.) that is hard on these palm's crowns.
All the above species are typical non-crownshafted pinnate palms that one must be careful NOT to water their crowns excessively (Butias, Howeas, Jubaeas, Syagrus, Majesties and Parajubaeas just to name a few)
Lastly, watering by hose is relatively cheap and simple. only cost requirement is a hose (or several hoses) and water. And turning off/on the water is definitely at my level of technical expertise. There is no digging and little planning ahead required (planning ahead being one of my biggest personal failings).
Hose watering has many disadvantages, most which will be obvious to the reader. One is it is incredibly labor intensive. Watering palms ‘remotely' takes little time and allows one to have a life, basically. Watering a garden any larger than my postage-stamp-sized yard would probably take so much time that it would hardly be worth the effort.
Here are two obvious examples where hose watering wouldn't work- no way to water all those date palms by hand (thank goodness they don't need much water) palms grown on slopes in dry soil are notoriously hard to water efficiently without digging large bowls, or the water will just erode away the slope and never get to the deepest roots.
Another obvious disadvantage is dragging a hose about is hard on the environment (I cannot begin to recall all the times I have knocked over something or uprooted a plant with a hose, no matter how many hose guides I use or how careful I have been).
But most importantly, hose watering is somewhat inefficient. It does allow one to direct water at the desired location (something a large sprinkler does not allow), but high volume hose watering only waters palms well if the soils is able to absorb large quantities of water quickly (this requires lots of mulch, usually). Rarely does high volume hose watering efficiently bring a lot of water to the roots and thoroughly get them wet. Low volume hose watering can, but this entails dragging the hose from location to location to location and letting it soak the ground for many minutes at a time, something that would only work if that is all one ever had to do in life, or if one had a really small garden (even my dinky garden is too large for this sort of hose watering).
Sprinkler systems: large sprinklers, such as rain birds or other broadcast type of sprinklers are an efficient way of watering large areas of land and do not require one to stand there while the watering is going on, and are relatively inexpensive and simple to set up. But this watering strategy is rife with disadvantages as well. This strategy of watering tends to water all the land, not just the palms (so a lot of water goes wasted). It also potentially damages palms and other delicate plants by either physically injuring them with water streams or allowing bud damage to occur (see previous paragraphs).
3 different forms of broadcast sprinklers. the first ones are effective for very large gardens or palms grown in lawns, and the last are for average sized gardens (not too many use the kind in the middle any more)
the Majesty, Parajubaea and Sabal above are all suffering from crown rot, something either caused by watering their crowns or made worse by continuing to water their crowns- a definite disadvantage of large broadcast sprinklers
Broadcast watering with large sprinklers in botanical gardens- note all the crowns are getting soaked Chamaerops with bud rot (and gonna die) that was watered by this very sprinkler
Two different gardens with Chamaedoreas (cataractarum, elegans and tenella) all watered by larger broadcast sprinklers. This genus is perfect for broadcast sprinklers as they benefit from having their foliage watered frequently and very resistant from crown rot.
Small automated sprinkler systems are much more effective and efficient watering systems and are probably the most commonly used watering strategies adopted by most serious palm growers in southern California. These miniature sprinklers provide small amounts of water only at the sites needing water so no water is wasted. Also they tend to water the palms at the soil level leaving the crowns free of water accumulation. Timers allow growers to water different sections of the garden thoroughly every 3-7 days (here in California) depending on weather conditions but using only a fraction of the water one might need using larger sprinkler systems or even with the hose technique. Deep watering every 3-7 days is a lot more effective and efficient than shallow watering daily. This strategy requires no time in the garden dragging about watering equipment. and, if one is really trying hard to grow their palms as healthy as possible, they may even consider adding a water-based fertilizer injector system that puts in a premetered dose of fertilizer along with every single watering. This method is one of the best methods to promote large, healthy root systems in palms (and perhaps other plants as well?) and produces maximum growth potential. But fertilizing palms is another article.
