Landscaping Tips - Palms in the Desert Landscape

Palms in the Desert Landscape

Palms are a popular addition to many landscapes in Arizona.  They add architectural interest as well as horticultural uses to both residential and commercial properties.  In some areas, such as the line of California Fan Palms stretching along Litchfield Road, north of I-10, they have become iconic and a much beloved brand of Goodyear and Litchfield Park.

Only one species of palm, Washingtonia filifera, the California Fan Palm, is native to Arizona.  In 1923, Mr. O. E. Cook with an expedition party, found and identified these palms in what is now called Palm Canyon in the Kofa Mountains near Quartzsite.  In 1976 a second group of researchers located three groups of palms along Castle Creek in Yavapai County near Prescott, over one hundred miles from Palm Canyon.

Palms can be grouped in two ways: height at maturity and type of frond (leaf).

  • Palms that reach maturity at less than 20’ are dwarf palms.  Palms that grow taller than 20’ at maturity are standard palms.
  • Palm fronds (leaves) are either feather fronds or fan fronds.  Feather fronds have numerous pinnae (leaflets) arranged up and down a central stalk (rachis) that make it look like a feather; feather palms.  Palm fronds that have a central stalk ending in an expanded blade that looks like the palm and fingers of one’s hand; fan palms.

How can palms be used in the landscape?

  • to define an area
  • create strong vertical elements
  • add texture and rhythm to design
  • convey a tropical effect. 

What to do when selecting palms:

  • make certain the chosen species can thrive in the local climate
  • make certain the chosen species is in scale to where it is to be placed
  • ensure proper maintenance includes once-per-year pruning, appropriate watering and fertilizer application

What not to do when selecting palms:

  • place tall-growing palms in a small front yard where only the trunk can be seen out the front window
  • place under power lines or rooflines
  • place in heavily compacted soil with poor drainage
  • place poorly adapted palms to a given climate

Sometimes palms are called “palm trees” which is incorrect.  Palms are not trees.  The University of Arizona, Cooperative Extension’s bulletin 1021 Arizona Landscape Palms is an excellent guide to selection and use of a wide variety of palms.