Saturday, 22 March 2008

Alocasia Macrorrhizos

This is one impressive beastie which will have your neighbours peering over the fence all Summer. There are many variations of Alocasia and you should make sure you get the right species as a lot of places label any of them how they please.

I have experimented with this plant somewhat and can safely say that it hates full sun. It does like it hot however, but sweaty hot rather than dry hot. Plant it out in the Summer and bring it in for the Winter.

I subjected mine to an unheated greenhouse 2 Winters ago that went down to -4c inside. The foliage melted (as expected) and I was left with a stump. I left it in the greenhouse over Summer and it shot back through the same stump. So it looks like it is pretty hardy to low minus figures at least !!!!

It likes to be fed and watered a lot in the Summer. One of it's funky features is the way it can shrug off water. Mist it, spray it, throw a bucket of water over it... this plant sheds every drop... it is awesome to watch :D

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Things about Rhapis Humilis

Some things which you may be interested in about this rare plant which I have discovered through experimentation would suggest that it isn't as easy to care for as the general consensus stipulates.

It does not like tap water. It does not like rainwater (NW England rain anyhow). These turn the leaves brown very quickly. It took me a while to figure this out, but the only water it does like is bottled water, especially French - Evian or Volvic :D

It does not like the wind. Wind destroys the new leaves while they are still soft. These new leaves then go brown and look very tatty.

It does not like direct sunlight, whether it is outside or behind a window. The outer leaves scorch very easily!

It does not like to be in too big a pot. Despite being a clumping palm it would seem that if you put it in too big a pot it will go on strike and stop growing.

It's main growth is in the early spring. New shoots pop up and existing shoots will put out 2 or 3 leaves. Throughout the Summer it's growth will be slow. This would suggest temperate preference.

I have found it a tough battle to care for this palm and if i had the chance to buy it again i would probably pass.

Beware B&Q

OK, we all know that as exotic gardening becomes more popular the superstores like B&Q are going to want to cash in on it. Last year I noticed them selling Phoenix Roebelenii as an outdoor palm. They have been doing this for some years now. While these guys can sustain some frost they really do not like it at all. Fleece will help out a little, but take things below -4c and you will have some real trouble. Although they look nice with their light feathery fronds you are well advised to avoid them unless you keep them in a pot and bring them undercover for the Winter.

Now, what's even worse is last year I noticed, to my horror, that B&Q were trying to pass of the very tender Bismarckia Nobilis as a hardy palm !?!?!?!! They were the silver forms (which are the toughest), but they will defoliate at 0c easily !!!! DON'T BE CONNED !!! B&Q were selling these at a HUGE 50 quid each too !!!! It was a complete laugh reading the pointless info cards they stick to their plants... "Needs protection from heavy frosts"... more like needs protection period!

Growing Patterns of Palms in the Winter

This Winter has pretty much passed by now. I monitored the growing behaviour of my palms during the Winter. I noted a low of -6c and about a dozen nights of -4 or below. Not bad really! However out of the various palms I have I can only say that there were 3 which continued to push out new leaves.

Nope, it wasn't the Trachys, not the Butias... it was the two Brahea (Armata and Edulis) and the New Zealand palms Rhopalostylis Sapida. I kind of expected R. Sapida to grow as they originate from temperate rain forest areas. I was surprised by the Brahea continuing to grow however!!!

Brahea are dry climate palms, used to hot dry conditions. NW Winters are very wet and very cool. The Armata pushed out 2 new leaves during Winter and the Edulis gave me 4 !!! It would therefore seem that these guys don't go dormant like most palms. The more I see the what the Brahea can do the more I like them. Waaaaay better than Butia and Trachys it would seem !!!!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Washingtonia Filifera – Doesn’t like getting wet !!!

It seems that suppliers of the palm don’t seem to care whether they give you a Filifera, Robusta or a mongrel of the two. It can be very confusing as at first sight they look almost identical to each other. However, from my own experiences with these palms they are very temperamental to the British weather conditions. Filifera can quite happily shrug off -7c so long as it doesn’t get wet. If you have rain followed by a measly -5c then it will defoliate... old leaves, new leaves, the lot will wilt, go brown and hang there looking very sorry for itself.

The year before I kept one inside the house for the Winter. Despite being ‘dry’ atmosphere lovers it decided to shrivel all of its leaves up into brown paper. I was really surprised by this behaviour?