Shot of a miniature sprinkler for sale Two shots of a larger, excellently managed southern California garden on automated minisprinklers- this grower has above ground hoses with connectors at the palms for the sprinklers. maybe not the most attractive set up but it works great and is pretty simple once it's all set up
This garden was even more well planned with undeground pvc pipe all throughout it (literally several miles of pipe). I have done this and it's a TON of work. and when a pipe breaks its fun trying to find it
Oh and I did I mention you have to use tons of glue with PVC? It's a mess. sort of fun, though. I think these two gardeners above had a better idea just running the hose along the ground (Dypsis ambositrae and Parajubaea torrallyi being watered by mini sprinklers)
Beccariophoenix 'no window' grown in Hawaii with the benefit of rains, and one grown in southern California with miniature sprinklers. the surrounding scenery may not be the same, but the palm in southern California is growing nearly as perfectly as the ones in Hawaii.
On the down side, this watering strategy costs a fortune to set up, is a tremendous amount of work (tons of digging and putting together sometimes literally miles of PVC pipe) to set up, requires planning ahead (though I have managed in the previous garden to put in such a system AFTER the palms were all planted, but it was even harder then) and, if using timers, requires one to have the knowledge and ability to be both a plumber and electrician (just a tad beyond my average capability on a good day). of course you can pay someone else to do it all, but that makes it even more costly. And of course it doesn't force you to go outside and look at the progress of the palms and have an excuse to stare at them for a while. Lastly, smaller sprinklers can be damaged easily and if one is not out there observing frequently a palm can quickly die from lack of water in the summer if one does not notice a sprinkler has gone out for some reason (rabbits, gardeners, dogs, children, weeds etc all mess with this sort of system).
Drip: I list this one separately from automated mini-sprinklers only because this strategy has a few advantages and disadvantages despite it's really being about the same in terms of set up, cost and planning. Drip systems are by far the most efficient way to water palms there are. Thanks to a palm having all of its roots basically in one place, all but the larger palms can be watered efficiently with one or maybe two drips on it. It would be hard to water most large trees in this fashion as most tree roots spread for dozens of feet in all directions. Palms whose roots spread some distance are usually mature and the kind that are so drought tolerant they need little additional watering other than what can be provided at the bases of their trunks anyway (perhaps this is true with dicot trees as well?). Drip systems are simply unbeatable when it comes to water savings.
I have tried drip- that is how my last garden was watered. I needed this book though.
I probably went through about 25 rolls of tubing this size and about the same number of these drip irrigation systems (never did get the timers hooked up). and then I spent the rest of my life repairing and finding problems.. eventually I went back to using a hose
Believe it or not this beautiful garden in Hawaii (8 acres!) is completely equipped with automated drip. though the owner is using drip as a back up to when rain is not available (which it is most of the time fortunately)
shots of palm bases with drips coming out of the ground
But drips have some huge downsides, the main one that they simply, in practice, don't work well. at least not in most garden settings (better in a confined space like a small patio planter or greenhouse). In a larger garden there is no way to closely monitor which drips stop dripping and this happens all the time for a variety of reasons. The main one is they just tend to plug up with poor quality municipal water. They also are readily consumed by rabbits and other annoying small creatures. Why rabbits find drips so tasty is not really known. perhaps they are just trying to get at the water, too? If one employs gardeners you should know these folks can be nearly as destructive as rabbits in terms of knocking drip systems off their mark, stepping on them or accidentally cutting them in half etc. Drips also do not thoroughly rinse the salts out of the soils the way a good sprinkling can. Most water has salts in it (except that magical elixir known as rain water) that not only cause unsightly white build up on leaves, but can build up to toxic levels in the soils and cause severe root damage. One would still need to thoroughly sprinkler/soak the palms to rinse the soils out regularly (if one lives in a climate like Florida where it rains year round, this may not be a big deal, though). I am not a big fan of drip systems for palm gardens.
Misting Systems: this is not really a true watering strategy, but one that can leave one's palms looking and being healthier in the long run. Misting systems increase the local humidity which allows many tropical plants to survive arid conditions for which many are poorly adapted. This is mostly a luxury in my book (not written yet) but if one has the time, effort and money, it is a great way of keeping many tropical palms looking great even in the hot, drying summer heat/sun.
