Palm trees are rapidly gaining in popularity. Palms such as Sabal minor, Trachycarpus fortunei and Trachycarpus wagnerianus are reasonably hardy in Western Europe and only need a minimum of protection. Other palms may be more sensitive. In general you can enjoy your palm to the full if you are aware of how hardy it is, what your microclimate is, and you follow the following guidelines:
– Use good, loose potting soil. Acidity levels should be around ph 5 – 6 and excess water should drain out of the mixture easily.
– Protect your hardy palm from high wind as much as possible
In the garden
The best beginners palm is Trachycarpus fortunei – it’s easy to grow and is very hardy!
– Always look for a protected area out of the wind; only Trachycarpus wagnerianus can tolerate a gale!
– If your ground is poorly drained: plant your palm on a mound of earth so that it will drain.
– Most palms like full sun, the exception being Chamaedorea which prefers light shadow
– During hot weather: water well and feed with organic fertilizer every month.
– Cut off old, ugly leaves close to the trunk
– Protect the spear (the young, unfurling leaf in the centre of the palm) against ice
– Always feed the soil at the base of the plant, never the leaves or trunk itself. Fertiliser on the leaf or trunk can lead to rot.
– Don’t panic if your leaves turn brown, the palm will usually recover later in the season. Even a rotten spear can recover!
– Protect the base of the trunk with a thick layer of bark or straw mulch (10cm in summer, 30cm in the winter) and remove weeds.
– Brush pests away or spray off with a hard jet of water
– Young hardy palms can be protected by placing a large tub over them filled with straw. (Use a tub with holes in it for ventilation!)
The effective temperature is determined by air temperature and the ‘wind-chill effect’. In the following table you can deduce the effective temperature in your garden:
Light frost (till -5°C): don’t protect unless the wind is blowing!
Light blue (moderate frost till -10°C): Protect the base of the plant with 30cm mulch and bind the leaves together round some hay placed in the middle to form a sort of ‘pointed hat’
Dark blue (hard frost till -15°C): Wrap the palm in fleece or hessian sacks and wrap an outer reed mat around the whole
Yellow (severe frost till -20°C): Protect the trunk and spear extra with a heating coil or christmas lights
Red (the next ice-age has arrived): Put a large sleeping bag or bubble plastic over the whole plant as your plant is now at risk. You could consider emigration at this point.
There is much to be learnt on internet forums about palms and we are all still learning. In the UK they have recently discovered that palms can tolerate cold and wet winters better when the roots are kept dry with foil. Try always to protect as little as possible and aerate frequently to avoid the risk of mould.
Enjoy your hardy palm!!!