If you live in a cold climate you’ve probably already written off palms as a plant that won’t grow in your garden – and you would be partly right.
Most palms are tropical and can’t exist in temperatures less than 15° C (59° F) but there are many cool climate palms that colder areas can grow quite successfully. Dwarf Sugar Palm – can grow at temperatures of less than -6° C (21° F) and reach heights of nearly 5m (15ft). Also the more common, and much larger, Bismarck Palm can grow within the same climate while the Chinese Windmill Palm shouldn’t be grown at all in warmer climates.
While these are only a few of the cool climate palms available to gardeners, there are more comprehensive lists available, tropical palms have a beauty and majesty all their own.
The fabulous Kentia Palm is one example. The Golden Cane Palm, Parlour Palm and the gorgeous Raphia Palm are some of the many others.
So, while we can all grow grow palms the question we need to ask is do we want to? I’ve been a major cynic of palms in the garden for quite a few years mainly because they have become the tree of choice here in Australia for landscaping new subdivisions. It seems every second home has littered their garden with fast-growing Bangalow Palms. Why? Very little maintenance is required. They don’t drop leaves and they don’t take much to keep looking good.
One day a friend inspired me with his plans to create a tropical rainforest garden in Perth, Western Australia. I cynically assumed he was off his rocker but after some investigation found that not only was it possible but I could also create a similar design to my garden in Busselton (250km south of Perth).
Caring for your palm
Palms don’t require pruning but the removal of spent fronds will help keep them looking neat and tidy. Some palms send up suckers which will need to be cut out at base level but apart from sustaining them with a moderate weekly watering they don’t need much else.
Palms naturally crave iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium so finding a fertiliser that contains higher levels of these nutrients will be helpful.
You can transplant palms and this is best done during their growing season (early spring) and provided that most of the rootball can be kept intact. Transplant your palm into a whole twice the size of the rootball and water copiously for the first month or so. Then resume normal watering and apply some fertiliser.
To keep your palm warm in winter wrap the trunk with bubble-wrap and mulch it well or wrap plastic sheeting over its drip line.
Growing palms from seed
Palms can be grown quite successfully from seed but palm seeds have a long gestation period. Kentia’s for example can take between 2-3 years before sending up shoots. To aid their success, remove the fleshy coverings and soak the seed in tepid water for at least 24 hours. Discard any that are still floating after this period and plant the ones that have sunk to the bottom. Plant them in a good seed-raising mix and keep warm in a greenhouse or on a window sill.
Photo source: nattu