The photo on the right is from a garden in which the owner mists a lot of his palms. The Chamaedorea costaricana is lush and happy in our desert of southern California
Misting systems have to be used judiciously as they can cause the same crown rot problem that excessive hosing and broadcast sprinklers can, so be sure not to mist palms in cold weather, or palms that are predisposed to crown rot (see above). These systems are even more apt to clog than are drip systems thanks to all the gunk that is in most tap waters, and can really be annoying to keep on top of. I have used misting systems in my old greenhouse and I cannot even guess how many times I had to replace or ‘de-lime' the misting heads. I eventually gave up and went back to using a hose.
Rain: last, but not least, is natural watering. This is not something one can rely on where I live as it often does not rain from April until October, which means most palms would be without water during the hottest and arid times of the year (low humidity of around 10% is not unusual here)- most our palms would be dead were we to rely on rainfall. But if you have it, use it. Save it in barrels if you have to. Keep it in a water catchment system. Rain water is pure magic when it comes to watering tropicals or even succulents. Rotting a succulent or a palm's crown with tap water is a no-brainer, but very difficult to do with rain water. Rain water does not have the minerals in it that cause ugly white build-ups on the leaves. Rainwater is acidic which is what 90% of all palms love. And rain water is free. Hard to beat that.
scene outside of Bangkok, Thailand showing rice fields and Borassus palms being watered with 'natural water'
Watering potted palms is a completely different story. I prefer still to use a hose, but I don't have a problem using a drip on these palms- a lot easier to monitor problems and occasional rinse-outs to wash out salts is simple. If one has lots of money and has a lot of potted palms in a greenhouse, it might be worth it to put in a reverse osmosis system. This has several advantages in removing the unwanted salts in the tap water. then one can water overhead with less likelihood of rotting palm crowns (which is already lessened by the constant warmth in a greenhouse) and this water doesn't leave white salt residues on the leaves. But perhaps greenhouse palm care should be a different article.
When to water palms: this may seem like a no-brainer. and it really is. Water when it's hot and dry, and not so much when it's wet and cold. But if it's dry and cold should one water? Yes, but much more care needs to be taken not to water the foliage as much or crown rot will become a serious possibility. But by far the most important time to water palms here in Southern California is when it's windy. Nothing sucks the moisture out of the leaves more efficiently than a good, arid Santa Ana wind. This is especially true after a long cold spell when the palm is likely to be a bit on the dehydrated side anyway as most don't water their palms as much in the winter. but then a warm spell comes along and the drying Santa Anas are like a knife in the back of a humid-needy palm. I have lost healthy looking palms in just a few hours during a particularly arid, warm Santa Ana during the cooler months of the year. Perhaps in many of these situations there would be little I could do even had I been watering all day long. but it sure helps to try.
What palms need lots of water and which need little: this is not something can be covered with any degree of thoroughness in such an article, so I will leave this for another article. But one should know that there are very drought tolerant palms and many that are not that drought tolerant. As I mentioned above, few palms can be overwatered, so if you don't know which your palms are, it is safest to water frequently and thoroughly. It also helps to know your soil well as palms grown in clay can often be watered far less often without worrying about dehydration than for those grown in sand. I had a palm garden in clay and I could get away sometimes without watering for weeks as long as the palms were thoroughly watered originally. One soon learns, too, that some palms just don't like growing in clay, and some love it.
Palm garden in California that is watered with large sprinklers Hawaii garden on drip and rain Singapore palms totally dependent on rain (sadly we can't all live in Singapore)
The Phoenix palm trees are native to North Africa and other tropical regions. The palms in the Phoenix genus are date palms when they grow in tropical climates, but they rarely produce this sweet fruit when you grow them indoors. Some Phoenix palms, such as the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), grow very large--to over 60 feet--so the smaller varieties are usually favored for indoor use. The pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) is native to Southeast Asia and, because it grows to only 6 to 12 feet, it is most suitable for use as a houseplant.