This is a real pity as I think this is one of the more attractive fan palms with its dark orange trunk and light green leaves. On a good note though, it will return when the weather warms up. It will initially push out a mass of small leaves and then give you one or two big ones again. It can take it 2 years to start growing proper size leaves again.

This palm is a fast grower in the UK, as fast as the Trachycarpus family. However, I would not recommend it for the NW of England as we always get wash-out Winters which means this palm will not really thrive and seeing as bringing them indoors or leaving them outdoors during the Winter defoliates them unless you are a fan of totem poles I would not bother..

Strange baby Cycad growing behaviour!

During the Summer of 2007 I decided to give some newly hatched cycads a good soaking of heat in the greenhouse to try and encourage them to grow a new leaf. Some decided to respond. However mealy bugs decided they liked the taste of a particular species – Cycas Panzihuaensis – they quickly consumed the new emerging leaf before i even noticed they were there. The mealies didn’t bother the other cycads for some reason? Anyway, about 5 days later i saw that the same cycad had decided to put another leaf out!!!! Well this was a real surprise to me. I checked it for mealies and none seemed to be around. Well, within the next couple of days i went in there and saw the leaf had been chewed up yet again. This time however I thought to myself... “hmmm maybe it will grow another one?”... guess what... about 5 or so days later a third attempt emerged. This time the Cycad stayed with me wherever I went :D

This little escapade did get me thinking though... what would happen if i chopped emerging leaves off? I intend to try it out this Summer. I guess it will either stress the cycad out or... hopefully... make it grow faster. I know i can encourage new leaf production by defoliating grown cycads, but it never occurred to me that perhaps the same is true for baby ones too??? I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Clivia Miniata

Another awesome underplanter to tree ferns is the Clivia species. There are a few variations, but the C. Miniata is the most commonly available.
This can be planted out during the Spring, Summer and Autumn and brought back in for the Winter. You can plant it direct or sink it in pots.
The dark, thick foliage is very rich and contrasts very well with the brown trunks or light green fronds of ferns. During the growing season it likes to be kept moist and shaded. If the Summer sun hits this plants leaves then they will fry and never recover.
Clivia flower in the Spring, red, yellow or orange clumps. They spread mainly through suckers which can be separated into new plants, though I think they look nicer as a huge clump. They prefer to be on the dry side for Winter, so bring them in and forget about them.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Agapanthus Africanus

Commonly available and root hardy this particular type of Agapanthus is perfect for both ferneries and palmeries. I'm not so interested in the flowers, more the dark shiney broad leaves they produce. These look fantastic when set in large clumps around rocks between palms or tree ferns.
If you want Agapanthus to flower you need to give them good sunlight. If you don't want them to flower (like me) give them shade. They do not like boggy ground even though they look like lillies. They don't like dry ground either so ensure good moisture by clumping them close to each other.
In the Winter the foliage will usually die back at around -5c. The roots will remain intact though, even at -10c. In the new year they will spring up more leaves fairly quickly and sucker roots will spring up new plants.
You can keep them in pots if you like, but they spread faster if you leave them in the ground outside. Agapanthus are still fairly expensive in garden centres, which is a little irritating as they are always planted out as medium to large sized groups in any planting scheme.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Miscanthus Giganteus

This little appreciated grass is becoming more commonly available now. It towers between 8 and 10 feet and looks great as a backdrop screen or a corner covering specimen. Two drawbacks however... first off it will die back in the Winter which means your backdrop disappears or the ugly corner you were covering re-emerges. It is also quite slow to spread. When you buy it you normally have 2 or 3 strands to play with. Each strand will duplicate a new shoot close to the parent, so it will be a fair few years before it looks like much you could appreciate. If you can stick it out then once it does bunch up there is no comparison in the grass world for the simplistic architectural beauty.

Like most grasses there is no need for any Winter protection. Just let it die back and chop back the dead strands in the Spring when you see new shoots emerging.

Polystichum Proliferum - A Stumpy Tree Fern

Not quite a tree fern, more of a stump fern :) This guy grows under the feet of Australian tree ferns and will eventually grow a short dark brown stump, from which will emerge loads and loads of very dark green, stiff fronds.

The interesting thing about this guy is that if you pin one or more of the leaves to the ground a baby one will grow from the tip. This means that you can fairly quickly cover ground with these guys. Keep the frond(s) pinned down until the baby takes root.

