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Mule palm in quick decline, advice needed


Cool Mule

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Despite the user name and a quick adoration for this species, our newly planted mule palms have been nothing but stress. 

 

These three palms were planted June 1st, several months after completion of our pool build.  Planting locations are quick draining sand, no clay and are not near any concrete wash out or aggregate staging areas from the pool build.  Palms were sourced from a commercial grower an hour or so south of where we're at in north central Florida.  They didn't look great upon install and I chalked that up to transplant stress.  We know the owner of the company who installed the palms and they offered a one year warranty; more than the normal 6 months they provide other clients.

 

We have one palm in particular that has seen a rapid decline and foliage loss the last couple weeks.  Most of the research I've done points to a grave demise and I don't expect to be able to save this one.  The landscape company contacted the grower and they said to water it more... I'm not naive enough to believe this is simply an irrigation issue.  The two other palms which are slightly larger have not seen this level of decline and I'd like to keep them healthy.  Each palm has a bubbler providing dedicated water which I cut back after watering daily for the first two weeks.  Root growth is good and extends out several feet from the trunk indicating a decent amount of growth since install.  No signs of root rot on any palms.  Soil is damp (clumps together when squeezed in hand) but with no extra moisture.

 

Lots of questions:

  • Is there a clear indication of this being one specific problem?
  • Are mule palms susceptible to lethal bronzing? Lethal yellowing? 
    • The UF/IFAS articles I read didn't have this species listed but do list queens and pindos...
  • Could fusarium wilt be at play? 
    • Browning is affecting both sides of the frond equally, so I'm thinking this isn't it
  • Could this be frizzle top?
    • The oldest fronds are browning first on this palm as opposed to the newest growth
  • Both palms that have had inflorescence bloom have dropped the fruit prematurely (think pea size), is this an indication of a certain problem?
  • Would a manganese deficiency cause decline this quickly?
  • For any of the aforementioned problems, is replanting in the same area advisable or is the soil contaminated?

 

We love the tropical look of these palms and their cold hardiness.  They really tie the backyard together.  Barring any miracle recovery, I'm assuming we're going to have to remove/replace this palm which may lead to a fight with the grower/installer which I'm not looking forward to.

 

Asking the experts for advice here, what would you do? 

 

First picture without mulch in the bed was at installation.

Picture facing the house was two weeks later

Other pictures were taken last week and a few days ago

0601230631a_HDR.jpg

0616231809a_HDR.jpg

1025231833_HDR.jpg

1027230811.jpg

1030230913_HDR.jpg

1030231800.jpg

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Not being any kind of mule palm expert, I will give you an opinion based only on my own experiences with growing a large number of plants (including mules) for many years. Having never lived in Florida, my advice may have very little value, but this is what I think could be a factor. I've started 2 different palm gardens; one in California, and the other here in Arizona. In both places I've observed similar growing issues to yours (different results in growing the same type of palm). My best guess is based on a little research as to why there can be such vast differences. My conclusion is that your soil (although appearing the same) is not uniform in it's constituents. Many tract homes have the same problem. Land developers often use less than optimal soil when scraping and filling house lots. There were parts of my previous (and current) home where this irregular condition caused some areas to almost seem as if the soil had harmful chemicals present. Some species seem to be more tolerant than others, but after a while the soil contamination theory seems like the most likely cause. So if this was my yard, I would either try a different type of palm where the conditions are the worst, a different type of plant, or plant nothing at all in that area.

Hi 86°, Lo 51°

Casas Adobes - NW of Tucson since July 2014

formerly in the San Carlos region of San Diego

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16 hours ago, Cool Mule said:

Despite the user name and a quick adoration for this species, our newly planted mule palms have been nothing but stress. 

 

These three palms were planted June 1st, several months after completion of our pool build.  Planting locations are quick draining sand, no clay and are not near any concrete wash out or aggregate staging areas from the pool build.  Palms were sourced from a commercial grower an hour or so south of where we're at in north central Florida.  They didn't look great upon install and I chalked that up to transplant stress.  We know the owner of the company who installed the palms and they offered a one year warranty; more than the normal 6 months they provide other clients.

 

We have one palm in particular that has seen a rapid decline and foliage loss the last couple weeks.  Most of the research I've done points to a grave demise and I don't expect to be able to save this one.  The landscape company contacted the grower and they said to water it more... I'm not naive enough to believe this is simply an irrigation issue.  The two other palms which are slightly larger have not seen this level of decline and I'd like to keep them healthy.  Each palm has a bubbler providing dedicated water which I cut back after watering daily for the first two weeks.  Root growth is good and extends out several feet from the trunk indicating a decent amount of growth since install.  No signs of root rot on any palms.  Soil is damp (clumps together when squeezed in hand) but with no extra moisture.