Transplant your Phoenix palm tree out of its nursery pot and into a large pot with a drainage hole. Use any standard potting soil. Place your potted Phoenix palm onto a large plant saucer into which you have added small pebbles. If you keep the pebbles moist, this will provide your tree with added humidity while keeping the roots from drowning in water.
Water your palm on a regular basis and do not allow the soil to completely dry before you water it again. You can check soil moisture by poking your finger into the soil if it comes out moist, that’s the time to water your Phoenix palm. A thorough watering once each week should be sufficient during the winter. Water it twice each week during the summer.
Spray the foliage of your potted Phoenix palm with a fine mist of water on a regular basis. If you mist it once a day, your Phoenix palm will respond well.
Fertilize your Phoenix palm twice a year with an all-purpose fertilizer having an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. Mix a half-strength dose and apply it according to label instructions.
Examine the Phoenix palm’s crown for spider mites at least every two weeks because many palm species are subject to this insect pest. If you see any indication of webbing, spray your potted Phoenix palm with a solution of insecticidal soap. Spray it every day until you see fewer webs forming.
Other species of palms can make good houseplants. See the Jungle Music link under References for recommendations and ideas.
In certain tropical climates, Phoenix palms and other types of palms often suffer from fungal diseases such as leaf spot. Commercially available fungicides are effective against diseases of this type.
by Phil Bergman
Basic guidelines for successful palm tree garden design, plant selection, planting, acclimation, maintenance, growing and care. These factors lead to successful palm tree landscape. Also learn about special problems with palms and what causes poor growth.
We'll start with the very basics of landscape and move through selection of species and culture.
There are few groups of plants that offer the beauty and charisma of palms. This factor along with increasingly more species available to consumers has resulted in the palm craze that we've seen recently. Whether you are new and starting your first garden or an experienced collector just adding one more species, there are basic data that will make your growing palms much more successful. We shall start at the very beginning and walk you through all aspects of developing a palm garden.
high grade of soil
It is advisable to have a plan before you put in your first palm. Decide what you are trying to accomplish. Determine planting density desired, pathway location, needed retainer walls and improvements, and work areas. Dig a few holes just for the purpose of examining the quality of your soil and for checking drainage. This can be done by digging a hole about 18 inches deep. Then, rapidly fill it with water. If the water is gone within an hour or two, then you have great drainage. I'll talk about this more below. Remember, if your soil is of poor quality, import new soil or begin amending soil before planting.
If you buy large amounts of soil, research it thoroughly and purchase top quality soil blends. Affordable fill dirt will haunt your garden forever. If drainage is bad, amend your soil with sand and install leach lines where needed. If possible, install your irrigation system prior to planting. Also, create your own home nursery and gradually accumulate species that you wish to eventually plant. This als o gives time for acclimation (see below).
Plant smaller plants nearer the foreground. Or, the tall Caryota urens may shade out an adjacent sun loving species. The huge Phoenix canariensis planted right next to the house will most likely need removing later. A spiny species planted right next to a walkway could be dangerous. By knowing your palms and what they will be, you can avoid these problems. A very successful plan is to plant fast growing palms to establish canopy and resulting filtered light or shade. This not only gives a more protected environment below the canopy but vastly expands the number of types of plants that can be grown below. Just plant so the shade produced is where you want it. For instance, shading out the swimming pool might not be a desirable thing. Put spiny species away from well traveled areas. Remember to plant palms far enough apart to give plenty of room for growth and viewing. Also, be willing to plant fan palms to mix with your pinnate palms as this will add eventual diversity and beauty to your garden. Another nice thing to do is to group multiple plants of the same species together. I.e., form a clump of multiple single trunked palms. Certain species such as Archonotophoenix, Howea, and Roystonea are attractive when grouped, so consider such a planting. Also, be imaginative. Use boulders if available. Have different elevations and mound some plantings. Utilize companion plants such as cycads, ferns, Ti, Heliconia, Philodendron , etc. as these can really give a great finished look and blend nicely with the palms. You can even attach a few epiphytic orchids or Bromeliads onto your palm trunks to add color and distinction. Also, palms in a row along a sidewalk or driveway can be quite dramatic. As an example, a large clumping palm will obscure smaller species planted behind it. So, put larger or fuller palms toward the back or away from your vantage point. A well formed canopy may be the single most important thing you can do while creating a palm garden. The canopy results in areas below that are warmer in the winter, have less wind, hold more humidity and create a rain forest appeal. Many genera such as Geonoma, Chamaedorea , and understory Dypsis sp. cannot survive direct sun, especially at a young age. It would not be unusual to have microclimates below your established canopy that are three to six degrees centigrade higher on a cold night. However, always remember that palms will grow and your "canopy" might shade out a sun-loving species.
