Jungle Music Palms and Cycads Nursery

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Phone: (619) 291-4605
Fax: (619) 574-1595
Email: phil.bergman@junglemusic.net

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Palm Gardens

                     Joey

ARTICLE ON CREATING A BEAUTIFUL PALM GARDEN
FOR THE HOME OR BUSINESS


TWO PART ARTICLE DISCUSSING:
   
Why Palm Gardens Hold Appeal
Getting Started With Your Palm Garden
Cultural Limitations
Finding the Best Plants to Utilize
Design and Layout of Palm Gardens
Mistakes to Avoid
Companion Plants in the Palm Garden
Getting the Garden of Your Dreams

Part One

Comprehensive 2 part article with many photographsClick here or at bottom of this page to see part 2.

 

INTRODUCTION

Many people have visited a tropical location and seen a beautiful garden that was loaded with palm trees and other tropical plants.  They will fondly recall a very good feeling they had about this garden.  It might have been at a hotel, park, private residence or a botanical garden.  One might have even seen such a garden at a shopping mall or business.  It was lush and inviting.  It displayed vivid images of unusual plants, different textures and sizes, different colors and a whole array of unusual species.  And, almost every time, palms were a major part of this landscape. 

Palm tree gardens are not unusual in tropical and temperate climate zones.  After viewing one, it is not unusual for someone to say "I'd like to do this at my home".  Or, "I wonder if I can grow some of these plants?"  They might be on a trip and want to "take their vacation" home with them.  It is not unusual that people will call us and ask about a specific species that they liked when on a trip.  Sometimes people will ask how they can design and grow a backyard garden just like they saw in Hawaii.  It can be done quite easily. 

This article will help your journey from the inception, the dream of having a beautiful palm garden to actually having one.  But, there are some simple rules to follow and it is useful to have a plan about what you are doing.  Below you will find information about getting started on this goal and pursuing it until you have that tropical oasis at your home or business.  For those who are well on their way to having a mature garden, some of this information will be unneeded or repetitive.  But, our goal is to help everyone, especially newcomers to create a garden that they love.

 

Palm Garden
A palm garden in Vista, CA
  palm garden 
The palm, Dypsis onilahensis, in a palm garden

 

THE APPEAL OF A PALM GARDEN

Palm trees are almost always part of a tropical landscape design.  People have been intrigued and fascinated by palms for centuries.  It's almost like there's something magical about palms.  This even dates back to the era of Colonization where explorers would return with exotic palms as gifts for their sponsoring government or royalty.  Today, many of the major botanical gardens at universities and public arboretums in temperate or warmer areas worldwide have a palm tree garden or palms as a major part of their landscape.  If you survey people about what plant group belongs most in a tropical landscape, the majority say "palm trees". 

Palms come in all sizes, from short to tall.  And, all are a bit different.  Thus, when properly chosen they give a very broad palate of different appearing plants.  Some have thin trunks, some fat.  Some are swollen at the base, others bulge in the middle of the trunk. Some have leaves that are almost entire (no divisions) and round.  Others have long feather like leaves.  Some show colors of the rainbow.  When mixed together in just the right fashion, one gets a stunning effect.  And, usage of the right companion plants along with the palms finishes the job.  Even for the smallest of yards, a well designed palm garden can be very dramatic and impressive.  Also, a nice thing about palms is that they are clean plants, fairly easy to grow and low maintenance.  Some species are "self-pruning", meaning the old leaves just fall to the ground without pruning.  Any concern about seeds can be eliminated by removing young blossoms.  Compared to most tree species, palms are less work and the roots are seldom invasive to structures. Finally, many palms are fast growing.  It is not unusual for palm gardens to mature in a matter of five to ten years.

