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Ask Dr. Hort: Trimming for hurricanes hurts palm trees

Don't divide the bird

Q: I'm following up on a reader's question about her bird of paradise not blooming. Mine is 7 years old but in a pot. I know it's suffocating, as it has four mounds contained in the 5-gallon pot.

I would like to separate each mound and plant them in the ground. I was thinking of planting two each, about a foot apart from each other on opposite outdoor strips of garden surrounding my pool and lanai. Border plants, as it were.

I have studied horticulture most of my life, but as far as the delicate bird, I fear committing "horticultural murder."

Do you have any suggestions on my separating with root systems intact for each of the mounds? And when I dig their new home, should I use potting soil as opposed to "Florida dirt"? I know they will go into shock for the first couple of weeks. Fertilizing, I know, is out of the question until steadily rooted. Thank you. Karen-Jo Alexander, New Port Richey

A: It sounds too much like murder to me to divide to that extent. Your bird of paradise, Strelitzia reginae, has been in its pot for so long, it is going to be extremely root-bound, resulting in very few feeding roots. I am afraid if you divide your bird, each separated plantlet will not have enough feeding roots to survive. A better idea would be to remove your plant from its pot, cut all of the big fleshy roots with a sharp clipper or lopper, and plant as one clump. By doing so, many new roots will be generated, resulting in a much healthier specimen.

In a couple of years you could then divide the clump in half with the new roots and shoots that have been generated. I believe both you and your bird of paradise will be much happier with this approach!

Save those palm trees

Q: Do we really need to "hurricane cut" our palm trees? People are confused as to what needs to be done, especially after storm season begins. Some counties have ordinances against this sort of thing, which can damage trees. Please let people know what is best to do and why. Thank you. Karen Koehn, St. Petersburg

A: You have hit on a practice that does need scrutiny. The only frond that should come off a palm is a dead one. However, if you are in the business of pruning palms, this would be impractical. So a practical compromise is to prune up the fronds to a half circle, 180 degrees, leaving a pleasing umbrella or mushroom-type appearance.

"Hurricane cutting" or "carrot topping" are practices that harm the palm by removing the photo cells (green leaves), reducing the ability to photosynthesize, thus weakening the plant.

With the recent influx of devastating palm diseases, they need all of the energy they can muster to fight off such problems. Between poor nutrition and over-pruning, palms will continue to decline and vanish from our landscapes.


Group Hug for Greg III

Friends of horticulture are invited to celebrate and support the life and expertise of Dr. Hort — Greg Charles — leader of the PTEC Horticultural Program for the past 33 years. Guests are invited to the baseball-themed event at Ferg's Sports Bar, 1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday. There will be refreshment specials and games, karaoke and a silent auction to benefit his ongoing medical needs as a result of a debilitating 2009 accident. Cash donations also welcome. For more information, call Victoria Bay at (727) 643-9748 or visit

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Trimming for hurricanes hurts palm trees 07/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 4:31am]
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