Juvenile Phoenix canariensis
Garden Design Haphazard planting gives haphazard results. Plant species in the appropriate locations. Palms are quite unique in that you can predict the plants eventual size and appearance. Also, one can get an estimate on the likely rate of growth. Usually, if you know the species you can anticipate how it will perform for you. You can predict how it will look in the chosen location in your garden. This allows you to pick the right location for each species.
Triple King Palm
King Palms & Canary Palm, both adding overhead canopy
When overhead, Caryota offer great shade
The Importance of a Canopy We mentioned the desirable advantages of establishing a canopy above. Rapid growing species such as Caryota, Syagrus , and Archontophoenix will quickly grow overhead and produce resulting canopy. This is aesthetically pleasing because it gives the third, taller dimension of height to your garden. More importantly, it gives a protected environment below that enables you to introduce many more exotic and sometimes fragile shade-loving species.
Plant smaller plants nearer the foreground. Or, the tall Caryota urens may shade out an adjacent sun loving species. The huge Phoenix canariensis planted right next to the house will most likely need removing later. A spiny species planted right next to a walkway could be dangerous. By knowing your palms and what they will be, you can avoid these problems.
A very successful plan is to plant fast growing palms to establish canopy and resulting filtered light or shade. This not only gives a more protected environment below the canopy but vastly expands the number of types of plants that can be grown below. Just plant so the shade produced is where you want it. For instance, shading out the swimming pool might not be a desirable thing. Put spiny species away from well traveled areas. Remember to plant palms far enough apart to give plenty of room for growth and viewing. Also, be willing to plant fan palms to mix with your pinnate palms as this will add eventual diversity and beauty to your garden.
Another nice thing to do is to group multiple plants of the same species together. I.e., form a clump of multiple single trunked palms. Certain species such as Archonotophoenix, Howea, and Roystonea are attractive when grouped, so consider such a planting. Also, be imaginative. Use boulders if available. Have different elevations and mound some plantings. Utilize companion plants such as cycads, ferns, Ti, Heliconia, Philodendron , etc. as these can really give a great finished look and blend nicely with the palms. You can even attach a few epiphytic orchids or Bromeliads onto your palm trunks to add color and distinction. Also, palms in a row along a sidewalk or driveway can be quite dramatic. As an example, a large clumping palm will obscure smaller species planted behind it. So, put larger or fuller palms toward the back or away from your vantage point.
A well formed canopy may be the single most important thing you can do while creating a palm garden. The canopy results in areas below that are warmer in the winter, have less wind, hold more humidity and create a rain forest appeal. Many genera such as Geonoma, Chamaedorea , and understory Dypsis sp. cannot survive direct sun, especially at a young age. It would not be unusual to have microclimates below your established canopy that are three to six degrees centigrade higher on a cold night. However, always remember that palms will grow and your "canopy" might shade out a sun-loving species.
An alternative to acclimation to sun is acclimating the palm into filtered light, planting it in filtered light and then allowing the plant to slowly grow into the sun. Finally, there is one more method: to place a temporary shade cloth over the plants and gradually over time cut holes in the cloth to let in more sun. Then, as time goes by, cut even more holes in the cloth over a gradient to allow the passage of more sunlight. I know an enthusiast who has successfully grown one gallon plants in the garden this way over the past decade with few losses. Now his plants are huge!