They should be grown in damp shaded areas. They are 100% imprevious to anything the Winter will throw at them. Their fronds last all year round and throughout the Summer it will grace you with 20 or 30 new fronds. I really love this fern. It ticks all the boxes and should be in everyone's garden.

Gunnera Manicata

This bog plant from Africa is a real beast once it establishes itself. If you want to see a full sized one head over to Tatton Park’s gardens in mid Summer. It takes time to get there, but within 5 years you should have something which stands an easy 5 or 6 feet into the air.

Gunnera is related to the Rhubarb. Unlike the rhubarb it has very stiff leaves with a weird nobbly texture to them. This nobbliness extends down the huge stems to its massive corm. These nobbles seem to work together to channel rainfall down to the corm. It’s really wonderful to watch, as this technology even works when you take your hose and spray underneath the leaves!!!!

Gunnera can take strong sunlight, but may burn around the edges if it is dehydrated. It will need good sunlight if you want massive leaves. Keep Gunnera in the shade and you will get smaller, darker leaves which stay near the ground. Each year it will send out massive cone-like flowers which don’t look too pretty, but add to the jungle effect of the plant.

The leaves will melt at -2c, but this is not a problem as corm plants act like bulb plants in that they suck the foliage energy back into their centre, so the leaves would die back anyhow! The corm can take -10c easily unprotected, but if you are paranoid you can fold the mushy old leaves back over the corm to hide it from settling frost.

This is a good choice for the massive jungle look, but you really need loads of room to let it do its stuff. Shop around though as you can get good sized ones for good money. Look at the size of the corm rather than the leaves. Leaf size is dependent on time of year, water and sun.

Calathea – Perfect Fernery Choice

There are absolutely loads of variations of Calathea. Some grow low, some shoot to 3 feet. They are primarily indoor plants, but there is no reason why you cannot use them outside in the milder weather.

Calathea require low light. Too much and they will shrivel. They also like humidity so the best place for them is in a fernery setting... with your tree ferns for example.

They are pretty cheap houseplants, so you can buy a whole bunch of them and pot them up together in a standard plastic plant pot. Then dig a hole in your fernery, put some gravel or wood chip into the bottom of the hole, then sink the pot into it. Simple as that and an instant interest among your fern collection.

Calathea spread underground, so once they get too big break them off into clumps and start all over again. I have also noticed that from time to time the whole plant will appear to die off. I have no idea why, but give it time and new leaves will emerge and it will look as good as new.
Remember to bring them in for Winter :D

Cyathea Australis

Imagine the trunk of a Dicksonia combined with the fronds of a Cyathea. This pretty much sums up the Cyathea Australis. It is a curious fern with its main identifying feature being the slimness of the frond stems. Loads of these spring out from the centre of the trunk in all directions during the Summer. The fronds do tend to dry up easily around the edges though for some reason no matter where I try and place them. Not sure why yet?

This fern is supposed to be Winter hardy to -7c. I have not tested this yet, though I know they do remain undamaged at -4c. Some suppliers (usually online ones) tend to sell these as severed trunks. Try to avoid these as they will last that year and not recover for the next year. This applies to all Cyatheas and some Dicksonia species. Also, some Cyathea require the nutrients stored within exiting fronds to create new fronds.
Again frondless Cyathea will usually struggle to survive kicking out one or two fronds in the first year and then perishing due to starvation. Fortnately C. Australis doesn’t mind being frondless. However watch you don’t get conned !!!

Cyathea Cooperi

This is a fast growing tree fern which forms a slim trunk covered in white hairs. It produces large fronds which are shaped like huge paddles. It looks very attractive sticking out of an area planted with ground ferns. It can take some good sun, and it appears to prefer it like this. Too much damp seems to rot it’s new fronds before they have a chance to unfurl.

Like Dicksonia Squarrosa the Cooperi tends to sprout new shoots from its base (roots around the base). I have seen snails attack these so watch out!!!

The only real downer of Cooperi is that it really hates the Winter. -2c will damage the fronds, browning them off on their tops. Not much more than this will kill it altogether (-5c). You should really take it into shelter for the Winter, such as a greenhouse, and heat it or cover it with fleece. I have found that the fleece can rot away the white hairs covering its trunk, but it doesn’t seem to mind this.

Cooperi is a difficult fern to get right. It doesn’t like the cold, it doesn’t like too much damp and it dries out fast in the sun. It is really one for a specialist collector.

