Nightmare on Palm Street
One reader's frank rebuttal of Don's Tollefson's
last article. Unexpurgated!
Jon Kenaghan, West Sussex, U.K.
Chamaerops No.31 Summer 1998
I have read all of Don Tollefsons articles in
Chamaerops and have found them to be interesting, informative
and written with great enthusiasm for his subject. Until that is,
his latest contribution Fine Tuned Palm Cultivation
(Chamaerops No. 30). Goodness knows which frequency Don was Fine
Tuned to when he wrote this particular article but it is NOT
on the wavelength of this particular writer! Frankly - it was a
The article covers fungus, fertilisation and fencing.
Firstly, Fungus. Don advocates bud fungicide and stem
fungicide and advises us to carry a spray bottle along
with us when we visit our gardens, and as we observe
each palm, spray its emergent bud....about once a week. However,
healthy palms, especially when planted in such a fabulous climate
as Don enjoys, should NOT require such intensive treatment.
Indeed a well grown palm should be able to grow away
from minor problems without the need to resort to an arsenal of
chemicals. However, I am not a Green Fanatic, and I do recognize
that in some cases spraying may be required, but surely they should
be the exception and NOT the regular rule. Without knowing the exact
chemical nature of Dons sprays (there being nothing in the
U.K. known as bud or stem fungicide) I will
not comment further except to say that anyone who is having to spray
on such a regular basis is possibly over watering, over fertilising
or doing something else DRASTICALLY WRONG.
Secondly , Fertilising. Don who has apparently gleaned
his fertiliser knowledge from countless Miracle-Grow T. V.
commercials and reading the label, goes on to
recommend Miracle Grow, which I presume is the same
general purpose fertiliser (NPK 15:30:15 plus trace elements) marketed
here in the U.K. as Miracle-Gro.
Don recommends continuous application
of this fertiliser and implies that this will keep the palms at
If by continuous application Don means
12 months of the year then he is WRONG! Why? BECAUSE IT IS A SCIENTIFIC
IMPOSSIBILITY FOR ANY SINGLE COMPOUND FERTILISER TO GIVE OPTIMUM
RESULTS ALL YEAR ROUND OUTSIDE THE TROPICS AND WITHOUT ARTIFICIAL
This is due to the N/K ratio which tells us that plants
require a higher ratio of Nitrate (N) to Potash (K) during the Summer,
and the reverse during the Winter.
It therefore follows that more than one fertiliser should be used
if you are living in a frost free area or have a heated greenhouse
in a frost prone area, i.e. a Summer Feed and a Winter Feed.
By coincidence the very same issue of Chamaerops
carried an excellent article by Richard Weekly entitled Palms
in the Temperate House, Kew, and in the final paragraph we
learn which fertilisers the (genuine) experts use, and of course
they use a Summer Feed and a Winter Feed. The Summer Feed is NPK
19:19:19 and I am convinced that Don will get much better results
from this formulation, especially if given the occasional but cautious
Nitrate boost from nitrogenous fertilisers such as urea or ammonium
The local experts are best though, and may I suggest
that Don checks up with his local University (California) where
their Agricultural Experimentation Station has, I understand, carried
out much research on liquid fertilisers.
Not knowing the precise nature of Dons local
microclimate I cannot comment on the advisability (or otherwise)
of a Winter Feed. Again; check with the local experts.
A few tips to members in Temperate areas subject to
regular Winter frosts : Use a Summer Feed. Do NOT use a Winter Feed
in the garden ( but do use one in moderation in a heated greenhouse,
minimum 8°C). Always cease your feed well before the first frosts
in autumn, but a small quantity of Potash (in the form of Sulphate
of Potash K2S04) may help to harden growth.
If you are fortunate to live in a Warm Temperate area
with NO Winter frosts then use both a Summer Feed and a Winter Feed.
Wherever you live bear in mind that too MUCH fertiliser
is a lot more dangerous than too LITTLE, so play it safe! Over fertilised
palms are more vulnerable to pests and diseases (such as fungus!).
Over fertilised palms have softer growth and are more vulnerable
to frosts. A high level of solute within the stem of a palm will
substantially lower its tolerance to frost. You have been warned!
Don twice mentions the benefit of a solid
fence but here on Planet Earth such structures are liable
to cause MORE problems than they solve due to the wind TURBULENCE
solid structures create within the garden. Commercial nurseries
often use plastic strip or netting but these are not exactly things
of beauty! A better, more attractive alternative is a lath fence
made of vertical one inch laths screwed to parallel cross supports;
the gap between the laths also being one inch. This form of structure
will FILTER the wind and give effective lateral protection of 7
to 10 times the height of the wind break. If you MUST use a solid
fence or wall do plant shrubs to filter the wind before it hits
that barrier. If you cannot plant on the other side of that fence
then at least erect some form of trellis on top of the fence to
minimise the problem.
My own Golden Rule for growing palms and other exotic
plants in any area subject to Winter frosts: HARD AND SLOWS
THE WAY TO GROW - SOFT AND FAST WILL NEVER LAST!