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Ask Dr. Hort: What to do for a struggling potted palm

A healthy pygmy date palm, Phoenix roebelenii.

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr (

A healthy pygmy date palm, Phoenix roebelenii.

Is there help, hope for a struggling potted palm?

Q: I potted two small palm trees last spring. One seems to be thriving while the other appears to be dying. They were both planted in an identical fashion and both receive the same amount of rainfall, sunlight, etc.

I have added magnesium salts to the dying one, but what else can be done to save it? I would sincerely appreciate any suggestions/recommendations. Jim Darnell, Palm Harbor

A: From the photos you sent me, they look like pygmy date palms, Phoenix roebelenii, and the prognosis doesn't look good. I observed that the fronds died from the bottom up. Also, on one side leaflets turned brown yet the other side stayed green. I think that fusarium palm decline is the culprit. Fusarium is a fungus that clogs a plant's vascular system — its method of water transport — so the plant dies because of dehydration. There is no cure. If you put another palm in the same pot, be sure to wash it thoroughly with one part bleach to 10 parts water.

Night temperatures in 60s is cue to fertilize

Q: We purchased the 8-2-12 fertilizer that you recommended in a previous column and would like to know if this is a good time to apply to our palms, bananas, etc. Also, we brought home a passionflower vine last spring. The vine had one flower on it when we transplanted it into our back yard. The foliage has grown and the plant has spread but still has no flowers. When does this plant bloom, and is this the right time to fertilize it? Glenn and Patricia Franklin

A: It is best to wait until night temperatures are in the 60s to begin fertilizing this spring, and your 8-2-12 can be used on everything. The plants will begin actively growing again and will need that little kick that fertilizers provide. There are hundreds of varieties of passionflowers, Passiflora spp., and each can be finicky when it comes to bloom. They prefer full sun, moderate water and low-nitrogen fertilizers (your 8-2-12 is fine). Prune back heavily at the end of February, when the danger of freezes are over, and wait. Most varieties bloom from April through July.

Prune peach tree into open vase shape

Q: I have a peach tree that is 2 years old. It has many blooms down the center of the tree and is kind of leggy on the branches. To prune or not to prune? I have read to prune before the blooms — but they are already there. It is probably 15 feet at its tallest, but not very bushy. It's more tall and lanky.

We did have fruit last year. About a dozen peaches! Delicious, too. Thanks for your help. Judy

A: You are right, it's in need of some pruning. Peaches should be pruned into a vase shape instead of a central leader. You will want to choose the best three to four scaffold branches and prune the others away. All small, nonproductive branches, pipe-cleaner size, should be removed, leaving pencil-size wood. Choose the best 50 to 75 outward-pointing branches, creating an open vase appearance.

For guidance, go online to, Training Peaches, Nectarines and Plums. You may prune now, but you will lose some fruit. But by starting to shape now, and finishing after harvest, next year's scaffold is set for a bumper crop.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at [email protected] 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: What to do for a struggling potted palm 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 3:30am]
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