If you want a tropical look in your landscape, palm trees can provide it.

There are many types of palms, and most are easy to grow in well-drained soils and full sunlight. They do not tolerate extended periods of cold.

Here is south Louisiana, we have several hardy palm trees from which to choose. Native palms include cabbage palm, dwarf palmetto, needle palm, saw palmetto and Texas palmetto. Some nonnative palms that do well here are the Chinese fan palm, Chinese windmill palm, lady palm, Mediterranean fan palm and queen palm.

Palm tree availability may be limited in some areas, so check with local nurseries to find out what they carry.

Palms can be expensive, especially for larger specimens. Large trees can be purchased as balled-and-burlapped, requiring equipment to move them. Some are available in containers, making them easier for homeowners to transport and plant.

Palm trees' leaves are call fronds, which come in two forms — pinnate and palmate. Some are fan-shaped while others are feather-shaped.

Palm trees have fibrous root systems that do not go deep, but rather spread widely like a mat into the top 12 to 36 inches of soil. The root systems can be very extensive.

Maintenance on palms is minimal: Remove any hanging, dead or unhealthy fronds (leaves). If you have larger specimens that require a ladder to remove fronds, call a licensed arborist.

Unfortunately, some relatively new diseases affect palms, and we're seeing more and more cases in East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes in the past few years.

Two of the diseases are deadly as their names indicate — lethal bronzing and lethal yellowing.

The diseases began to appear in 2013 in Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, said Raj Singh, plant doctor and director of the LSU AgCenter Plant Diagnostic Center. The diseases have continued to spread, reaching parishes in and around East Baton Rouge.

The diseases are caused by a phytoplasma, candidatus palmae. It is a bacterial parasite that attacks the plant phloem tissue (tissue that carries sugars from the leaves), and sap-sucking insects transmit it.

Phytoplasmas were not discovered until 1967, so scientific knowledge on these pathogens is still growing. The phytoplasma strain that causes lethal bronzing is closely related to the strain that causes lethal yellowing.

Lethal bronzing symptoms start with discoloration on the tips of the oldest fronds. The fronds then begin to turn bronze and eventually all the fronds will die. This all happens in just a matter of weeks.

Lethal yellowing causes decline in 37 palm species, including Chinese fan palm, Chinese windmill palm, date palm, queen palm, silver date palm and Canary Island date palm.

The disease starts with discoloration of older fronds that eventually leads to death of flowers and premature fruit drop. The center spear frond eventually dies after the trees loses one-third of the lower canopy. The entire tree rapidly dies within three to five months.

The bad news is that both diseases are terminal and cannot be treated.

Palms that test positive must be removed immediately to prevent transmission to healthy plants. Any healthy palms in the area must also be tested.

If you notice a sudden change in your palms or have seen a palm die within a few weeks, samples can be submitted for testing to the LSU AgCenter Plant Diagnostic Center. Before submitting samples, contact the center at (225) 578-4562.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.