Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

June 19, 2016

Caring for the trunk of a miniature palm - Phoenix roebelenii

One of the biggest mistakes that people who want to create a "Tropical Paradise" effect in their backyards make is to plant full-sized palm trees. These plants start out small, and in a couple of years they become what I call "telephone poles". So you are wise to plant miniature palms, such as Phoenix roebeleniis (pictured above). You can find them just about anywhere, from nurseries to Home Depot. They are more expensive than full-size palm trees, for the size (because they're miniatures), but you won't be looking at "telephone poles" in a few years, which is very important.

If, however, you have big miniatures (I guess that's kind of like jumbo shrimp), either because you spent a lot of money and bought your Phoenix roebeleniis big, or like me, have lived with them for over twenty years, you have to pay attention to the trunk. If may not be a "telephone pole", but if the trunk is at eye level, it's part of the picture, and needs your attention. By the way, the block wall there is a about six feet high. So am I, so I'll be able to reach up to trim them when they get taller, as my arms are about three feet long. They may get as tall as twelve feet in another twenty years or so, and I'll probably need help at that time.

No, you can't "scalp" the trunk of a Phoenix roebelenii, the way you can with an ordinary fan palm. It just can't be done. Date palms grow differently, and the stubs (after you've cut off the fronds) keep growing. That's why so many times the trunks look so ratty - a few days after your Phoenix roebeleniis are beautifully trimmed, the stubs start to show and need to be snipped back.

So that's what you do - snip. I keep my snippers handy by my patio and I go out and snip the stubs whenever the mood strikes me, at least once a week. As you can see, I have made access to the back of the trees with stepping stones, and I can easily reach them from the front. I usually do it in the morning, when the morning sun is on them, and it's a little cooler (this is Phoenix, Arizona after all!). By the way, it's June 19, 2016 and the forecast today is for record heat, so I didn't spend much time out there, I'm back here at my computer in the air conditioning. Maybe I'll do more when the shade of the house covers them (although it will be over 110 degrees then!).

I planted these trees as a small pot from K-Mart in 1995. Originally there were three trees, but one of them died in the big frost of '07. And up until about a week ago, the trunks were hidden behind cannas, which I removed. You can see that I have new small plantings at the base.

So the trunks really show now, and I'm snipping. It's normal for these plants to lean a bit and get very narrow at the base (I love that look!). They also "stilt", which means that the roots start to show, so I keep them covered with much and potting soil.

If you have Phoenix roebeleniis at this size, it's pretty impressive. These are big miniatures! So go take care of them!
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