Your Guide to Versatile, Easy to Grow Palms


Versatile, hardy and easy to grow - palms lend evergreen form and structure to the garden...

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Palms have been much valued by man for thousands of years and remain just as important today. For centuries these wonderful trees have supplied us with building material as well as edible fruits such as dates, coconuts and betel nuts while fibre and cane from the trees has been used to manufacture mats, baskets and furniture.

There are some 3000 species of palms world wide, varying in size from the diminutive little love palms to the giant Ceroxylon or Andean wax palm which grows to a towering 65m in height.

In terms of climate, palms can be roughly divided into two groups namely the hardy palms, such as Phoenix canariensis (Canary island date palm), which can withstand cold weather and frost, and the tropical palms such as Caryota mitis (Fish tail palm) which thrive in warm, humid, frost free conditions.

Many palms, however, are very adaptable and suitable for varied landscaping requirements so in colder regions of South Africa it is possible to grow varieties that are a little less hardy if some care is taken when choosing them and they are planted in warmer parts of the garden that offer adequate protection from extreme cold as well as being given sufficient water, .

Palms have a fibrous, compact root system which is why they can be grown very successfully and to great effect in areas where the roots are restricted such as a designated island within a swimming pool or in large containers and pots.

Planting Palms

Once you have selected the area where your palm is to be planted, dig a hole at least 1m square and 1m deep. Prepare a rich, porous planting medium comprising equal quantities of garden soil and peat compost to which about 60 grams of bone meal has been added. Place the palm in the hole and return the soil to the hole to a level slightly lower than the surface of the rest of the ground. Firm the soil down well and water generously. Add a thick mulch of compost around the palm to nourish the plant and keep the roots cool and moist. Feed with liquid fertilizer at six weekly intervals during the growth period and do not allow the plant to dry out.

Popular Palm varieties

  • Seaforthia elegans (Seaforthia): is a semi hardy palm that grows to a height of 15m with fronds up to 2m in length. Although this lovely variety will tolerate light frost it prefers a frost free environment. Young plants do best in a semi shaded position.
  • Cocos plumosa (Queen palm): popular throughout South Africa this handsome, hardy palm is a fast grower. Reaching a mature height of 12m with fronds up to 5m long, the Queen palm will do well in full sun or semi shade.
  • Butia capitata (Jelly palm): has distinctive, blue green, beautifully arched fronds of up to 2,5m. Growing to a height of about 6m with a robust, 1m wide trunk, this is an excellent specimen palm on a large lawn.
  • Caryota mitis (Fish tail palm): is a frost tender, cluster palm that does best in semi shaded, humid conditions. The pale green, triangular leaflets on the fronds resemble fish tails hence the common name. The cluster grows to a height of about 7m and a width of about 1m.
  • Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (Golden bamboo palm): the pale green, arched fronds of this very decorative palm have yellow mid-ribs and yellow veined leaflets. The ringed trunks are greenish yellow and resemble bamboo. This tropical palm grows in ornamental clumps to a height of 6m. The fronds are about 1m long.
  • Phoenix canariensis (Canary island palm): this well known, very hardy palm is grown successfully throughout the country. Reaching a height of 20m with a 7m spread and a robust 70cm trunk which is covered in prominent leaf bases. This very handsome palm should be given plenty of space.
  • Washingtonia filifera (Petticoat palm): hardy, frost and drought resistant, the stately petticoat palm can reach a height of 15m. The grey green, deeply divided costalpalmate leaves reach a length of 2m. The common name refers to the 'petticoat' of dead leaves that cover the trunk.

