Sabal palmetto
Family: Palmae/Arecaceae (palm family)
Sabal Palms available from Erb & Roberts

Erb & Roberts provides only the most nourished and well maintained sabal palms in the North Florida Area. Our prices are from $99.00 professionally installed by Gainesville based landscapers, Ground eF/X. This installation special is for a limited time only so call us at (352) 376-4666 (or toll free at 1-800-330-3402) to check on availability.

Below are pictures of sabal palms installed at a Gainesville home by Ground eF/X. Great care is taken during installation to ensure proper rooting and worry free upkeep.

Ground eF/X

Description The cabbage palm is a medium sized (30'-50') spineless, evergreen palm with an unbranching trunk and very large, fan-shaped leaves that form a circular crown. When the palm is young, the gray-brown trunk is rough and covered with the old boots of leaf stalks. These stalks fall away, revealing the trunk as it matures.

Location This U.S.A. native palm occurs near the coast, from Southeastern North Carolina to the Florida Keys, including the coast of Northwest Florida. It is the northernmost New World palm and is one of the hardiest. It occurs along sandy shores, often in crowded groves, and inland in hardwood hammocks. The photograph shows a grove of cabbage palms growing along the Tomoka River near Daytona Beach, Florida.

Culture Light: Full sunlight to some shade. Trunk development is suppressed in heavily shaded specimens. Moisture: Very adaptable. Average moisture will do. Tolerates drought, standing water and brackish water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-10. Propagation: Seedlings. Mature specimens are commercially obtained from natural plantings. Most roots and leaves are removed before planting. Transplants should be anchored by some means until the roots have been re-established. Transplanting specimans without trunks is seldom successful.

Usage The cabbage palm is used as an ornamental and street tree, well adapted for group, specimen or avenue plantings. This palm is very salt tolerant and can be grown on the beach or directly at the water's edge of bays and inlets.

Features Grown as an individual or in small groups of 2-3, this palm makes an interesting specimen set apart from more traditional trees. The durable trunks are sometimes used for wharf pilings, docks and poles. Brushes and brooms can be made from young leaves, and the large fan-shaped leaves have been used by the Seminole Indians in Florida as thatch for traditional pavillions, called chickees. The large leaf buds of immature cabbage palms are used in southern cooking to make swamp cabbage and hearts of palm salad. Removal of the bud is lethal to the palm. Avoid eating hearts of palm, as most commercially available canned product is obtained from wild strands of Sabal species in Mexico and Central America.

WarningWARNING: The large leaves of this palm are difficult to clean up when they die and fall off. Dead leaves may stay on the tree, but should be removed, as they create shelter for rats and other undesirable creatures.

Installation Instructions

Site Preparation It is always best to install newly dug specimen palms immediately to minimize stress and possible loss of the palm. If delivered palms cannot be planted immediately upon arrival at the installation site, the palms should be placed out of direct sun and the trunk, root ball and canopy kept moist. Temporarily "heeling in" the root balls under a layer of mulch is advisable, especially if other no means of keeping the roots from drying out is available (Illustration A).

Illustration A
Illustration A

Installation site conditions also contribute to the establishment success of transplanted palms. A well drained location is essential; standing water should not appear at the bottom of the planting hole. If drainage is a problem at the site, a berm should be constructed to raise the root ball above the level of water. Though some palm species may adjust to less than optimal drainage after establishment, standing water around a newly dug root ball will have adverse effects on root regeneration. The planting hole should be wide enough to easily accept the root ball and provide at least several inches of new growth from the ball. It need only be deep enough to situate the palm at the same depth at which it previously grew. The amending of backfill soil from the planting hole is not recommended. If the backfill soil differs greatly in structure and texture from the surrounding site soil, new roots will have a tendency to remain within the backfill. If amending the backfill soil is demanded by the customer, the volume of amendment should not exceed twenty-five percent of the soil removed from the hole.

Planting and Support Planting depth. It is imperative that palms not be transplanted any deeper than they were originally grown (Illustration B). The root initiation zone at the base of the trunk is extremely sensitive in this regard, and planting too deeply will cause root suffocation, nutritional deficiencies, root rot disease and frequently loss of the palm. Unfortunately, it is still a common practice for installers to situate specimen-sized palms at various depths in order to create a planting of uniform height. The decline of deeply planted palms may take several years to become apparent, especially on very well-drained soils, but it can only be reversed by removing the backfill from the suffocated root initiation zone or replanting the palm.

