Sunday 22 February 2009

Growing Palms in the UK

For the UK there are essentially two styles of palm... those with broad fan shaped leaves and those with long feather-like leaves. Although some palms from warmer climates will grow in the UK they will grow an awful lot slower, some requiring a good soaking of heat to kick them into action. This needs to be borne in mind when selecting and positioning palms. Palms from temperate climates will grow much faster. Palms also have a predictable growth pattern – straight up. They don’t wander around like shrubs and trees. This makes them very easy to manage.

A lot of palms are graded for cold hardiness. This is very misleading because there are different types of cold and also palms which are grown abroad and imported by superstores will have a much lower tolerance to cold.
A sudden onset of a nasty minus figure which thaws out the next day is far less damaging that a long lingering freeze which is just below or above zero, that is why places like Florida can grow a greater variety of palms than the UK, essentially because it has good warm days to compensate for harsh freezes. This helps palms recover from stress. In the UK Winters are wet with very little light and no warmth. Palms do not like these conditions so can suffer damage quite easily, especially if young. Rain followed by a harsh freeze can be very damaging as the water freezes near the core of the palm and can induce rot killing the spear.

I find the worse time for palms is March and early April. Warming UK day and night time temperatures can start to kid palms into sucking up water again. Then they are hit with just a mild frost of say -4c and then 'bang' their saturated cells burst and leaves blacken off and the plant may even die. If your plants reach the third week of April then you can rest for another season :)

A palm should be planted out in the Spring. Care should be taken regarding position. Remember these are trees and will expand their trunks to quite imposing proportions as they grow. A lot of plams do not like to be dug up again and the stress of this may kill them. If you must dig one up do it in Autumn or very very early Spring (like most trees or shrubs) and strip of a lot of the foliage so it does not dehydrate moisture through the leaves.

Some palms can completely defoliate during Winter. However if a good hot Summer follows they will usually recover. If no hot Summer (which is usually the case in the UK) then they will probably die off.

Best Palms for North West UK

These are the following palms which I guarantee you will have absolutely no trouble with in the North West of England. The NW gets a good deal of Winter frost, as low as -12c I have seen, but it seems to generally get no lower than -8c. I shall also explain why some of the 'popular' varieties sold at garden centres are maybe not so good.

No Protection Needed
  • Trachycarpus Fortunei - Indestructable and fast growing fan palm. No protection needed.
  • Trachycarpus Takil - Larger leaved version of T. Fortunei. Hard to come by !
  • Trachycarpus Wagnerianus - Stiff leaved version of T. Fortunei. Good for windy gardens.
  • Butia Capitata - Excellent and architectural feather palm. Slight blue tinge to most.
  • Butia Eriospatha - Awesome greener and lighter leaved variety of Butia which continues to grow even in the Winter !!!
  • Jubaea Chilensis - Excellent feather leaf palm which is slow growing and incredibly expensive.
  • Chamaerops Humilis - Slow growing fan palm which suckers at the base and forms a bush. Very spikey though.
  • Chamaerops Humilis var. Cerifera - Bluer version with narrower fingers or leaflets.

Some Protection Needed

  • Brahea Edulis - Beautiful green fan palm which is hard to get, but seems to be a great contender if not wet in Winter when a baby, so try and get a mature one (-8c will kill it if unprotected).
  • Brahea Armata - Expensive blue fan palm which gets some yellow spotting in Winter if left unprotected (-8c damages if unprotected).
  • Phoenix Dactylifera - Surprising toughness unprotected (-6c will damage if unprotected), but will brown and yellow a bit in harsh frosts.

Forget these

  • Bismarkia Nobilis - This will die I guarantee it at -1c !!!
  • Livistona Chinenses - This will die anything below -4c even if fleeced.
  • Pheonix Roebelenii - This will damage badly at -2c and die at -4c.
  • Washingtonia Robusta - This will die at -4c and will need a really hot summer if it is to return.
  • Washingtonia Filifera - This will die at -6c and will need a really hot summer if it is to return.
  • Butia Odorata - This close relative of B. Capitata will die at -4c if this occurs for more than one night in sequence with near freezing daytime temperatures.
  • Butia Yatay - This will die at -4c if you get a sequence of these with low temp days in between.
  • Phoenix Caneriensis - Very popular palm which will damage very easily at -4c if it is not in a sheltered area. It will die at -6c unless the following days and nights are above freezing. It is most vulnerable to Spring frosts. It may come back if the following Summer is hot.

All the above finding have come from my own experiences with these guys so please beware of the false claims of garden centres... all they want to do is cash in on a craze and have no regard for the plants welfare.

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..