 

Lots of questions:

  • Is there a clear indication of this being one specific problem?
  • Are mule palms susceptible to lethal bronzing? Lethal yellowing? 
    • The UF/IFAS articles I read didn't have this species listed but do list queens and pindos...
  • Could fusarium wilt be at play? 
    • Browning is affecting both sides of the frond equally, so I'm thinking this isn't it
  • Could this be frizzle top?
    • The oldest fronds are browning first on this palm as opposed to the newest growth
  • Both palms that have had inflorescence bloom have dropped the fruit prematurely (think pea size), is this an indication of a certain problem?
  • Would a manganese deficiency cause decline this quickly?
  • For any of the aforementioned problems, is replanting in the same area advisable or is the soil contaminated?

 

We love the tropical look of these palms and their cold hardiness.  They really tie the backyard together.  Barring any miracle recovery, I'm assuming we're going to have to remove/replace this palm which may lead to a fight with the grower/installer which I'm not looking forward to.

 

Asking the experts for advice here, what would you do? 

 

First picture without mulch in the bed was at installation.

Picture facing the house was two weeks later

Other pictures were taken last week and a few days ago

0601230631a_HDR.jpg

0616231809a_HDR.jpg

1025231833_HDR.jpg

1027230811.jpg

1030230913_HDR.jpg

1030231800.jpg

Test the soil. If you need advice on how to do this, let me know. You can use the UF extension lab or get a proprietary kit from a place like Yard Mastery.  Do it sooner rather than later.   

did you amend the areas prior to planting? Have you fertilized since planting?

Mules tend to be hungry. Looks like it could be manganese deficient  

Based on your soil description, I don’t think you can overwater it. It appears to be upslope so it will have positive drainage regardless.

when I plant larger palms, i incrementally backfill the holes and alternate filling the hole with water. The weight of the water compacts the soil and removes any air pockets. 

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Thank you for the replies! I did contact our local extension office and will look to perform a soil test soon. Is there a difference in the quality of results between their test and a proprietary one?

 

Unfortunately, this palm looks worse by the day and I dont expect it to make it much longer.  Before doing anything else in this location I'll need to determine what caused the sudden decline. 

 

A couple other observations I've made:

- Several days ago I noticed staining on the pavers under the browning fronds. At first I thought it was a dog that missed the mark, but later realized it was sap that had dripped off the frond following a very foggy morning

- The top most roots that were exposed to the air now feel hollow/spongy vs. firm

- At time of planting we did backfill with the hose running, trying to eliminate air pockets as we went

- No soil amendmemts were made at planting

- I fertilized at the beginning of August with a general ornamental fertilizer from Sunniland that got as close to the npk values from UF as I could from the big box stores. I realize this may not have been ideal

- I've noticed spots on the top sides of the fronds on all three palms we have. This palm exhibits the most. These spots arent visible from the underside of the frond

- I've also noticed a lightning bolt shaped leaf tip on new growth on this palm, as well as another palm. It may be hard to see but thats what I tried to capture in the second photo

1103231033a_HDR.jpg

1103231033.jpg

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Unfortunately, sometimes palms just don’t transplant well. Perhaps the root ball was damaged and you wouldn’t know because you can’t see it. When plants go into a rapid decline, they are rarely saved. And deficiencies are not usually rapid declines, so it’s unlikely to be remedied by fertilizer. I would contact the seller regarding replacement. Although you might want to wait until spring to get the new palm. No sense in tempting fate with possible cold temperatures.

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56 minutes ago, Johnny Palmseed said:

Unfortunately, sometimes palms just don’t transplant well. Perhaps the root ball was damaged and you wouldn’t know because you can’t see it. When plants go into a rapid decline, they are rarely saved. And deficiencies are not usually rapid declines, so it’s unlikely to be remedied by fertilizer. I would contact the seller regarding replacement. Although you might want to wait until spring to get the new palm. No sense in tempting fate with possible cold temperatures.

Yes, this stinks. We've contacted the installer and they're working with the grower. I agree, I wouldn't get a replacement before the spring which should give some time to figure out what caused this. 