Dicksonia Fibrosa

This tree fern is becoming more common. It has a darker, more fibrous trunk which is kind of squashy when pressed. The fronds are shorter and darker in colour than Antarctica. The fronds don’t break as easy either. However, they are slower growing, fronding only once or twice a year and not loads of fronds like Antartica either.

A real positive point is that they are far more hardier to the Winter elements than Antarctica. I have had a few of these sitting in -10c without any frond damage whatsoever. Like Antarctica they are shipped around as bare trunks, but they are a little more stressed like this and may not revive, so try and get a rooted one if you can.
Again, they look nice in groups, but big ones are hard to find these days and are pretty expensive. Some places sell Fibrosa as Antarctica, so keep a look out as you may get yourself a bargain... the biggest sign being the squashy trunk :D

Dicksonia Antarctica

Common tree fern which comes in a whole variety of sizes. These are so common because they can just walk into the forests of Australia and hack them down into the sizes they want to ship. Mostly found with no roots or fronds. If you are selecting one you really want one with fronds that are just beginning to show rather than established fronds shooting out all over the place. You should also splash out and get a big one as these guys are very very slow to produce trunk height.

The foliage will die back when Winter arrives, though with each year of exposure they seem to adjust and keep their foliage for longer. All you need for Winter protection is a fat fist full of straw stuffed into the crown to protect the late Summer fronds from being beaten up by frost. You can also tie a fleece around the trunk if you wish, but this is only necessary if you live in very cold areas (regular -10c).

With these (and all tree ferns) you need to keep them moist to get the best out of them. These like to be sprayed on the crown and foliage. If you do this religiously then you will be rewarded with huge fronds. They are pretty wind resistant too, but make sure the whole thing doesn’t fall down and crush something if you are placing it in a windy spot.

When digging a tall one in jam bricks around the whole you are putting it into. This will help keep moisture around its base and also add stability until it managed to re-root itself.

Dicksonia Antarctica look very nice in groups of 3, placed close together in a triangle with different heights. If you can afford it try and place them like this to get the best visual effect. Partially bury rocks around them to encourage moss to grow around their bases to give them that authentic forest look. A couple of ground ferns to finish the look off. Very nice :)

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Jubaea Chilensis

Another example of a totally hardy palm comes in the form of Jubaea Chilensis. These guys are sooooo expensive, why? because they grow so slowly in the UK. It fires 3, 4 even 5 new shoots at a time, but the time for any one of those shoots to form a leaf is pretty much a whole year.
If you are patient though it really is an awesome palm to have. It is also worth the expense of getting a chunkier one if you can.
The reason to buy one... this palm does not care how cold it gets... it keeps growing!!! even through the whole of the Winter it will slowly unfold the new shoots into the beginnings of a new set of leaves. Secondly it does not mind wet Winters. Thirdly, because it grows so slowly you can pretty much predict its growing pattern, so it isn't one of those palms that swamp the house or garden in 10 years or so. Finally it is wind resistant. It has very stuff leaves which no amount of wind will budge.
So, in summary they tick all the boxes of the UK climate with the only negative being the price.

Crinodendron Hookerianum

This beautiful shrub is nothing short of spectacular when it bloom in the early Summer. The red of the drooping flowers contrasts perfectly with the dark green foliage.

I bought mine surprisingly enough from Morrisons in one of those funny tubular cartons they sell baby shrubs in. 5 years later and it is 7 feet high and 6 feet wide.

To get good flowering you need to put it in good light and feed it Azalea food (acidic plant food). Southern sun will black spot the leaves but it doesn't really bother it. Too much shade and the flowers will be sparse.

Written text about this plant says it is frost damaged at -5, but i have seen no evidence of this. Mine has sustained -10 without any issues, even as a newly planted baby.

This has to be one of my favourite shrubs and it is definitely worth tracking down. Grow it as a centre piece rather than stuffing it up against a fence and you will be the talk of the road.

Butia Yatay - Butia King !!!