These are 5 gallon palms, the minimal size we like to plant directly into the ground.
It typically takes a palm about 12 months after planting to start looking good. During its first six months, the plant is establishing new roots and acclimating to your gardens temperature, soil, and humidity levels. Existing leaves may yellow or age. As new leaves are formed, the plant may suck nutrition out of the old leaves. This makes older leaves look brown, faded and dying. This is a normal thing to see and (as long as it's not the newest leaves looking bad) eventually the plant will establish a normal crown of leaves. One can sometimes see what is called "Post Greenhouse Shrink" where stretched out leaves used to the greenhouse environment get shorter when grown outdoors. This usually corrects in time. You can also see this phenomena with shade grown plants. Normally plants will reestablish their leaf length with time as they adjust to their new environment.
learning about your soil
checking drainage in hole with water
Sticky, clay type soil. Note finger imprints in moist soil
Into the 18 inch deep hole (about the same width) you've dug, quickly fill this hole with water and time how rapidly the water totally disappears. With excellent drainage the water will be gone within thirty to sixty minutes. Good drainage would take several hours. Adequate drainage would take six to twelve hours. With poor drainage, the water remains for 24 hours or more.
If you garden falls into this poor drainage category, you can predict some species will have problems unless you plan ahead. You may have found that, in digging your hole, you came to a clay or heavy substrata. It may be this layer that prevents the gravity driven drainage of water from the hold. With poor drainage, one actually gets "swimming pool" that hold water in the bottom of the hold that you planted into. Nothing tolerates stagnant, progressively brackish water in the bottom of such a hole. If this layer isn't too thick, you can utilize heavy metal bars or a jackhammer to break up this layer prior to planting and thus promote drainage. Or, one can use a hefty drill and a very long auger bit to drill through this substratum. It may be advisable to prepare multiple holes at one time if rented equipment is used.
An alternative technique to handling this retained water in the hold is by digging underground diversion channels from hole to hole utilizing gravity to divert water down a slope. But, you must have an adequate slope for this to work. If none of the above techniques work, one can also mound plants (with or without constructed walls) above the water table. If your problem is heavy clay topsoil causing drainage problems, consider repetitive amendments of sand and coarse organic material. Over the years this will promote better surface drainage.
Planting on slopes presents a drainage problem of sorts. Slopes can work against you in terms of getting water to the roots. Irrigation water follows the path of least resistance. Often this is down the hold rather than penetrating the soil. "Water wells" can help with this. Also, slow emission of drip irrigation and mulching around the water well can help prevent the downhill loss of irrigation water.
King Palms on hillside slope
Purchasing the right soil is of critical importance and will be of paramount importance in your garden's success. Locate the best supplier in your area. Soil for the garden differs from potting soil (for pots) and typically will not have perlite or vermiculite. An acceptable formulae would be 20% sand, 40% rich topsoil, and 40% organic material (redwood/fir shavings, pine bark, etc.). Always check drainage before you purchase. Coarse sand increases drainage, topsoil slows drainage. Get a mix with the largest grit sand possible. The larger grit of sand helps promote drainage and doesn't break down at all.
Ideal soil pH for palms is about 6.0 to 6.5 or a bit higher. Alkaline water will slowly raise the pH of soil. Test kits can be purchased to check the pH of your soil. Alkaline soil can lead to certain micronutrient deficiencies. This can be treated with sulfur containing fertilizers and organic mulch or topdressings. If a soil is too acidic, this can be reversed with dolomite lime mixed directly into the soil. Because of organic materials typically used, most soil preparers will mix dolomite into their mixes. Inquire from your supplier as to whether they utilize dolomite. If normally not, have them check the pH of your soil and treat accordingly.
