Roger Lawrence. Submitted photo

By Roger Lawrence

The beautiful, elegant and fickle queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffianum): Perhaps you have one of these stately palms in your yard. No doubt you have seen them in other landscapes.

Have you ever wondered why so many look dry and yellow or why yours is so hard to keep looking nice? The answer is quite simple, but the solution not so much.

The queen palm is a tropical tree. It enjoys year-round moderate temps, lots of humidity, and nutrient- rich soil. That’s pretty much the opposite of Maricopa. Most of the queens in our area are planted near or around swimming pools or other bodies of water, so they do get some humidity from evaporation.

But our temperature swings, especially in the winter months, prove problematic, occasionally dipping to freezing. And the soil in our area is a clay loam at best, with very little organic matter.

So, what to do? The secret is in watering and feeding. The rule of thumb for watering is the same as for most trees in our landscapes: deep and infrequent. During the winter months, water once every three to four weeks to a depth of three feet. In summer months, water every seven to 10 days and to the same depth of three feet. Water takes longer to soak into our clay soil, so a slow trickle over a longer period is required.

OK, what about feeding? Our alkaline soil makes it difficult for roots to absorb nutrients like iron and nitrogen and contributes to the yellowing of fronds. If new growth looks frizzy and yellow and appears accordion-like, then a shot of manganese may be needed. Queens require more of this mineral than most palm tree fertilizers contain, so manganese spikes can add that needed nutrient.

Queen palms should be fertilized three times per year through the growing season. An easy way to remember is to fertilize on Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Just be sure to use the amount of fertilizer recommended by the product manufacturer. Another way to nourish the queen palm is to use a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch around the tree. This will also help to retain moisture in the soil after watering.

Lastly, when trimming the yellow or brown fronds, cut the unsightly parts back to any green showing, leaving as much leaf as possible so photosynthesis can take place.

Roger Lawrence is a master gardener and Maricopa resident.

Contact a Master Gardener:
Maricopa Agricultural Center Plant Diagnostic Office
Open 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.