Landscaping and Florida Condominium Associations Part 1: Palm Trees

Most condominium associations have a large line item in their budgets dedicated to landscaping. Well-maintained landscaping can have a significant positive impact on a community’s curb appeal and unit values. On the flip side, poor landscape maintenance shortens plant lives, costing the association thousands of dollars in plant replacements. Given this, it is important for board members and property managers to understand the basics of plant selection, maintenance and irrigation.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of landscaping resources available specifically tailored to the needs of condominiums. Because of this, I have asked the team of Fieldstone Landscaping Services (a landscaping maintenance and design company serving Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Manatee counties) to guest blog on landscaping. Below is their first post specifically relating to the maintenance of palm trees (trimming in particular). I recommend you meet with your community’s landscapers to understand how they fertilize and trim your palm trees.

Emily

NOTE: It is worth mentioning that landscaping changes approved by boards of directors have not generally been deemed “material alterations” per Florida Statute 718.113. As such, boards do not typically need to obtain a vote of the membership to change the types of plants used or the look of a landscape. That being said, if your board is interested in a major change to the landscaping (shifting from a tropical landscape to a dessert landscape for example), you may want to consult the association’s attorney for a legal opinion.

 

Palm Tree Care…The Dos and Don’ts

By Adam McKown

When most people think of Florida, they automatically envision three things: sun, sand, and old people. Wait…they automatically envision four things…sun, sand, old people and PALM TREES!  While Mother Nature and Father Time are in charge of the first three, we have the power to control the success or failure of our palm trees through placement, feeding and trimming.

A palm tree is classified as a monocot. Why is that important to know? Because unlike a tree that has outward growth of new wood from their trunks (commonly known as branches), the palm tree’s trunk is simply an expansion of the first tissue that was formed. This growth pattern makes palm trees more susceptible to damage than other trees. Given their fragility, plus the fact that mature palm trees can cost thousands of dollars, association boards should consider taking the time to ensure their palm trees are properly planted and cared for.

Palm trees are often planted in the wrong area. The most common issue is that palm trees are planted too close to a building. This leads to improper trimming, as many of the fronds on one side of the tree must be removed so they do not hit the building. Removing the fronds may damage the tree but failure to remove them may risk damaging windows or other building elements during high winds. Placement of a palm directly in front of a favorite window is another common planting mistake. While the palm is young, there is a nice view of the palm from the window; however, as it matures and grows tall, the view is limited to the palm’s trunk, which looks a lot like a telephone pole outside the window. I have nothing against telephone poles, but I certainly don’t want to stare at one every time I look out of my window! The best thing to do if considering planting a new palm tree is to talk to your landscaper about how the tree is expected to look in 5-10 years.

Palm trees require a unique set of nutrients to be successful. They may be able to survive without them but they wouldn’t necessarily thrive; they wouldn’t be the happiest trees they could be. Take me for example. I like hot sauce on almost everything. Why? It makes me happy. Would I survive without hot sauce? Sure, but I wouldn’t be happy. The same goes for palm trees. Can you put a generic fertilizer on a palm tree? Yes, but it wouldn’t be happy and it likely wouldn’t live as long because certain nutrients like manganese and magnesium wouldn’t be present. For best results, make sure your landscaper is using an 8-0-12 Palm Fertilizer that has the whole minor nutrient package on a quarterly basis. Your palm’s nutrient package can be supplemented with good ole epsom salts in between fertilizer applications if you want a palm greener than a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day.

In the landscape world, palm tree trimming is a very sensitive subject. Improper trimming is a huge no-no. When discussing palm tree trimming, consider the hands on a clock. The term “9 and 3” is the proper way to trim a palm. The lowest tier of palm fronds should point straight out (not up) and should mimic a clock when one hand is pointing to the 9 and the other to the 3. A “10 and 2” is questionable and anything more severe is completely unacceptable. A trimming that takes off too many fronds (often a “11 and 1” cut) is called a hurricane cut. This type has historically been popular; the thinking was that removing many fronds would limit the risk of fronds detaching from the palm and damaging property during a hurricane. In truth, hurricane cutting weakens palms, making them more susceptible to disease and wind damage. Persistent hurricane cutting also causes a narrowing of the tree trunk just below the fronds, increasing the risk that the top of the palm tree will snap off in high winds. Not good! Remember, the green fronds are responsible for taking in the sunlight for photosynthesis. No fronds = no food = sick palm. Palm trees should be trimmed as necessary though I recommend scheduling your palm tree trimming annually at the beginning of each hurricane season. The cost of this service should be included in the association’s operating budget.

The last thing to consider relating to palm tree maintenance is whether or not to remove the “boots” from the trunk. “Boots” are the remaining bases of old fronds and are often removed to give palm trees a cleaner look. I recommend pulling loose “boots” by hand but leaving all others in place. “Boots” help to stabilize the tree in high winds and cutting them off may increase the palm’s susceptibility to disease. On top of this, removing palm tree boots can be quite expensive.

Palm trees will always be an important part of the Florida landscape and with a little planning and care, they are sure to be the highlight of any community. If you have any questions about palm tree maintenance or landscaping in general, feel free to reach out to me.

 

Adam McKown

Fieldstone Landscape Services

Horticultural Manager

amckown@fieldstonels.com

(727)-822-7866

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