Questions and comments

 

The questions/comments section has been closed as of 1 Sept 2015

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Aug 26 2015, 10:29 AM
Tracy
What is the name of the palm (dwarf) that has a lovely bright foliage, with very sharp spikes or spines close to the trunk... in grows about 1,5 m high max. I think it starts with an "R"
Aug 26 2015, 11:54 AM
Rod
This Question has already received a Response. Please see below.
Aug 24 2015, 12:41 PM
Tracy
What is the name of the palm (dwarf) that has a lovely bright foliage, with very sharp spikes or spines close to the trunk... in grows about 1,5 m high max. I think it starts with an "R"
Aug 24 2015, 01:25 PM
Rod
Is it perhaps the Palm mentioned in the link below - the Needle Palm? Don't think I've ever seen one in real life, so not sure if they grow in South Africa.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhapidophyllum
Aug 15 2015, 09:58 AM
Anonymous
What fertizer can i use for my palm tree which leaves turn yellow
Aug 20 2015, 09:58 AM
Rod
Yellowing of the lower leaves on a Palm Tree is a natural process. The older lower leaves gradually yellow, turn brown and die. These are usually then cut off. But even with this natural process, the topmost and/or middle leaves should remain green. If unnatural yellowing is occurring, then this is most often a sign of Nitrogen deficiency. Lack of Potassium and/or Magnesium can also contribute to yellowing. So the recommendation is to feed the Palm with a fertiliser higher in Nitrogen and Potassium, and to give it micro-nutrients in some form. You are probably familiar with the fertiliser formula N:P:K (Nitrogen / Phosphorous / Potassium) which one sees on packaging. Something like 8:1:5 would probably be appropriate, if you want to use synthetic fertiliser. But try to buy a brand which offers a slow release version (SR). Personally, I'd rather use organic refined poultry manure such as Neutrog BounceBack, or SuddenImpact. If you want to supplement the Magnesium then try feeding your Palm with Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulphate). Another source of micro nutrients is Nitrosol, a liquid product. I'd also feed the Palm with one of the seaweed-based products such as Kelpak or Seagrow. And do mulch around the base of your Palm, without getting the mulch right up against the trunk.
Aug 10 2015, 03:40 PM
jack
what palm berr
ey grows in the western cape south africa
Aug 17 2015, 03:23 PM
Rod
I am not sure how to interpret your Question! I assume though that you are asking about edible dates? The common Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is grown in tropical or subtropical regions of the world, also in the Mediterranean area and the Middle East. Some varieties are more cold tolerant so cultivar choice is important. I have personally not seen date palms in the Western Cape, although there might be some grown in places. I doubt that they would bear successfully in the cold wet Winters of the Western Cape, but it is possible that they would cope in the drier arid areas.