   

Marojejya darianii 
Marojejya darianii, a minimally divided leaf species
from a private garden in Vista, California
Burretiokentia hapala in a palm garden 
Burretiokentia hapala, a medium sized palm, outdoor
grown in a Southern California garden
 

 

GETTING STARTED: BEGIN TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PALM TREES

Probably the most important aspect of getting started with your palm garden is to develop an interest in palm trees themselves.  Start looking at them as you drive through neighborhoods.  As you learn more about palms, your affinity for them will increase.  You'll find it interesting to see a new species that you hadn't noticed before.  Try to identify palms if you can.  Use palm reference books or the Internet to help you do this.  Try to figure out which species you like.  Take photos of plants you see and like.  As you tour neighborhoods looking at plants, consider knocking on doors and visiting people who have stunning yards with palm trees.  They will typically welcome the interest in their yard.  They could be quite helpful in guiding your efforts.  Even if you don't have the courage for this, do look at palms in peoples' yards as you drive around.  You'll quickly find out that there are at least a dozen species you see commonly and are quite sure you can grow.  If you live in an area where few people grow palms, you will probably be more dependent on the Internet or reference books.  But, do check for palm enthusiasts in your area.   

People are usually amazed to find out that there are over 3000 different species of palms.  Of course, all these species cannot be grown in any one given locality.  But, there are a lot that do survive in many temperate or warmer areas.  It's not unusual for palm gardens in Southern California to have over 100 different species of palms growing on the property.  With little effort and by just driving around, you might come up with several dozen species you like over time.  And, if you find an enthusiast's garden the number will dramatically increase.  The point here is to expand what you know and then decide the species you like.  One of the traps is to just give up and use ordinary species you see everywhere.  This is a mistake.  If you go this route, your future interest in the garden will be minimal and your resulting garden will not be as interesting or appealing.

AS YOU LEARN MORE, START MAKING A LIST OF THE SPECIES OF PALMS THAT YOU LIKE

Now that you've seen some palms, make a list of species that you like.  Take photographs of palms that you like.  On a family outing, include some "palm viewing" as part of the day.  Perhaps you can train your spouse to be a "palm spotter".  It is actually quite fun and kids love it.  You'd be surprised what you'll see by just driving around.  Don't forget to take a look at public parks and arboretums if they are around.  Talk to others.  But remember that, to get a great garden, you will need a personal blend of excitement, courage, enthusiasm, willingness to try something different, resolution and perseverance. 

In making this list, decide on the plants you've seen and really like.  Next, force yourself to consider some plants that are new to you and different looking.  As an example, I've been growing palms for over 30 years and I can tell you that over 90% of beginners only want to grow "feather palms" (as opposed to fan palms).  So, if you are one of this majority, you'll probably find yourself gravitating toward the feather or pinnate type of palm tree.  Remarkably, some of the most exotic palms in the world are fan palms.  If you just grow feather palms, your garden will lack the diversity and charm it could have.  So, try different species.   Keep looking until you find ones that really charm you.  Consider species that are short, species that are tall, species that have unique colors and for sure some fan palms.  Did you know that the only palm species native to Hawaii are fan plms?  Everything else was introduced by man after inhabitation.  As time goes by, you'll see how all the diversity described above accentuates the charm of your project. 

 

 

Fan palm leaf example 
An example of a fan palm leaf
Crown Shaft palm tree 
A pinnate palm with the clean crown shaft
 
Licuala cordata 
Licuala cordata, an exotic fan palm
for tropical areas
an exotic entire leaf palm 
Johannesteijsmannia altifrons, being grown
in Southern California gardens
 

 

Another point I want to make is to trust your own judgment as you attain more knowledge.  You will become an expert over time.  Sometimes hired "experts" such as landscape architects and contractors have a very limited knowledge of palm trees, especially unusual species.  Yes, on their plans they have called for or planted thousands of them.  But, they are typically only using those common species that have worked for them before.  The common Queen Palm  and Mexican Fan Palms are examples of commonly used species.  There are so many more interesting species that could make landscape more interesting.  Most of these professionals usually do not consider themselves experts when it comes to the selection of or growing of palms.  They've got a lot of other things that occupy their time.  You will find that, as time goes by, your will be the "expert" more than them.  Trust your opinion as to what you like and want to use in your yard.  I've written an article on this concept elsewhere called "The Most Important Thing In Landscape".  It emphasizes that the important thing in landscape is the plants, not the hardscape. If you dedicate yourself to the project, you'll find that contractors and architects will be amazed "at what you did"!  If you don't have time to dedicate yourself to your project, then make sure you hire someone who either has the knowledge and enthusiasm himself or is willing to call in a palm expert to guide him.    

