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First steps with your palm

Choosing your palm

Choosing the right palm tree for your garden can be a daunting but exciting prospect. Which type of 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! So with a little thought and due care you can find that perfect palm tree for your home oasis.

Fan palm or feather palm?

Fan-palms-and-feather-palms
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; the appearance of both types of palm is quite distinct. With regard to general hardiness, however, it must be stated that fan palms tend to be hardier and as such are the better beginner"s 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.

For those seeking the "Coconut palm" effect, there are feather palms which are very close family relatives of the coconut palm that will grow in your garden, and 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 in the south west UK with substantial trunks.

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 best palm in terms of hardiness, 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

Please browse our shop and informative database to get a feel for plants suited to your garden!

Growing 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 Palms can be grown from seed. This is quite a challenge! You should soak the seeds for 24 hours after receipt and clean off any residual outer fruit. Be careful and clean 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. You should then ensure 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 31C. 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.

Palms from seedlings

Trachycarpus geminisectus seedling ready to go! Trachycarpus geminisectus seedling ready to go! As you will have surmised from the above, 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 over this hurdle and to reduce the "time-to-garden"!

Buying a larger palm

Large Butia capitatas ready for sale!Large Butia capitatas

And of course, nothing beats the thrill of buying a larger plant and having your garden instantly transformed! Mypalmshop supplies plants at various sizes and indicates both weight and transport size on screen as you shop. We even supply large plants which will not go by regular post; even for giants such as these we have a transport solution on-line for you.

Ensure good plant roots

palmbooster
Palmbooster ensures
healthy roots

A well rooted palm will take to its new position in your garden readily; one which has been inadequately rooted will miss growing time and may even go into shock! At Mypalmshop we always retain our plants until we consider them well-rooted. This is because to grow a healthy palm you must first build a large and healthy root system. 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. Palmbooster also works very well in conjunction with 'Neem coir' and together is superb for growing healthy palms from seed. 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.


When and where should you plant your palm?

Garden or tub plant

Consider the needs of the palm

Whether you plant out in the full soil or in a container or large pot depends upon the palm itself 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 therefore  may be vulnerable.

Planting out in the garden

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

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"!

Tub or container planting

You should consider coating the inside of your pot with bubble foil or a similar insulant upon planting. This will prevent the cold from striking through the sides of the pot. However, your use of bubble foil should stop there - 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.

Groups of palms

For some reason or other we are always advised to plant in groups of odd numbers; a solitary in the middle of a lawn, groups of three or five. It"s strange but true; I find groups of say two or four less pleasing than three or five! If anybody has a good psychological explanation of this phenomenon we"d love to hear from you! 

Rory Whittle -© 2009 mypalmshop.com