http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/date/date-palm-tree-care.htm
Jan 04 2015, 09:45 AM
Martin
Hi I live in jhb. I have a palm which I believe is a cocas palm which gets bunches of small red berries. I have just built a fish pond and the berries are falling into it. It has also created a reddish colour to the water. Quest: are they toxic to fish? Please help
Jan 05 2015, 01:18 PM
Rod
I find no reports on the Internet to indicate that the berries are toxic to fish. I would expect that if they were, then there would be some evidence on the Internet. Apparently the berries are eaten by quite a wide variety of creatures, from birds to monkeys and bats, but that does not necessarily mean that fish can safely eat them. But creatures are often able to sense what is edible, and what is not. I'd put my money on the berries not being toxic to fish, or perhaps just being unpalatable to them (but please don't quote me!). Do speak to one of the fish experts at your closest seller of Koi fish. To avoid the berries reddening the water, you'd have to either wrap up the berries in mesh to prevent them dropping, or cut them off. Don't know how tall your Cocos Palms are in order to make this feasible.
Jan 05 2015, 04:09 PM
Martin
Thanks rod. Much appreciated. That seems like sound advice!
Dec 09 2014, 02:10 AM
Brian Sandow
I live in Ermelo Mphumalanga what palm species can I plant if any. We do get bad frost here at times. Regards Brian
Dec 11 2014, 11:30 AM
Rod
Yes, I believe it gets "vrekkoud" there in Winter! You will have seen the list of palms at the beginning of this article. Four of those will tolerate frost : Cocos plumosa, Butia capitata, Phoenix canariensis and Washingtonia filifera. From those, you would need to consider the sort of look you require of your palm trees e.g. will they line a roadway? be planted on an island in the pool? etc. You can also have a look at the link I am giving you below to see what other palm trees are purported to be frost tolerant. But you would be limited by the varieties which are available at your local nurseries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hardy_palms
Oct 24 2014, 10:29 AM
elizabeth
I'm staying in the western cape. I've planted 3 cocos plumosas 2 is doing very well but the 1planted on the grass is not doing well at all. No branches at all but is still looking green
Oct 27 2014, 12:31 PM
Rod
It's very difficult to say what could be the problem, based on the information you have provided. But for starters, is there anything obviously different about the SITES where the different palms are planted? e.g. Better soil where the two thriving palms are situated? More protected? More soil moisture? Also, did the poor one perhaps have its roots more disturbed during planting? Is so, it could be suffering from root shock. Was exactly the same soil mix used for all three? Did all three palms LOOK to be in the same condition prior to planting? Have all the palms received the same treatment since planting? Having said all the above, it is ALWAYS best to exercise patience with trees, and particularly newly planted trees - I've come across quite a number of instances of trees reviving after being apparently dead - and give your palms some TLC (feeding, watering and mulching as described in this article). It's encouraging that your "poor" palm is at least still green - give it more time to establish its root system!
Jul 24 2014, 09:25 PM
marlene
I need to know what to plant around a pool in mpumalanga kriel, and have an ugly concrete wall also
Jul 25 2014, 01:12 PM
Rod
The eGardens website has a section called Inspiration. If you look there, you will find an article entitled Your South African Poolside Planting Guide. The article suggests plants and shrubs commonly used alongside pools. You will have to take into account that you have cold Winters in Kriel and protect your plants as best you can. Though subtropical plants look great around pools, they might not survive the Winters where you live. I would say that the main things to avoid when choosing your plants, shrubs or trees are that they should not : (1) have thorns which can hurt people (2) be messy e.g. drop substantial amounts of leaves, fruit or flowers and (3) have invasive roots which will try to reach the pool water or lift paving. Generally use taller shrubs towards the back of your beds and smaller plants towards the front. If you use ornamental grasses I think that might look quite attractive and be quite low in maintenance to boot. You will see if you scroll down in the Poolside Planting article that one of our visitors suggested we recommend indigenous Cyathea capensis or C. dregei rather than the exotic Cyathea australis - well worth considering. Regarding your ugly concrete wall, your choices would be to either hide it behind shrubs, or to cover it with a creeper. If you decide to use a creeper, it will have to be self-clinging. To get ideas for self clinging creepers, you can look in the eGardens Library section for the article Cimbers - Nature's Backdrop. You will find suggested creepers there, as well as (if you scroll down) a number of Responses I have provided to people regarding self-clinging climbers. If you want a quick growing evergreen coating for your wall, you might want to use Hedera helix (Ivy). Or maybe Ficus pumila (Tickey Creeper) the roots of which I THINK would not damage your pool or paving (though it is Ficus family and therefore generally avoided near pools). And by the way, if you wish to incorporate small trees in your beds alongside the pool, then have a look at the following website, which gives excellent information regarding safe-to-use trees, including smaller trees and shrub type trees:
http://www.randomharvestnursery.co.za/RandomHarvestNews/IndigenousGardening/tabid/275/entryid/14/Trees-for-Pools.aspx
Good luck with your project!
Feb 26 2014, 12:57 PM
Faizel
Hi Rod,
I have a couple of fully grown as well as young palm trees. The problem is that the branches of the fully grown ones are withered and dull. How can I get the branches to be vibrant and green?
Feb 27 2014, 12:29 PM
Rod
You do not mention where you live, anything about your soil conditions or what type of palm you have. I did some looking around on the Internet and noted that palms generally require a well aerated soil. If the palms are over-watered the soil becomes anaerobic (lacking in oxygen) which encourages detrimental pathogens. This can lead to a fungus-like disease called Phytophthera. To make the soil more suitable for the palms you would need to feed with a very good humate (fully mineralised compost, preferably with beneficial organisms in it). The best in the Western Cape is a product called Soil and More Reliance Soil Conditioner. I also noted that overseas people would boost their soils with Phosphorus (for the roots) and Potassium (for the leaves). If you are inclined towards organic products, you could feed your palms with Neutrog SeaMungus which incorporates seaweed, an excellent growth promoting product. Please ensure that you do not over-water your palm trees though.

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