Any prepared soil purchased for the garden, especially if used for backfill, will have to be compacted prior to planting. Freshly prepared soil mixes have air mixed into the blend. Also, the soils organic material will decompose over the years. Your garden's soil surface above the newly imported soil will actually begin to sink with time. Therefore, compact the soil heavily with professional tampers and heavy watering and allow time for the soil to settle. If deep layers of imported new soil are being used, one may wish to actually build up the garden installation level above the final desired level. It would not be unusual for a rich soil blend with a high organic content to compact 20% over a five year period. So, calculate this into the finish line of the newly added soil.
Under-watering after planting is a very common mistake. Remember, the water you add has to go all the way down to the bottom roots. Make sure enough water has been given to penetrate the root ball and new mix all the way to this bottom area. It takes a surprisingly large amount of water on the first watering. It may be best to let the garden hose run slowly for 45 minutes, gradually moving it around to each side of the plant. This "drip watering" is especially important with larger plant (boxed) where casual watering might be diverted away from a high mass root ball. Remember, water goes through the path of least resistance. That soil mixture outside the root ball may be far less dense and divert your water away from where it's needed. Finally, if you have planted in a windy area or the plant seems unstable, attach the trunk to a firmly embedded stake in the ground. This stake can be removed when the palm demonstrates stability on its own.
Now let's talk a bit about the plant before you put it into your hole. Most feel that it is best with a container plant to have its potted root ball slightly moist before planting. However, if it is too wet, the root ball will fall apart. Some growers prefer to cut the container apart while the plant is actually sitting in the hole, thus limiting root ball damage.. "Teasing of the roots" (scraping the root ball with a blunt object) prior to planting is not necessary. On marginal or extremely rare species, some growers are literally planting the entire plastic container, pot and all, directly into the soil. The theory is that this gives less shock to the plant and optimizes its chance for survival. Successes have been reported utilizing this technique. With time the roots will tear apart the planted container.
Other means of increasing survival rates include the use of vitamin sprays directly onto the foliage, use of antidessicant sprays onto the foliage, and tying leaves into a bundle for weeks or months after planting. All of these techniques do have efficacy. I personally utilize and recommend the use of commercial antidessicant (antitranspirant) sprays onto the foliage. These sprays literally coat the leaves with a thin water soluble layer of polymer material that prevents moisture loss through the leaves. Also helpful would be occasional washings of the leaves with water after planting and careful checks of the soils moisture content. New garden soil may dry out quicker than anticipated and one should probably water the plant again within several days
Garden with computerized sprinklers
Be aware that the number one cause of plant decline after planting is under-watering.
Water delivery techniques vary from hand watering to sophisticated computer driven sprinkler systems. Computerized systems do save time and can conserve water by eliminating the need to turn off valves. Drip systems can be utilized, especially on slopes. Broad throwing "Rainbird" type sprinklers are the least efficient and often have dry areas. Most growers utilize a system of customized sprinkler heads adjusted to their needs.
Do not use steer manure
This King Palm is a "self pruning" species of palm
Example of pruning trunks from a Chamaerops humilus.
Another tropical palm garden
Seating area near palm garden
Several palms and a cycad
There are organic and chemical fertilizers. Organic materials such as blood meal, processed sea kelp, fish emulsion or various manure preparations are usually available. Chicken, horse and rabbit manure are usually safe to use, but one must be careful with steer manure as it can be too strong and burn plants. Never apply manure directly against the palms trunk or roots. Organic fertilizers offer some microelements not available in standard fertilizers. Blood meal is good for greening up foliage. The undesirable odor of these fertilizers can be lessened if they are placed under your layer of mulch. Application rates vary, but three times a year is usual. Many organic gardeners feel that chemical fertilizers kill beneficial animals and insects (such as worms), so organic fertilizers have this additional benefit.
Manufactured chemical fertilizers are either quick release, slow release or somewhere in between. Quick release preparations are granules that go into solution and are available to the plant after several waterings. One gets a rather quick burst of chemical. Consequently, they carry more chance of plant burn, whereas the slow release preparations help prevent this. The latter are either 90, 180 or 360 day release. They have a polymer barrier around the fertilizer pellet to slow its release. Both types of fertilizers come as granules and are quite easy to spread in the garden. An ideal fertilizer would be one with the N:P:K ratio of 18:6:18, 15:5:10, or some similar type of ratio. Get a fertilizer that has added microelements such as iron, magnesium and manganese. Soluble fertilizers are chemical fertilizers that immediately dissolve in water and are not typically used in garden applications except when drip system fertilization is being utilized.
