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Antibiotic may be key to survival of palms

TAMPA — A deadly disease is striking five types of palms, including Florida's state tree, the sabal palm. Is there anything homeowners can do to save them?

Researchers believe that Texas Phoenix palm decline can be prevented with the same antibiotic that's used to fight lethal yellowing in palms. It's cheap if you inject the Tree Saver antibiotic yourself, although Hillsborough County extension agent Rob Northrop suggests hiring an arborist to make sure it's done correctly.

Master arborist Richard Bailey demonstrated the process this week, injecting Tree Saver antibiotic in four Canary Island date palms with the symptoms of the disease on Davis Islands. He suggests inoculating palms three to four times a year to prevent the disease.

Step one: For one tree, put 1 tablespoon of the powdered antibiotic, Tree Saver, into a small container with a lid. Add 3 milliliters of water. Shake well and extract with a syringe.

Step two: Drill a hole into the tree. The first hole should be about 3 inches deep. The second application, three to four months later, should be 6 inches deep.

Step three: Place a metal cartridge in the hole and tap it in with a hammer. Use the syringe to inject the antibiotic mixture into the cartridge.

The city of Tampa has planted hundreds of palms, many of them growing into very pricey plants. The Canary Island date palms along Biscayne Avenue on Davis Islands are probably worth $10,000 each, Bailey said.

He's ready to inject Tree Saver in as many palms as the city requests, but city officials aren't interested yet. They're waiting to find out more about the disease from University of Florida researchers, said Kathy Beck of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"We need to make sure we're spending the money wisely," she said.

Park officials will consider using the Tree Saver antibiotic because they want to be proactive, she said. She plans to compare the health of the palms Bailey inoculated with Tree Saver on Wednesday with nearby palms that showed the symptoms.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

Texas Phoenix palm decline

Symptoms: Browning fronds in the lower canopy, death of the newest frond, falling fruit

Palms affected: Canary Island date palms, edible date palms, wild date palms, queen palms and sabal palms

By the numbers

$59.50, plus shipping: Tree Saver supplies for 20 trees

About $3: Cost per tree

$9 to $12: Cost per tree each year

$240: Cost to have arborist Richard Bailey inoculate six palms

Up to $10,000: Value of a Canary Island date palm

For more information

Tree Saver: (561) 655-6940; www.

Certified arborist Richard Bailey based in Riverview: (813) 677-1911;

Certified arborist Loren Westenberger, based in Clearwater: (727) 535-9770;

Antibiotic may be key to survival of palms 07/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 3:33pm]
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