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If they are still pushing new spears and opening new spears (even if a little deformed, boron deficiency?), then I think they could be saved. Almost every palm I have lost seems to just stop opening new spears and dies from the bottom up, usually a disease at that point and no saving it. It really could still be transplant shock. Those look like good sized palms. I’ve seen some developers using mule palms here and there now in my area that were planted in late spring/early summer this year and they seem to not look too different than yours. I would use a slow release, palm specific fertilizer if you haven’t already. Even the cheap stuff from the big box stores seems to work for me. I would definitely give it until May and then call in your warranty then if they die. It really didn’t rain much in my area this year and sprinkler water just isn’t the same as real summer rain for getting new palms started. The couple of new palms I started this year have not done as good as usual. I don’t know how the rainfall has been for north central Florida this year so maybe not a consideration for what’s going on with yours. 

Parrish, FL

Zone 9B

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Fusarium wilt? It can kill a mule palm within a few weeks after showing symptoms. Most noticeable symptom is that fronds die on one side then the other. Wilt is invariably fatal so palm must be removed and tools must be sterilized. This disease attacks queens and Washies as well as mules

Meg

Palms of Victory I shall wear

Cape Coral (It's Just Paradise)
Florida
Zone 10A on the Isabelle Canal
Elevation: 15 feet

I'd like to be under the sea in an octopus' garden in the shade.

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1 hour ago, PalmatierMeg said:

Fusarium wilt? It can kill a mule palm within a few weeks after showing symptoms. Most noticeable symptom is that fronds die on one side then the other. Wilt is invariably fatal so palm must be removed and tools must be sterilized. This disease attacks queens and Washies as well as mules

These fronds are browning at the same time, not one sided. So, I think I can strike fusarium off the list.

Browning starts at the tip and progresses back to the trunk. Which looks like everything I've read for potassium deficiency, but I wouldnt expect it to happen this quickly.

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So I’ve noticed that existing deficiencies may suddenly show very dramatically after transplant. it’s like the additional stress brings it on much more rapidly than an existing palm experiencing a deficiency. 
 

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36 minutes ago, NickJames said:

So I’ve noticed that existing deficiencies may suddenly show very dramatically after transplant. it’s like the additional stress brings it on much more rapidly than an existing palm experiencing a deficiency. 
 

Interesting. None of these palms looked great at time of planting but I thought that was due to transplant. No idea how long they were out of the ground and tied up for but even then I wouldn't expect such sudden yellowing.  I'll bring this up with the installer if there's pushback.

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Honestly it really sounds like transplant shock. I would mark the newest spear and keep an eye on it as @ruskinPalms had mentioned. Most people don't want to cut back on green fronds for planting , these palms really need to spend all its effort into putting down new roots. Mule palms seem to be very fickle and maybe you just got a bad one. Mark all three palms and watch for growth, this will tell alot in a week or so. Oh and welcome to PT !! 

T J 

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T J 

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29 minutes ago, OC2Texaspalmlvr said:

Honestly it really sounds like transplant shock. I would mark the newest spear and keep an eye on it as @ruskinPalms had mentioned. Most people don't want to cut back on green fronds for planting , these palms really need to spend all its effort into putting down new roots. Mule palms seem to be very fickle and maybe you just got a bad one. Mark all three palms and watch for growth, this will tell alot in a week or so. Oh and welcome to PT !! 

T J 

Good point, I'll mark to see if this one's still kicking. They've all had a decent amount of new growth since they were planted back in June.  Most noticeable was the infloresence that grew. This tree had two and the fruit on both terminated quickly.

 

I did order some SulPoMag just to see if it helps. If anything, the others could use some as well from their looks.  I need to do more research to see if its still adviseable to apply it in the fall.

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The Sunniland 6-1-8 Palm has been fine for my palms, though there are better options.  I wouldn't rule out digging/transportation/installation damage.  A good whack to the root initiation zone can kill a palm, I have done it by accident myself.  But severe transplant shock is possible too.  Theoretically Queens and all palms are susceptible to Lethal Bronzing, but I'm skeptical that it's a culprit here.  In areas where Sylvesters were all wiped out there are still lots of Queens and Mules around...

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I have a mature Mule palm that for the last few years had a similar look (newly emerged fronds quickly turned brown and older fronds look like they have cold damage). All my other mule palms are nice and green.  A friend suggested it may be frizzletop so I started the last two years to apply manganese as well as regular palm fertilizer. This year all the newly emerged fronds are healthy so I think it has worked. I also try to spray liquid palm fertilizer on the trunk/near the roots as well.  I hope you can find a solution. 

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