The Butias are becoming more and more widespread in the UK now. They all look fairly similar and indeed some outlets sell one specie as another.
Butia Yatay is well known in the US, but not so much here. In the UK Butia Capitata is more usual. The two look very similar when young. However as they get larger the differences start to emerge.
Yatay has more blue in it's leaves. Yatay has much longer leaves and Yatay grows a slimmer trunk. Yatay is as cold hardy as Capitata (-10 unprotected easily). Yatay however is incredibly heavy. A 1 foot pseudo-trunk specimen will have you in a sweat when carrying it. Their trunks must be really dense to make them this heavy (some other Butias are really heavy too).
I have seen some Yatays with clipped leaves... clipped to half their length in an attempt to make them look interesting??? I guess it is just another of those bizarre pruning exercises which serve nothing other than to stress the plant.
Water all Butias well in Summer and make sure they get good sun or else they will push out shrunken leaves making them look very weird indeed. No fleece protection is necessary in Winter unless you go below -10c every night :)

Cyathea Medullaris - A Black Beauty.

In my personal opinion this is the best of all tree ferns. It can take full sun right from being a baby and has the most beautiful soft fronds.
I have read that this fern is a real slow grower. With experimentation I have found that it will grow very quickly if you give it good light and mist and water it every other day. Like all Cyatheas you don't want to drown the crown of the trunk, more give the whole trunk a good soaking. It also likes to be pot-bound which I find really weird.
The fronds on this guy are absolutely huge. Even before they start trunking you can get 3 foot fronds out of them. They are a fresh light green with a black rib running down their middle. Once it trunks the contrast of the green fronds with the black trunk is mesmerising.
When the dreaded Winter appears I move mine into an unheated greenhouse and leave them be. My greenhouse has been as low as -4 inside and this guy has not been bothered by it. However, when the next Spring arrives the old fronds do look rather tatty. It must be said that with this (and all Cyatheas) you must not cut the tatty fronds off until they go totally brown. Cyatheas draw nutrients from old fronds to create new ones (kind of like palms). Cutting off the tatty fronds deprives them of their nutrient stores and the plant will start to decline!!! Cyathea Medullaris are hard to find, but it is really worth the effort.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Phormium Cookianum

The other 'true' Phormium. Unlike the Tenax however these curl and droop their leaves. Again, there are hundreds of colourful flavours now and garden centres still command a high price for them.
Unlike Tenax these don’t seem to attract mealy bugs so much... dunno why? They need room to move though as they get bigger and bigger and bigger with each year and will soon crowd any neighbouring plants out. If they are happy they will shoot out massive spikes carrying rather uninteresting flowers on them. These spikes are easy to walk into, so watch your eyes :D

In heavy frosts they curl their leaves up which can easily make you think it is being damaged, but I have never seen any damage on mine. They have suffered -10c at least with no protection and in pots, or even bare rooted !!! No amount of sun or cold can harm these guys and they look great too once they have gained in size.

Phormium Tenax

Very popular plant which now comes in a whole array of coloured varieties. The blue/green Tenax is the true type however which will steadily grow huge vertical sword like leaves to 15+ feet. Wind can knock these down and too much Winter damp can turn them yellow, but who cares they can survive anything these guys.

Your only problem is mealy bugs on small ones (which the garden centres usually sell). Mealy bugs sit where the leaves join at the bottom of the plant and chew away at it. The first you know about it is when your baby Tenax starts falling to pieces. You can easily spot them if you pull the leaves slightly apart, but sprays will not help you as they do not penetrate where the mealy bugs live. Once past the baby stage though they will shrug off any mealy attack without worry.

P. Tenax looks great behind leafy foliage or behind / in front of an open fence design. Watch out though as they do get really massive and you should take this into account when planting them out.

Rheum Palmatum - Ornamental Rhubarb

No-one really thinks of a Rhubarb plant being used in a tropical design. There are a number of giant varieties which offer instant huge red, green and copper foliage and every couple of years or so gigantic flower stems which shoot up 14 feet or more... a real staggering sight!!!

The leaves on this variety are soft and slightly hairy. They tend to droop down unless watered well. Like most bog plants they exist as a blobby rhizome which initially sends out mini leaves to gather the energy to make big leaves. This guy get really massive so give it plenty of room. It likes strong light in order to flower, but too direct and the leaves will burn.

The leaves die off in Winter, but the rhizome is ultra tough and you need not offer any protection. There are all kinds of variations of this plant and most garden centres will treat them all as the same thing, so maybe a specialist store is the best place to track one down.

I have another variety which I cannot put a name to. It is similar in leaf structure, but the leaves curl inwards rather than outwards and stand erect rather than flopping about in a bunch. The flower spikes are also way way taller. If I find out what it is i'll let you know as I think it is far more striking and doesn't consume so much room as it likes to stand upright.

