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FROND MEMORIES NOTHING SAYS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LIKE A PROUD, TALL PALM TREE.

Byline: Alina Larson Correspondent

``You know what San Fernando Valley is? Cleveland with palm trees.''

- Bob Hope

But surely the late Bob Hope, a former Toluca Lake resident, realized that palm trees make all the difference. They wave to us breezily at shopping malls and pools and golf courses and just about every neighborhood, lining our streets - major and minor - as towering exotic torches.

Despite their prevalence, palms remain one of the least understood trees. It all began with the Canary Island date palm, planted by Spanish missionaries in California in the late 1700s. Because Southern California's climate is arid, we can grow palms from the Mediterranean and Central and South America, says Teresa Proscewicz, principal forester for the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department.

Of the approximately 2,000 types of palm trees that exist worldwide, 11 are native to North America. The largest of these, and the only palm tree native to western North America, is the California fan palm. California boasts around 70 species of palm trees. We've come a long way from just the Canary Island palm dotting the state.

In 1980 in Southern California, 20 percent of the landscape was composed of palm trees; now it's up to 40 percent, says Murrieta-based palm consultant Dr. Henry Donselman. ``I think it's so popular because no other tree or plant can give us that exotic, tropical feeling.''

Roots of no evil

Homeowners love palms for practical reasons, too: Palms have a compact root system that goes straight down, instead of out, which might damage the pool, patio or other back- or front-yard work.

``We bought the house five years ago, and the yard was in major shambles, but the palm trees were here already,'' says Teri Chubin of Burbank. ``That's what attracted me to the house, because I love palm trees.

Within five months of moving in, the Chubins completely overhauled their yard - leaving the palms, of course - and adding a sago palm that they brought from their old house.

``You'd think it would have died being replanted, but it's doing even better than it did in the old house.''

The palms are the focal point of their yard, Chubin says, because they're in huge used-brick planters, and because the Chubins redo the surrounding flowers every six months. Asked why she loves palms, Chubin says, ``I love the ocean, and I love Hawaii. So what do you think of when you think of Hawaii?''

Seems she's not alone. Soon after the couple landscaped, they received a note from someone offering to buy their palms.

Tall order

With some planning and care, you can add a touch of the tropics to your own back yard.

The first thing to think about is what type of environment your yard provides and how much maintenance you are willing to do. Queen, king, lady, majestic, fishtail and fan are among the palms that don't require a lot of work, says Ryan LaFleur, owner of Four Seasons Nursery in Northridge. They also can tolerate heat and cold.

Palms that need more care might require protection from intense heat or cold, supplemental water or irrigation. Areas of the San Fernando Valley are very windy, which means some of taller palms will catch more wind, breaking the fronds. Tying the fronds together protects the central, newest fronds from wind and frost. Make sure that in a decade or two the palm won't be tangling with overhead cables, wires or roofing.

Finally, remember that palms grow at different speeds, which will affect their prices. The slower they grow, the more expensive they'll be. To judge price by container size, says LaFleur, estimate $60 for 15 gallons, up to $2,500 for a 36-inch box. The cost of installation can range from $10 up to several thousand if cranes are required.

To figure out which would work best where you live, go for a drive. Look at what is already planted in the neighborhood, or go to a local botanical garden to see what thrives. The best time to plant a palm tree is between April 15 and October, avoiding August, advises Donselman, who is also known as the Palm Doc.

The right spot

Before you plant, make sure your palm will have good drainage. One way to make sure is to dig the hole and fill it with water. If by the next day the water isn't gone, you'll need to find another spot or create an irrigation system. The needs of palms are identical to turf grass, Donselman notes. So you can simply water and fertilize your turf grass and palm at the same time.

Don't grow grass right up to the trunk, though, he says, because the string trimmers that gardeners use on grass can damage the palm's trunk. What most people don't realize is that a palm tree trunk is different from typical shade trees. Palms don't have growth rings like oak or pine trees, which heal if damaged. If the trunk of a palm tree is gouged, it becomes an entry point for diseases.

Donselman recommends an odd number of small or medium palms for an aesthetically pleasing look around the yard.