Regarding amounts of fertilizer to apply, a good rule is to use less fertilizer than the plant optimally could consume. I am not talking here about starving the palm but rather avoiding excess fertilizer which can literally kill the tree. This is particularly true with quicker releasing fertilizers. I have personally seen palms with meters of trunk killed by fertilizer burn, especially when applied onto dried soil and "washed in". Fertilizer burn will quickly turn the newest leaves and leaf spear brown and necrotic. Over the next several months the spear will rot and finally pull from the crown of the plant. The old leaves continue to look fairly normal but the plant is dead. The problem can typically be traced back to inappropriate fertilizing technique or amounts. The bottom line with any fertilizer is the follow the manufacturers directions on application rates and don't overdo it.
A general rule is that leaves should only be removed when they are dying or becoming unsightly. One starts with the lowest leaves first. You will become familiar with spotting the oldest leaves with experience. Never cut off new or newly emerging leaves. When pruning, leaf petioles should be cut as close to the trunk as possible. Premature surgical removal of green leaf bases can lead to trunk scars and a portal of infection. Old flower stalks can also be removed. Do not over-prune a palm as this can stress the plant. For tall plants, a pole saw with aluminum extensions can allow one to prune much higher than you think.
When pruning, only use clean cutting equipment. Disinfect equipment between trees. Equipment can be treated with scrubbing and then a ten minute soak in a 2 to 5 percent bleach solution. Chainsaws are not recommended on some species of palms as it is not possible to adequately clean the equipment. Not cleaning equipment can transmit lethal infections such as Fusarium in Phoenix species.
Aggressively pruned Mexican Fan Palms
An old adjacent petiole is marked with a permanent market. You then
mark the newly emerging spear to match. See photo to show this.
In the growing season you should see some daily movement of the mark on the new spear. It gets "higher" than the adjacent mark as shown. On an average palm this should be 1/8 to 1/4 on an inch a day.
One can also measure the number of leaves thrown during a growing season. This is species specific, but a well grown species may have six or more emergent leaves in one year. When a palm changes its growth pattern and has multiple new leaf spears "hanging up" at the same time, a cultural deficiency or other problem may exist. This can be seen in a recently dug specimen. It represents shock and the plants inability to muster energy to open the leaf. One can also observe the distances between the leaf scars on the trunk. During times of cultural deprivation, these rings are crowded together and the trunk may taper in. During optimal growth there is a striking distance between them, often more than 30 cm with Archonotophoenix.
Leaf inspection can also give information on culture. One can observe the length of the newly formed leaves. A shortened or malformed leaf (in the absence of obvious pests or changes of sun exposure) may represent a nutritional deficiency. A generalized yellowish and eventually whitish appearance of new and old leaves may represent a nitrogen or iron deficiency. A parched appearance on only the sun exposed areas of leaves is probably an acute sun burn. Shade loving plants that chronically get too much sun will have a bleached out yellow-green appearance and may eventually turn almost white. This chronic overexposure to sun involves leaves diffusely whereas an acute sunburn is only on the sun exposed areas of the leaf. A weak and dry newly emerging leaf can be secondary to water shortages or fertilizer burn. Waterlogged roots results in plants that are weak and anemic (pale) appearing. High salt content in the water can give brown tipping to the leaves. Sudden decline of all leaves and instability of the trunk may represent damage from a burrowing animal or Pink Rot
There are many aspects to planning, designing and creating a successful palm garden. But, palms are extremely easy to use in landscape. Most species are fairly pest free, many have good cold hardiness and they just need to be properly selected in terms of size, shape and cold hardiness. If you read and understand this article, you are well on your way to having a great garden.