Beschorneria Yuccoides

These are rather curious beasties. They are a nice bluish grey in colour and slowly form a fleshy rosette of thick drooping sword leaves until they hit about 2 feet then they shoot out a huge 8 foot flower which is either pink or red, followed by loads of suckering babies, then the main plant dies off and the suckers start the process all over again. Left to their own devices you will eventually have a huge colony of them with flowers shooting out in all directions... very nice to behold!

They really don’t care about the cold (mine have been in -10 unprotected), they don’t care about wet weather in Winter and their only enemy is slugs and snails. I think these pests only attack when they have nothing else to eat in the garden. They drill holes through the chunky leaves which can make them look very tatty. The slugs also really like the flowers and will eat all of the petals if given a chance before they bloom.

I love this plant. It is like a Yucca or Agave, but faster growing and no spines to stab you in the leg. It is a real pity that the main plant dies off after flowering as they are pretty fast growing and could (if they didn’t die off) grow to a formidable size in a relatively short space of time. Hmmm, i wonder if severing the flower before it blooms would preserve the plant? Most garden centres sell this plant, though rather highly priced, so go dig one out !!!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Dicksonia Squarrosa

This is a rather curious tree fern which has an ability to spawn offshoots from its roots, base and trunk sides. It is rather frost tender at the very top of the trunk however so watch out. I originally came across this one in a garden centre which was selling it as a Dicksonia Antartica, even though the two look totally different. That Winter (2003/2004 I think Manchester suffered heavy frosts at -10c for many successive nights). This obliterated it even with the rather weak straw protection I had piled onto it.

The following year new fronds did not appear from the top, rather the roots and lower side of the trunk. It later died due to being fried by the 30c sun of the following Summer. It is now a rotting stump despite my best efforts to revive it :(

So, with these findings in mind the next one i bought i monitored rather more carefully. I have discovered the following:
  • It needs constant moisture. Do not place this guy in a sunny spot. It will quickly dehydrate and brown off the leaves. Spray it with your hose at least 3 or 4 times a week in the Summer... foliage and trunk(s) !!!

  • The fronds and the top growing point of the trunk will die off at -4c if wet. Offshoots will die off completely at -4c tops. The roots will be tough enough to survive much lower temperatures than this but the main growing area of the trunk will die.
You really need to bring this one into a damp area away from frost in the Winter (unheated greenhouse is OK with some fleece over it). They are pretty fast growers, and the fact they readily produce offsets is a bonus, so if you are willing to look after them properly then go get one !!!

Tree Fern tests in Winter 2006

During Winter 2006 I selected the following ferns for frond damage testing:

  • Dicksonia Antarctica – Outside with straw stuffed on the crown.
  • Dicksonia Fibrosa - Outside with straw stuffed on the crown.
  • Dicksonia Squarrosa – Unheated greenhouse with no protection.
  • Cyathea Cooperi - Unheated greenhouse with no protection.
  • Cyathea Medullaris - Unheated greenhouse with no protection.
  • Cyathea Australis - Unheated greenhouse with no protection.
That Winter had a max outside of -8c and inside greenhouse temp of -4c. Here is what happened:
  • Dicksonia AntarcticaUnrooted specimens lost their fronds at -7c. Rooted specimens had some damage but no loss.
  • Dicksonia Fibrosa – No damage to fronds at all !!!
  • Dicksonia Squarrosa – Upper fronds browned off and lower fronds were OK.
  • Cyathea Cooperi – All fronds browned off.
  • Cyathea Medullaris – No damage to any fronds.
  • Cyathea Australis – No damage to any fronds.

D. Fibrosa therefore won out with no damage to the fronds at all !!!! I was surprised by this. I was also surprises that the C. Medullaris had no frond damage at -4c. It is supposed to be a weakling, like the C. Cooperi.

Brahea Edulis

A little looked at fan palm which is really beautiful when young. Pure shiny green in colour and although ‘officially’ is supposed to be damaged at -5 in a dry Winter I have found this not to be the case. It is also said not to like humidity... again I have not found this to be true either.

