whats the trick with windmill palms??

coldsnow(8)August 5, 2008

I've tried two windmill palms now and lost them both to spear rot. I drive around Vancouver and see some that are taller then some homes. It makes my mouth water. I'm 20 min north of Vancouver at an elevation of around 500 ft. Do I need to make tents for them to keep the rain from rotting out the center till they get bigger? We sometimes get a cold east wind in the winter. More mulch around the base? Is it something I have to worry about when they get taller? Any words of wisdom? Thank you.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If you're sure it's a condition called spear rot than maybe there is actually information available online or elsewhere about how to deal with that specifically - maybe the same source where you got that term, or (if web pages) maybe a linked page.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 12:23PM
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I had the same problem before but not sure whether it was the same reason as yours. Mine was because the earwicks and other bugs were nesting in the spear (space around it) causing it to rot. I lost two palms before I found this out. What I did and worked for me was to spray the spear with an insecticide, after that it took several months before the plant recovered. Now it's growing beautifully.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 1:11PM
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No I guess I don't know for sure if it was spear rot. The spear turned brown and came out without any effort. I do know there were earwicks in there so maybe that was the problem.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 8:39PM
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A lost spear is almost certainly the result of frost damage in winter. Bugs don't cause things to rot; they are just looking for a place to hide and may be drawm to the smell and moist environment of something rotting.

Large, established plants usually don't have this problem because they are acclimatized enough to know when to slow down and harden off for winter (yes, hardier palms do this in their own way to some degree). Smaller and newly planted plants are less well acclimatized and may tend to continue growing into the winter leaving them more vulnerable to frost damage. This can be further aggravated by the practice of fertilizing them in the late summer and fall, which is tempting to do but leads to a lot of new growth that is susceptible to damage. Established large palms usually aren't cared for that way.

Anyways a rotted spear doesn't necessarily mean a dead palm. If there is any chance of damage you can give it a light tug in the spring and see if it pulls out readily. It is best to detect the rot as early as possible in the life of the palm. Then you can spray copper fungicide into the center of the crown and a new growing spear will soon emerge. A new growing spear may emerge if you don't do anything but the copper fungicide application almost seems to work like magic on most hardy and marginally hardy palms.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 3:33AM
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Is there a hardier palm for SW Wash other then a windmill palm? I'll try to figure a way to protect them in the winter for a few seasons till they get bigger.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 9:22AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Windmill palm is the proven hardy one here. It even reseeds in some plantings. Other kinds of palms are experimental.

Individual specimens becoming hardier with age wouldn't be an example of them acclimating - plants don't do that. The climate parameters of the plant are fixed. The site has to suit the plant or it doesn't thrive. The plant does not change to match the site. Probably like many other plants windmill palms become more hardy with age, regardless of where they are planted.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 10:49PM
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I may have chosen the wrong word but I was referring to the ability of the plant to know when to start and stop growing as it figures out the local seasons over a period of a couple years.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 1:13AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The plant doesn't figure out anything. Timing of growth is regulated by the environment. No difference between the first year and the third except for variations in weather. Day length, temperature...if the plant is prompted to grow or shut down by the occurrence of whatever regulates the growth of that species, it will start or stop growing - regardless of how long the plant has been on the site (except for any changes within the plant resulting from maturity, like those that don't make as much vegetative growth each year when they begin flowering and fruiting). That is how you can force plants to do things at the wrong time by manipulating their environments.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 1:46AM
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Plants are very intelligent beings. I'm sure they know far more than we do. In fact they even have their own names for themselves.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 2:02PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I'll have to start asking them what those are.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 7:20PM
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LOL I think it would more interesting to know what they call us.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 12:36PM
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I have a windmill palm. Very wet yard. It's doing very well. Lots of bugs too but the birds eat a lot of them. Noticed lots of earwigs -- do birds eat earwigs?

There's a large birdbath right by the palm. If birds find earwigs delicious I don't have too much to worry about.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 2:28PM
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George Three LLC

(as far as google tells me) plants DO have internal clocks. the timing of these clocks with external events affect survival.

so its possible that your particular windmill palms are just "off" the local envirnoment. the ones that are surviving have better timing.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 11:00AM
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Wow, I've never heard the term "earwicks"! Now it's twice in one thread.

I agree that earwigs will not cause a plant crown to rot. They would "nest" in there if there is an accumulation of organic matter such as fallen needles, blown leaves, etc. but its not the earwigs that are the potential cause of the problem. The organic matter in the crown which holds moisture could potentially lead to rot, and that could be a problem, although the plant's hardiness may be the main issue as others have noted.

BTW, To say that timing of growth is regulated by the environment, as if a plant's genetics and changing response to the environment in non-existent is wrong in its oversimplicity. Plant growth is always an interaction between the plant's nature (it's genetics) and the environment (weather, soil, water, etc.) I think we all know this but play semantics - and that just ain't helpful.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2009 at 1:32PM
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Here's an article stating that plants do in fact have an "internal clock".

Here is a link that might be useful: an article stating that plants do in fact have an

    Bookmark   July 15, 2009 at 3:25AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Windmill palms got beat up in Stanwood-Camano this year. I had two ~one gallon size ones go all brown, probably dead on Camano. One more of a five gallon size came through okay except the growing point burned; not sure it has gotten over that yet.

This week I was told it got down to 5 degrees F. last winter in Stanwood. So that's why the sheared Laurustinus hedges in town turned all brown! Then I saw the sign on the windmill palms at the Shoreline CostCo said "hardy to 10 degrees" or "10F".

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 12:00AM
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grrrnthumb(z8 WA)

Yeah it was a nasty one this winter for the Windmills, I lost one of my three-footers, even though it was established for over a year. Marysville got down to 7deg, but it wasn't just the one low temp, it was extended periods really low, combined with our usual nasty cold & wet January.
Same with phormiums, I see tons of dead ones this spring in the outlying (z 8a) areas where they usually do fine.
- Tom

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 12:18AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Actually, it only takes a few hours below a plant's minimum to damage it. Lingering cold becomes significant when it results in deep penetration of the soil and freezing of the roots. That's why plants from southerly regions (such as various palms) with minimum temperatures low enough for them to seem possible here don't persist. Lots of plants will tolerate a couple cold nights followed by substantial warming immediately after.

That and the fact that many locations here, even some on/near salt water get colder than may be expected. The Montlake weather station near the UW has gotten to 10F in the past, Sea-Tac airport to 0F. Of course, this kind of does cold not happen very often - resulting in announcements that various tender plants are hardy.

Hardy until it gets down to 10F, 7F, 5F or 0F again. Last time it was similarly cold was in 1990.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 12:51PM
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I'm one of the Vancouver folks with a large palm. I have another, smaller one that was small when I planted it in 1994; it is the only survivor of five like it. I think it needs to be transplanted, as it now gets very little sun and is growing slowly.

The large one was field-grown and bought from a plant store in the summer of 1995. I wrapped it in burlap during cold spells for its first two winters and left it alone afterwards. It took four years for it to reestablish its root system, after which it began to look like a palm again. Its leaves began to yellow while I was away working in the States, but upon my return I took to feeding it two or three times a year with triple-20 solution and it now it thrives. The tops of the fronds are now almost as high as the one-story house it is planted in front of.

Keeping the plant healthy via maintenance of micronutrients seems to be important, and that's easy enough with modern triple-20 products. I swear by a local product called Plant-Prod.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 7:15PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If you keep putting on the 20-20-20 including that 20 of phosphorus you will probably generate a phosphorus toxicity at some point.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:27PM
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