``The question I get from homeowners most often is about why the queen palm doesn't grow well out in the desert,'' says Donselman. People buy the palm because it is widely available and only costs around $30, but the palm comes from a cool climate in Brazil, so it can't take the heat. Make sure your palm is in the right environment, or choose one that needs very little care, such as a true date palm, a California or Mexican fan palm or a windmill.

Prune them with care

Once the palm tree is in, keep an eye on it. Look for discoloration or limb loss, which can signal a trunk wound or disease. You'll also need to prune the dead leaves once a year. June is the best time. Just don't over-prune.

``The biggest mistake people make is to treat palms like oak trees,'' says Robert Riffle, co-author of ``An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms.'' ``They cut and prune too much. People are always asking 'Can I cut off the top because the palm is too tall?' No, I say, because you'll kill it. Know what you're planting, I tell people.''

Alfonso Castillo Jr., owner of AC Horticultural Management in Northridge, confirms Riffle's reports. People hire a contractor that bids significantly lower than others, but they usually don't have a license or insurance and don't know what they're doing.

``The main problem we've seen re-occurring in the last five to 10 years, is trees that have been topped, which means all of the horizontal growth has been stripped off,'' says Castillo.

Check with the state licensing board to make sure a contractor is licensed. It's also important that the contractor is insured because if a worker falls, the homeowner can be sued, says Castillo, who knows of two to four worker deaths in the San Fernando Valley in the past year. Licensed contractors will all generally be priced the same. Castillo charges $75 for a 45-minute diagnosis and consultation, with tree maintenance costing $200 up to the thousands, depending on what needs to be done. AC Horticultural offers periodic seminars on palm care.

Seminars on palm care? It might seem like a bit of effort, but when you're backyard-bound in a tropical paradise - you'll be glad.

How high do you want it?

TYPES OF PALM TREES

Small (10 to 35 feet)

Chinese Fountain palm - will need some shade, supplemental water

Foxtail Palm - a bit tender

Mediterranean fan palm - hearty

Mexican blue palm - very slow grower, loves heat

Pindo palm - hearty

Pygmy date palms - will need supplemental irrigation and protection on very cold nights

Triangle palm - Needs protection on cold nights

Windmill palm - hearty

Medium (10 to 60 feet)

Australian fan palm - hearty

King palm - pretty tender

Queen palm - might need supplemental irrigation, fast grower, hearty

Giant (over 60 feet)

Bismark palm - hearty

California fan palm (also known as the Desert Palm and the California Washingtonia) - hearty

Mexican fan palm - hearty, grows up to 100 feet tall

Canary Island date palm - hearty, loves heat

Nurseries specializing in palm trees

Exotic Garden Nursery

18801 Victory Blvd., Reseda

(818) 996-1684

Four Seasons Wholesale Nursery

18840 Nordhoff St., Northridge

(818) 700-0092

Estrada's Palm Cyads

264 Basetdale Ave., La Puente

(626) 336-0990

For more information:

--www.palms.org/socal - The Palm Society of Southern California

--www.palmsoftheworld.com - Palm tree information

--www.homestead.com/donselman - Dr. Henry Donselman (The Palm Doc) provides information on all things palm

--``An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms,'' by Robert Lee Riffle and Paul Craft (Timber Press, Portland, 2003; $50. Call 800-327-5680)

--www.achortico.com - AC Horticultural Management Inc. (818) 366-6103.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Palms up

Elegant tree a versatile way to dress up your home

Charlotte Schmid-Maybach/Staff Photographer

(2 -- color) Tree trimmer Raul Garfias of AC Horticultural Management climbs one of Mitch and Pam Kreitenberg's California Washingtonia palms, also known as California fan palms. When it comes to palm maintenance, trimming is OK, topping is not.

(3 -- color) The fronds fly when the certified trimmers are at work in the Kreitenbergs' back yard.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

(4 -- color) Palms in brick planters make for a memorable welcome to the Burbank home of the Chubin family.

Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) How high do you want it? (see text)

(2) For more information (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 22, 2004
Words:1585
Previous Article:IN THE GARDEN IN MODERN VALLEY, THE TREES KEEP GETTING SMALLER.
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