 

Queen Palm 
The Queen Palm, probably the most
commonly used palm on projects
  Washintonia robusta
Mexican Fan Palm, another very
commonly used species in projects 

 

Over a rather short period of time, you will develop a list of the species you like.  These could be either for your front yard landscape or the back yard.  And, you may have utilized books or the net to expand your list.  It's not unusual for people to see photos of palms they like and seek out to get those selected species.  But, you must first realize that there are cultural points that limit your selection.  To be successful, you have to know the needs of the plants.  All palms probably won't grow in your area.  The next section of this article goes over factors that will help you select the species that will thrive in your particular area.

THINGS THAT LIMIT WHICH PALMS YOU CAN GROW

No matter where you live, there will be limitations on what species of palm trees you can grow.  These are things to consider as you select more species for your palm garden.  Factors that determine what you can grow include your local weather, winter cold temperatures, the intensity of your sun, humidity, etc.  of these, by far the most important factor is the cold you see during your winter.

COLD
Cold seen during the winter is the most limiting factor influencing what species you can grow.  Everyone is familiar with "garden zones".  These "zones" are a simplistic way of telling you what can be grown in your area.  They were constructed off predictable low temperatures in any given area.  Unfortunately, zones are inherently flawed and often misleading.  More important is actually knowing the temperature seen on your coldest nights.  Most palm enthusiasts think in terms of cold temperatures, not zones.  Knowing how cold you get can give you a prediction of your success as you try new species.  Most specialty nurseryman have a good knowledge of the cold tolerance of different species.  We think in terms of "degrees", not "zones".  There are even monographs and books written on this subject.  To determine your coldest temperatures, review municipal weather records or purchase a  maximum/minimum thermometers.  Over time you'll be quite knowledgeable about your areas cold weather.  

If you live in a colder area, you must pay even more attention to the temperatures you see.  Many species do not like cold weather.  If you live in an area where it essentially never freezes, you are not only fortunate but will have an endless choice of different species to grow.  If you see temperatures in the mid-twenties F, you have to use care in selecting species.  But, there is an ample number of palms that tolerate these temperatures.  However, if you see 15 degrees F. or less, you can only choose from a limited list of species.  This will include perhaps ten or twelve different types of palms.  Numbers of species possible in these colder areas is expanded if one utilizes methods of cold protection.

 


Areca vestiaria 
Areca vestiaria, an exotic species with an orange crown
shaft, is marginal in California's cold weather
Caryota zebrina 
Caryota zebrina, an exotic species with striped
petioles growing in Southern California
 
 

Cyrtostachys renda
Cyrtostachys renda, the Lipstick Palm, cannot
be grown in areas that see below 50 degrees F.
Dypsis decipiens
Dypsis decipiens, mature specimen
 
Of good news to some of you, there are species that prefer cooler climates and grow poorly in the tropics.  This includes many species we grow in in Southern California.  Some of these species actually don't like the muggy, hot weather seen in the tropics.  This is often because they come from a cooler natural habitat in the wild.  Such areas would include species native to the Andes or New Zealand.  The photographs below show two species that thrive in Southern California but have difficulty in more tropical areas.

 

Rhopalostylis saida  
Rhopalostylis sapida in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA,
a species that prefers a bit of cold weather and is from
New Zealand.
howea forsteriana 
Howea forsteriana, an exotic species which does
much better in Southern CA than in the tropics.  It's from
Lord Howe Island.
 