Mine spent all last Summer in a cool, damp, shaded area of the garden, primarily due to the fact that i had nowhere else to store it. To my amazement it didn't seem to care? It pushed out 4 leaves that Summer (2007, which was a really naff Summer in the NW by the way). I then moved it to the patio this Winter and it has endured a constant beating of rain and temperatures down to -5 while being drenched with water (both soil and foliage). It has even pushed two more leaves out during this Winter !!!!

I am amazed at this palm’s perseverance contrary to common perceptions and hope, should we get worse negative temperatures, it will muscle through them too. I’ll keep you posted!!!

Cycas Revoluta - Common Cycad

Cycads can appear to be very annoying plants to watch because they pretty much do nothing at all for ages then suddenly spring into life with a new set of leaves (the bigger the cycad the more leaves you get).

In their native countries they grow relatively quickly but in temperate climates you will need a sweaty greenhouse to get these boys moving.

Many people make claims of “cold hardy to -7, -10” and other ridiculous numbers for C. Revoluta. Trust me, unless your garden is desert dry in Winter your cycad will defoliate at 0 degrees. Wet Winters really stress this guy out, which is a real pity.

However, cycads in general are real tough guys. I annually defoliate mine (for storage really) and they will not be bothered by this as they push out new leaves the following Summer. I pile them into the greenhouse to help them along, so I’m not sure how long it would take to produce new leaves at say... room temperature?

Cycas Revoluta does seem to attract its fair share of pests. Mealy Bugs tend to sit in awkward to reach places so it is a real battle to eliminate them. Scale can be a real pig as they colonise the cycad within days. The only real remedy for scale is defoliation and a good soaking of systemic insecticide.

C. Revoluta is very commonly found in your local DIY store, but try and get a good sized one from a specialist as they are very slow to expand and you’ll be drawing your pension when they do.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Cycas Rumphii - A Real Sexy Cycad

I was lucky enough to find two mature samples of this guy on a German website (about 2 feet of trunk) which I instantly bought :D

I have been growing cycads from seed for a good while now, but the common Cycas Revoluta is the only one we seem to be able to find of any credible size in the UK.

Anyway, back to Rumphii. As soon as I put these guys in the sun their leaves browned off. I suppose they were reared in a hothouse rather than under proper sunlight. Only one of them looked really tatty so I chopped all it's leaves off and bunged it into the greenhouse.

It is now bulging up in the middle and ready to spring forth new leaves... hopefully 14 or more... we'll see I guess.

The Rumphii should be able to take full sun, but it does like it's air moisture, so placement on the edge of water (though not in it) would probably make it happy. I would never leave these guys outside in Winter, though apparently they are supposed to be trunk hardy to some degree.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Rhapis Humilis - Indoor or Out?

Apparently this is extinct in it's native China with only males ones remaining in cultivated existence. So, beware of so called 'seed sellers'... without a female there will be no seeds!!!
This palm really hates the sun - when young at least it would seem. I had a real battle with my 3 foot high one last Summer. The Summer heat didn't get any higher than 26 degrees C either. I was moving it all over the garden and it didn't seem happy anywhere. Just about all of the top leaves died off due to sun-scorch. I was so upset as this palm is pretty hard to get hold of.
I am keeping it indoors now, but again it doesn't seem too happy there either. There is new growth, but I think it is still in shock from the previous Summer.
Well, in any case, this palm is a really good candidate if you have a lot of shaded room which isn't too damp. It doesn't like to dry out, but doesn't like to be wet either. It gradually clumps with new shoots popping up close to the parent clumps (unlike a lot of bamboos). It is VERY slow growing however... dunno if this is due to the climate? So if you can find one try and get a good size.

Cordyline Australis `Torbay Dazzler`

There are only a couple of 'true' Cordylines native to New Zealand. All other variations are man made (same with phormiums). Most of these variations will turn to mush when the Winter rains start on them. However, I have had some good success with the 'Torbay Dazzler' type. This is a pretty striking beastie which grows relatively quickly and looks beautiful in the sun.
Unlike the common green Cordyline (which must be in just about every garden in Britain now) this one grows a slender trunk and slender leaves. Watch out for slugs and snails though. They don't eat them, rather they slime all over the part where the leaves meet the stem causing them to rot. This is only an issue when they are small.
Like this picture shows you want to make them a feature plant. For Winter protection all you need to do is tie the topmost leaves together into a point and leave it alone. Mine has withstood -7 last year without any harm. They don't like Winter rain as this, combined with the slug slime, starts the basal rotting off.
In wet Winter weather the leaves will show some brown circles. This is just a reaction to the cold and damp. Don't worry about it the Summer will drop these leaves and give you a huge number of new ones to glory at.