Illustration B
Illustration B

All air pockets should be tamped out of the backfill as the planting hole is filled. A berm should be mounded up at the periphery of the root ball to retain water during irrigation. The initial irrigation should be deep and thorough. Filling the planting hole with water up to the berm will be necessary two to three times to fully wet and settle the soil. Support. Larger palms will require some form of bracing to maintain stability during the first six to eight months after installation. The proper method of support is shown in Illustration C. Short lengths of 2 x 4' lumber should be banded or strapped to the trunk (a foundation of burlap or asphalt paper can be placed around the trunk under these), and support braces (also 2" x 4", or 4" x 4" on very large specimens) are then nailed into them. Under no circumstances should nails be driven directly into a palm trunk. Such damage is permanent, and provides entryway for pathogens and possibly insect pests as well.

Illustration C
Illustration C

Establishment Care The root ball and surrounding backfill should remain evenly moist, but never saturated during the first four to six months after installation. Supplementary irrigation is necessary unless adequate rainfall is received during this time period. Newly transplanted specimen-sized palms should not be expected to produce a great deal of new top growth during the first year after transplanting; much of the palm's energy reserves will (and should) be channeled into root growth. Drenching the root zone two to four times during the first few months with a fungicide labeled for landscape use on soil borne root fungal pathogens is recommended for high value palms. A light surface application of a slow-release "palm special" granular fertilizer can be banded at the margins of the root ball three to four months after transplanting. A foliar spray of soluble micronutrients may be beneficial during this period, since root absorption activity is limited. Foliar fertilization is an inefficient way to supply macronutrients such as potassium and magnesium because the relatively high amounts required by the palms. When the appearance of new leaves indicates that establishment has been successful, a regular fertilization program (three to four times per year optimally) can begin (see "Palm Nutrition Guide," Extension Circular SS-ORH-02).

Special Cases Cabbage or Sabal Palms Sabal palms are the most widely planted of all palms in the southeastern United States. Virtually all are dug as mature specimens from natural stands because their slow growth rate makes nursery production uneconomical. Survival rates for transplanted sabal palms are often low. In sabal palm ( Sabal palmetto ) virtually no cut roots survive, regardless of length. Thus, transplanted sabal palms have no functional root system for the eight month period required for the production of new adventitious roots from the root initiation zone at the base of the trunk (Broschat and Donselman 1984a). The standard procedure for transplanting field-grown sabal palms has been to remove the lower two-thirds of the leaves and tie the remaining leaves into a tight bundle around the bud to reduce transpiration. The remaining leaves typically become desiccated and die within one to two months and the palms may appear to be dead. If the palm survives, new green leaves will eventually emerge from within the canopy of dead foliage. Broschat (1991) monitored an installation of several hundred sabal palms with trunks from ten to twenty feet long in a street median landscape in Miami, Florida. Approximately half were transplanted using the standard practice of removing all but the top one-third of the leaves and tying these remaining leaves up with biodegradable twine. The other half had all leaves removed prior to transplanting. All palms received soil irrigation as needed during the eight month evaluation period. The survival rate for palms transplanted without leaves was ninety-five percent, compared to sixty-four percent for those transplanted with one-third of their leaves remaining. Among the surviving palms, canopy size was slightly smaller for palms transplanted with leaves. In addition to the lower survival rate for palms transplanted with leaves, the fact that all the original leaves died and had to be later removed by hand makes this practice costly in terms of labor requirements. Complete leaf removal appears to be the best method for transplanting sabal palms, which lose all their roots in the transplant operation.

History of the Sabal Palm

Florida's State Tree
State Tree: Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto)

In 1927, The sabal palm was designated the state tree after years of controversy. The royal palm, and slash and longleaf pines were other candidates throughout the years. The Federation of Garden Clubs convinced the legislature that palms were representative of Florida and that the Sabal was the most common throughout the state. The Florida State Seal, which is present on the state flag, originally had a cocoa palm but the Legislature had it officially changed to a sabal palm in 1970.

Early Floridians had a variety of uses for the sabal palm. The bud of the tree was eaten as food, the fibrous trunk was used for shelter materials and the leaves were used for thatched roofs. In some parts of the world, the sabal palm continues to be used in these ways.

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