Gar­den GI­ANTS

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CHAL­LENGE OF PALM TREES

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - WEEKLYGARDEN -

Idon’t re­mem­ber ex­actly when the palm tree trend started, but cer­tainly in the 1990s it was com­mon to see mas­sive palms on the back of equally large trucks be­ing trans­ported to new homes in trendy Auck­land sub­urbs.

Fright­en­ing amounts of money changed hands for th­ese gi­ants of the trop­ics and I cer­tainly never en­vis­aged a time when I’d be able to buy one as tall as me for about $50.

We al­ready have more than enough palms. But if you’re plan­ning to plant one or more, th­ese are your choices.

There are around 100 species of palms that’ll grow in Auck­land’s north – Ban­ga­low, Queen, Phoenix, Bu­tia, Dyp­sis, Wash­ing­to­nias and dozens more. And there are fewer, but still quite a num­ber, that’ll grow in the south.

Why bother grow­ing plants where they would not nor­mally grow? Be­cause it’s nice to have some­thing trop­i­cal to look at through your frost-en­crusted win­dows, and be­cause there’s a chal­lenge in see­ing whether you can get a trop­i­cal plant to thrive in a cool lo­ca­tion.

If you’re in the south­ern part of the coun­try, give th­ese a go. BU­TIA CAPITATA

(JELLY PALM)

Com­ing from south­ern Brazil and Ar­gentina, the Jelly Palm is used to weather­ing icy blasts from the An­des so it won’t be fright­ened of Dunedin. It likes to be well-wa­tered and fed a cou­ple of times a year. Given the right con­di­tions, it can grow be­tween three and five me­tres and pretty wide as well. It has very at­trac­tive blue/grey fo­liage and very unattrac­tive spikes. CHAMAEDOREA RADICALIS This one is full of sur­prises. Some forms stay low and grow with­out trunks, while oth­ers turn into tall, soli­tary spec­i­mens. There’s re­search that says they’ll tol­er­ate tem­per­a­tures as low as -12oC. Hope­fully we will never find out. PHOENIX DACTYLIFERA (DATE PALM)

The Date Palm can also tol­er­ate sub-zero tem­per­a­tures – down to about - 6oC – and adds an ex­otic touch to the gar­den. It likes sun and good drainage and can grow as tall as 12 me­tres, so give some thought as to whether it’s go­ing to dwarf your house.

KENTIA PALM

I love Ken­tias. We grew them as pot plants in Dunedin. They get very, very tall, but luck­ily they’re slow grow­ers. I’m not go­ing to say how tall in case

The Land­scaper finds out I lied about it. They like rich soil, a bit of shade and plenty of wa­ter, and they’ll tol­er­ate a frost or two.

NIKAU PALM

This is an­other very slow grower so if you’re as old as I am you can plant one with­out wor­ry­ing it’ll dwarf the house. It wants shade and wa­ter when it’s young and a moist, rich soil. QUEEN PALM

We re­cently took out two Queen palms be­cause they grew speed­ily, side by side, to 15 me­tres tall and blocked our morn­ing sun. They are spec­tac­u­lar in the right place, though, with their smooth, straight trunks and fo­liage in a top­knot. Full sun and plenty of wa­ter are the go, and if you have space plant them in threes, not pairs. BAN­GA­LOW PALM

This is very pop­u­lar in New Zealand with its banded trunk and bright green, spread­ing fronds. Plant a grove of th­ese in part shade or full sun and pro­tect from the wind to keep the leaves in good shape. It will tol­er­ate light frosts and rea­son­ably cool tem­per­a­tures, but wants ad­e­quate mois­ture.

And here’s the bad news about palms.

They drop dead fronds ev­ery­where, dump mas­sive seed pods on your car and im­pede the path of the ride-on mower. Once they’ve been in the ground for a while the fo­liage will have grown well beyond your nor­mal range of vision and all you’ll be look­ing at are the trunks. The worst crime is that they may block light and sun.

If that’s the case, it’s prob­a­bly time to eu­thanise be­cause palms don’t take kindly to pruning and top­ping. If you cut the tops off, they’ll prob­a­bly die.

How­ever, there is a school of thought that says if you cut them off in the green part of the trunk they may re­sprout. We’ve done this a few times and it’s worked. If the stumps re­grow, the fo­liage will be much lower down and less likely to block the sun. How­ever, I’m not sure how many times a palm will tol­er­ate be­ing be­headed.

Al­ter­na­tively, good-look­ing trunks left about two to three me­tres tall, and sur­rounded by other gar­den plants, can look like el­e­gant totem poles. Or not.

If pos­si­ble, visit a palm nurs­ery to view adult ver­sions of the palmsyou want to grow. This chopped- off palm trunk has been clev­erly in­cor­po­rated into a land­scaped gar­den.This grove of tall palms is bal­anced by a paved sit­ting areaun­der­neath. Right: Palms drop all man­ner of de­bris, in­clud­ingth­ese seed pods, which make a mess ofpaths and ter­races.

Kentia palms con­trib­ute greatly to the re­sort look.

If you want to risk top­ping your palms, cut them where the trunk is green and they may re­sprout.

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