Rhopalostylis Sapida - A Palm that Prefers Cool.

This rather attractive palm from New Zealand is pretty much unheard of in the UK. Like most plants from this part of the world they are somewhat tricky to grow. I have discovered the following about them through experimentation throughout the last Summer and Winter.

They will only push out new leaves if the temperature isn’t too hot, why I have no idea? In fact the cooler it is the faster they seem to grow. During the Winter my 2 small examples of this palm continued to grow a new leaf (yeh they are THAT slow growing)... this was in very wet temperatures of -2. I am too scared to leave them out anything below that this year as they are so hard to come by.

When small - at least - they do not like the sun, they prefer cool, damp shade... just like ferns. If you put them in the sun then they get very upset and refuse to grow. Also, keeping them in the house is awkward as the dryness of indoors will cause them to quickly go brown and shrivel up. If you must keep them indoors you will need to mist them every day. Your best option is to keep them outside until the temperatures get too low and keep toggling them in and out as temperatures rise and fall.

Unlike other baby palms Winter rain and damp does not seem to bother them at all. My two have been very wet in their plastic pots for the whole Autumn and Winter seasons which is great news for the UK climate.

Well, if you manage to get hold of one of these guys I would recommend you plant it in a sheltered part of your garden with ferns and other moisture lovers. East facing rather than South and in an area where it doesn’t get too frozen. I have not experimented with heavy freeze conditions yet, but will do once they get too big to bring indoors - probably 10 years or so away :D

Phoenix Canariensis - Is it a Good Choice?

This palm is found in every DIY store and garden centre in the UK. Very popular seller, but there are things you should be aware of when considering these guys.

First off they need full sun and high heat and lots of it... something we very rarely get in the NW UK. For this reason they will sit dormant all year and just push out new leaves in the very late Summer which doesn’t really give them much growing time at all before the Autumn sends them dormant again. So, in the NW UK they will grow pretty slowly.

I have found that they do not like to be dug up once planted. They will go brown and defoliate when dug up and may never recover. If you MUST dig it up make sure it is done in Winter and chop off all leaves but the newest lot to stop it dehydrating.

Mine has survived -10 2 years ago without damage, however I have discovered that they hate early Spring freezes. This is when they start to suck up water again and if you get a wet freeze... even -4... it may go brown and appear to die off. However, like many palms, although they appear dead they will push out new leaves again if you get a hot following Summer, so don’t be too keen to throw them onto the compost pile should they go completely brown.

Thirdly these guys will eventually grow really huge... and I mean HUGE. You really don’t want to be putting them near your house. They form a really massive trunk diameter and a thick canopy of leaves. Many people prune them back so they don’t impose too much, which is OK in hot climates, but not really a good idea in cooler climates as the palm will struggle if pruned too hard. By pruning I mean chopping off all leaves which fall under an ideal 45 degree angle from the top of the plant. It looks nice but imagine how effective your hands would be if you had all but your middle two fingers pruned :D

Finally, these palms posses really evil long needle-like thorns which point in all directions. As the plant becomes bigger these thorns can inflict really nasty wounds. If you have kids either educate them or just don’t buy this plant.

I would recommend you keep it in a pot until it becomes unmanageable, then plant it out. Their leaves shoot to 12 feet or more before they start growing a proper trunk.

Aspidistra Elatior - Outdoor Candidate?

Highly popular in Victorian times as a house plant. They are also popular in hotel reception areas. Popular as indoor plants because they require virtually no light to thrive. Indeed, with these guys your worst enemy is sunlight. They seem to shrivel up should a stripe of sun cross their dark foliage... just like vampires... the only difference being they don’t drink blood :)

Well, I have been experimenting with these plants as outdoor candidates this year and they seem to be a lot hardier than one would expect. I have had a big chunky one (waaaay too heavy to drag into the house) sitting nicely on my back patio within a fat plastic pot enduring night-time temperatures as low as -5 so far without any noticeable foliage damage whatsoever.

Apparently they like dry Winters (which we never get in the NW UK) but their roots are so dense that i would be surprised if Winter rain had any real effect on generating root rot.

I must say that spiders love these guys. When i re-potted it in the late Summer I must have seen 200+ spiders run madly from it across the floor... only little ones though, thankfully!