My Las Vegas Palm Trees Are Too Tall!

Mexican Fan Palms can grow 80 to 100 feet tall.
Photo by Diane Taylor

When my husband and I moved to Las Vegas seven years ago, we purchased a home with… we bragged to our friends in Chicago…lots of palm trees!  How exotic.  We had to learn about trimming the roof-height trees, but we found that many landscapers in town will do the job.  Our palm trees were beautiful.

Among our collection of trees are a number of Mexican Fan Palms, popular all over Las Vegas. Little did we know Mexican Fan Palms grow quickly, one to three feet a year. Seven years later, they are getting more and more expensive to trim; they drop “stuff” all over our yard AND these days I have to crane my neck to see the top of the trees.

No one should start disliking their palm trees, should they? 

A Trumpet Creeper vine, Madame Galen variety climbs a Schilling palm tree.
Photo courtesy of Norm Schilling

Norm Schilling is host of one of my favorite programs on KNPR, “Desert Bloom”. I called his company, Schilling Horticulture Group, to ask him to talk to me about palm trees.

Thankfully, Schilling understood my problem.  He inherited 26 palms on his own half-acre property, and those palms included fast-growing Mexican Fan Palms (thin trunks) and California Fan Palms (fatter trunks).

“I have a love/hate relationship with these trees,” he says.  “I love that they add a tropical flare to the landscape, and they produce a beautiful sound when the wind whistles through the fronds.  You can also plant these trees next to a driveway or pool deck and their roots are less likely to break nearby concrete than most other types of trees.  Yes, I now have some taller trees whose trunks look more like backyard telephone poles, and I have removed a few.  But I’ve also found success in growing vines on the trunks – making a sort of vertical trellis.  The vine I like the best is a Trumpet Creeper, Madame Galen variety.  It produces big red flowers by the dozens April through October and is a natural hummingbird feeder.”

Great advice! We’ll plant some vines!

Schilling wasn’t finished.  “What I don’t like is that Mexican and California Fan Palms  don’t provide much shade unless they are planted in bunches. Also they are expensive to maintain in terms of paying to have them trimmed.”  (He added that palms are among the most dangerous trees to maintain. In addition to workers possibly falling out of trees, the skirts of dead fronds can suddenly release and smother the tree-trimmer.)

Norm Schilling in his garden.
Photo courtesy of Norm Schilling

He continued, “The trees do get out of scale for smaller properties and they are also messy. Once the trees get to be, say, 15 feet tall, they bloom and produce long flower spikes and drop little three-petalled flowers that can overwhelm a yard or pool.”

What if a client wants to have palm trees in their yard? What do you recommend?

An alternative to a tall palm, a Mexican Blue Palm.
Photo courtesy of Norm Schilling

“One of my favorites is the Mexican Blue Palm with strikingly blue foliage.  It’s extremely slow growing. A Mexican Blue Palm five to ten feet tall is expensive….but the advantage is, it stays in your yard and enhances the beauty of the landscape for years and years.  But one need not purchase a mature specimen; a young plant of the 5 or 15-gallon size will provide an amazing splash of color, will grow to fill in a space and become ever more valuable with the passage of time. Other options would be the Mediterranean Fan Palm, a multi-trunk palm, or the Windmill Palm, a sort of miniature of the taller trees.”

Schilling adds that one should remember that the Madame Galen Trumpet Creeper and the Windmill Palm are moderate water-use plants and perform much better in organic (wood-chip) mulch, while the Mexican Blue and Mediterranean Palm are true desert adapted species that thrive in any conditions, including in a rock mulch landscape.

This particular palm tree has grown in between branches of a pine tree.
Photo by Diane Taylor

So why did the folks who originally created the residential Las Vegas landscapes not plant the investment-grade palms in the first place? Schilling hints that in addition to cost, perhaps a lack of knowledge also added to the mix.

“My own mission is to change the culture of how horticulture is done in this valley,” he says. “If I take my dog to the vet, I expect the vet to know about dogs.  Sadly, some of our landscapers don’t know plants. Their customers spend lots of money, but that money is wasted. If a landscape is done well, it helps the environment; it brings in butterflies and hummingbirds and it improves in value and beauty as the years pass.”

I understand.  But back to the trees.  What do Las Vegans do with their too-tall trees?

The answer Schilling gives is to quote a saying he loves:  “A good gardener should sometimes have a hard heart and a sharp ax.”