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Take care of your native palms
Ashley Hoppers ext agent
Ashley Hoppers is an Extension agent in Liberty County. - photo by File photo

When I moved to Liberty County from Alabama just over a year ago, I was pleased to see so many palms and cycads growing up and down the coastal counties of Georgia. They are truly beautiful plants that can enhance any landscape with their tropical appearance. 

Several palm species can be successfully grown and enjoyed in Georgia landscapes, but some are more challenging to grow than others do. There are several good reasons for what that is the case. Anyone who speaks with me will quickly realize I am a big advocate for planting natives in our landscapes. 

My preference for native plants is due to many reasons, but the bottom line is that natives are naturally adapted to the local environmental conditions, so they require far less inputs. This ultimately means that you save time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water, when you install native plants in your home landscape. Native plants serve as the foundation of local ecosystems and are havens for other native wildlife like birds. 

While palms may be more familiar along our coast, with the right mix of temperature, palm species and care, they can grow just about anywhere in Georgia. 

Our treasured palmetto, also known as the cabbage palm, is native to the coastal plains and thrives in our sandy soils. Cabbage palms are relatively cold hardy, and 10 degrees Fahrenheit is about the coldest temperature they can withstand without significant damage. 

Needle palms are also native to Georgia, and are considered one of the most cold-hardy palm species. However, unlike palmetto palms, needle palms grow as dense shrubs and do not produce an obvious single trunk.

Unlike fruit trees, which we prefer to plant in the fall and winter months, it is best to plant palms in a well-drained location in the spring or early summer. This gives them ample time to establish roots before winter. Young palms without a visible trunk cannot tolerate root damage and should only be transplanted from containers. 

Regardless of size, never plant any palm deeper than it was originally grown. Deep planting, also called “raising the grade” leads to root suffocation, nutritional problems, root-rot diseases and a slow death.

A tall palm needs support until its roots are strong enough to hold it upright. To minimize trunk injury, attach braces with straps, not nails. 

As with any plant, it is important to water newly set palms and to keep the soil evenly moist for at least six months. Withhold fertilizer until new frond growth is observed. New grow typically begins two to three months after planting. Once established, water deeply, providing one inch of water a week during the absence of rainfall.

Palms are adaptable to many soil types, but they need special nutrients. To keep your palms healthy, get your soil tested at a Georgia Extension office to discover which nutrients are missing. Then fertilize on a regular schedule with a slow-release, specialty palm fertilizer, often called “palm special.” Do not ring or pile fertilizer near the palm’s trunk. Instead, scatter it evenly under its canopy.

Pruning palm trees is simple. Remove dead fronds (leaves) and old fruit stems. Once the old fronds turn completely brown, it is safe to prune them from the palm. Just make sure you wait until there is no green left on the frond. Leaves that have green in them still contain valuable nutrients and provide protection from cold damage. 

Remove fronds that are badly damaged, diseased or completely dead by sawing them off near the trunk. Use a hand pruner for smaller palms and a sharp pruning saw for larger leaf stems. Don’t cut into the trunk, and never try to tear fronds free! Any damage to the trunk can lead to disease or insect infestation.

More details on selecting and caring for palms will be discussed at the Liberty County Extension Workshop “Growing Palms in Georgia” on Friday, Aug. 31. 

Bring your lunch with you and join me, Agriculture and Natural Resource agent,Ashley Hoppers, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Liberty County Extension Office. The office is located in the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hinesville, 100 Main St., Suite 1200. Come by the office, call 912-876-2133, or email us at to get registered for the class. 

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