This weekend we’re experiencing another cool-off in a very unusual winter whose start was greatly delayed. We can’t predict whether this will turn out to be our last significant chilly weather, but spring is indisputably not very far away, and now is a good time to start preparing. An important consideration is your choice of fertilizers. For plants growing in the ground, Richard Lyons’ Nursery recommends one of the good Palm Special blends now available in the market, because they are formulated with trace elements which are essential for augmenting the nutrient-poor soils of our region. A common ratio of major elements (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in Palm Special mixes is 8-2-12. A more balance ration is recommended for fruit tree fertilizers: 6-6-6, 8-3-9, 8-2-8 and 10-10-10 are typical blends. The important thing to do in selecting one of these blends is to find one which, like Palm Special formulations, contains a variety of trace elements. The ratios for all elements of a fertilizer can be found in the legally-mandated guaranteed analysis printed on a label attached to the bag.Speaking in very general terms, a good fertilizing program calls for three applications a year, the first in mid- to late March, the second in June, and third in mid-October. For palms that are good health, the middle treatment can be skipped. Not only should not exceed the label rate for the product you buy, but your observations over time may well lead you to reduce the amount of fertilizer you need to use at a time.
How you apply a fertilizer is important to avoiding both waste and damage. We recommend not leaving the product in heaps, because that can burn roots. Instead, broadcast it evenly over the root zone of the plant. (The root zone is generally considered to coincide with the width of the crown, often referred to as the drip line.) Fertilizer placed too close to the stem or outside the root system isn’t likely to be taken up by the plant.
For containerized materials, do not use fertilizers intended for application to plants in the ground, for they are usually too strong. Shop for formulations designated for use on potted plants and which also contain trace elements.Another important part of your preparation should be mulching. Ideally, the best time to apply mulch is at the beginning of the dry season, because one of its benefits is to keep root systems from drying out quickly. Nevertheless, it’s not too late to mulch in March, because, in a normal year, rainfall remains low until sometime in May. It is important to avoid piling mulch against plant stems/trunks, because that makes it easy for insects to munch on the plant while thriving in the moist mulch medium. The practice of mounding mulch against a trunk comes to us from cold climates, where it serves to protect plants from severe cold. But even in some of those places, in recent years there has been a move way from piling mulch.
Finally, make sure that your irrigation system is in good operating condition. If you hand-irrigate, be prepared to start watering plants more frequently as El Niño effects on our rainfall patterns wane.