Growing palms

Choosing a palm tree

Choosing the right palm tree for your garden can be an exciting but daunting prospect. Which palm should you buy? How should you care for it? In recent years we have gained much confidence in the application of palm trees in the European garden and fan palms such as the Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) are even thriving in far flung cold places such as Norway and the Ukraine!

With a little thought and due care you can find that perfect palm tree for your home oasis.

Fan palm or feather palm?

Left, a feather palm and right beautiful fan palms

First of all, you should decide whether you want a fan-palm or a feather-palm. This is a personal choice; as you will see from the above the appearance of both types of palm is quite distinct. Bear in mind that fan palms tend to be hardier and as such are the better beginners palm. In particular, the Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and the Windmill palm (Trachycarpus wagnerianus) are especially hardy and as such are extremely popular throughout Europe.

If you like the "Coconut palm" effect, you may consider some feather palms which are very close family relatives of the coconut palm. They may one day may even produce small edible "coconuts". These palms have been growing quite happily in the European climate since the cold winters of the 1980s and there are 100 year old specimens with substantial trunks in the south west of England. Another 'coconut effect' is achieved when the bark of fan-palms such as Trachycarpus fortunei or Trachycarpus wagnerianus is removed to reveal an attractive, bare stem. The effect is stunning! The plants are a little more sensitive to cold than usual, so the trunk needs packing well in cold spells.

The hardiest feather palm, and a good bet as to value for money and ease of growing is Butia eriospatha, a palm from the mountains of South Brazil. This produces large tropical looking green fronds, and will flower and set seed when larger. A blue relative is Butia capitata from Uruguay and South Brazil. Both of these palms will thrive in the English garden and attain considerable size over several years. There are many more exciting and cold tolerant feather palms that will grow in the UK, including Butyagrus and Jubaea chilensis.

How to grow your palm

Once you have an idea of what you would like, you should consider how to obtain and grow your plant.

Growing palms from seed

Trachycarpus fortunei Chusan Palm seedsA cluster of seeds on the Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm) Palms can be grown from seed. This is quite a challenge! You should initially soak the seeds for 24 hours after receipt and clean off any residual outer fruit. Be careful and work cleanly when doing this, it's even an idea to wear gloves as some palms are especially vulnerable to moulds or other infections at this stage.
Plant the seeds either separately or in a tray with a couple of centimetres distance between each seed. We'd recommend a proprietary product such as vermiculite, or an equivalent mixture of perlite and peat moss in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Keep the seeds in a stable, humid warm environment. Some use a wooden box heated by a light bulb, others keep a shoe box on a radiator. We'd recommend a thermostatically controlled heating device such as our 'soil warming cables' set to a temperature of around 31°C. Watering should be done say, once a day, so that the soil is kept a little moist.
Once germinated you can encourage your seedlings by watering a little with a product such as Palmbooster. Transplant carefully, many transplant after the appearance of one leaf but often it's better to wait till the appearance of a second or third leaf. Trachycarpus geminisectus seedling ready to go! Trachycarpus geminisectus seedling ready to go!

Palms from seedlings

Palms are fairly vulnerable and require special attention when grown from seed. This can be great fun but can be frustrating while you experiment to get it right. We supply an extensive range of seedlings for many species to help you avoid this initial hurdle and to reduce the 'time-to-garden'!

Buying a larger palm

Grote Butia capitatasGrote Butia capitatas

And of course, nothing beats the thrill of buying a larger plant and having your garden instantly transformed! We supply plants at various sizes though our extensive European retailer network.

Plant roots are important!

Palmbooster ensuresbr />healthy roots

A well rooted palm will feel at home in your garden quickly; one which has been inadequately rooted will miss growing time and may even go into shock. We always retain our plants until we consider them well-rooted - if the leaves grow before the roots have established the plant becomes weakened. Once the root has grown it in turn releases another growth hormone that instructs the leaves to grow faster. The result is a very strong and vigorous palm tree.

It is in fact always a good idea to care for the roots whenever you transplant your plant or are growing on from a smaller size. Our Palmbooster product is designed to be added to water before applying to the palm. This product is designed specifically to stimulate and support active root growth rather than top growth. A double dose should be applied as a drench at the time of planting, and then the normal recommended dose weekly thereafter. This will stimulate new root growth and minimise sulking and plant shock. This should considerably shorten the time taken for a large palm to settle in once transplanted.

Planting out

Garden or tub/container?

What does your palm tree require?

Whether you plant out in the full soil or in a container or large pot depends upon the palm and of course your personal preference. But be aware that besides drainage issues, pots or containers can also present problems as to cold management! A plant in the ground is attacked from above by the frost, however a plant in a container is attacked by frost on all sides! You should not plant your palm too late in the year; if you leave it to say, mid-summer then your palm  has insufficient time to get established before the winter and may therefore be vulnerable.

Planting out in the garden

planting your palm treeMake a shelf (1) surrounded by a drainage trough (2)

When planting out in the garden, it's an idea to dig well round the base of what you are planting. Don't dig too deep, just aim to cover a few centimeters (2/3 inches) above the root ball. It's an idea to place the palm on a sort of shelf in the middle of the hole with a slightly deeper trough dug around the edge.

Fill the trough with soil mixed with some rough sand. This will allow the plant to drain water away from the roots. Place the plant upon the shelf created, making sure that it is not planted any deeper than it was in its pot (otherwise, you run the risk of trunk-rot).

Refill the hole with soil, mixed with compost or peat. Very sandy soils should be mixed with clay and very heavy soils mixed with sand. Tread the soil down and then water abundantly.  It's a good idea to create a sort of 'saucer' of earth around the tree at ground level to funnel rain water to the roots of the plant.

Above all, make sure your palm is regularly watered (particularly in the first few months) but never becomes 'swamped'!

Planting in a tub or container

Consider coating the inside of your pot with bubble foil or a similar insulant. This prevents the cold from striking through the sides of the pot. Never use bubble foil to wrap roots or even the plant above ground; plants need to breathe and can suffocate if you cover them up.

Of course we have a full range of winter protection for the subsequent care of your palm.

© 2012