INTENSITY OF SUN
People who live in the desert may not see bitter cold during the winter.  But, they routinely experience extremely intense sun.  In areas such as Phoenix, AZ or Palm Springs, CA, this is the case.  Their winter low temperatures are not that bad, but the "coastal sun palms" can wither with their sun.  To solve this problem there are two things that can be done.

First is to only select species that thrive with this intense sun.  An alternative thing is to develop canopy or shade.  Surprisingly, if you block those intense sun rays with overhead canopy, many of the coastal species do fine with overhead protection.  Or, one can limit the sun exposure by giving only morning sun or brief periods of sun.  This limitation of the amount of sunlight hitting the palms greatly expands the list of species one can grow in such areas.  Also, remember that water requirements might be much greater if you are in such a climate

.

Bismarckia nobilis 
Bismarckia nobilis, an ideal species for dry, hot
inland areas or desert climates
hot climate palms 
Examples of palms in an inland climate with bright
intense sun and hot weather
 

 

HUMIDITY
When we talk about humidity, it mostly applies to the amount of water in the ambient air.  But, one also looks at the amount of water in the soil.  Everyone knows about the hot, humid days in the Gulf States area and Florida.  This does cause problems for some palm species like Brahea armata, the Mexican Blue Fan Palm.  Some plants enjoy the high humidity, others don't.  So, one must select species that fit your area.  If one has an area of the garden where to soil is excessively wet all the time, one must select species that like these wet soil conditions.  An example would be Accoelorrhaphe wrightii which enjoys moist soil.

WIND
Leaves that are more fragile do poorly with high wind conditions.  If a species has stiff, strong leaf structure, it typically does better with high winds.  But, genera such as Caryota or Pritchardia can tear in strong wind.  Companion plants like Banana and the Traveler Palm also have trouble with strong winds.  So, if you see a lot of strong wind, select species that tolerate the wind. 
  
OCEANFRONT
Properties located directly on the ocean sometimes see salty air conditions.  Some species of palms, like Ravenea rivularis, do poorly with the salty air, especially during the winter.  Foxtail palms also show browntipping of leaves when close to the ocean.  However, there are many species that can thrive right on the water's edge.  If you have a waterfront property, especially on the western coast of California where there is surf, it might be worth your while to have a palm specialist guide your selections. 


Ravenea rivularis 
Ravenea rivularis, a great palm for Southern, CA
but a poor choice for oceanfront palm gardens. 
  oceanfront palm garden
An oceanfront garden using appropriate species
Oceanfront palms
Oceanfront palm garden
   
  

OTHER SOURCES FOR LEARNING ABOUT, SELECTING, AND FINDING THE  PLANTS YOU LIKE FOR YOUR GARDEN

Now that you understand that there are limitations on what species you can select, you can now begin to expand the list of species that you can potentially grow.  And, you want to know where to locate your favorite species when you are ready.  Below are different methods of getting ideas and finding plants.  Remember, diversity of species creates visual interest. 

THE INTERNET
If you are reading this, you are an Internet person. This is usually where people begin.  There are quite a few good websites on palms.  Try to find one that gives you information, not just a sales pitch.  Look for articles that expand your knowledge and seem reputable.  Try not to get overwhelmed, a common occurrence when beginning.  Regarding websites on palms, we are proud of the content of our website, Jungle Music Palms and Cycads.  It is world acclaimed because its goal is to share information.  But, there are other sites that do a good job of this as well.  Remember, there are over 3000 different species of palm trees.  Make sure any website you read has information that applies to your locality.  

PALM REFERENCE BOOKS
Reference books are a great resource.  Nothing is easier than thumbing through a good text and looking at pictures.  One of my favorites is "An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms" by the late Robert Riffle and Paul Craft. There are actually quite a few good palm books.  But, such reference books have their strengths and limitations.  The strength of reference books is typically their descriptions of the species and photographs.  But, accurate local cultural information is often skimpy or nonexistent.  Most importantly, you want to know "will this species live in my garden?".  Unfortunately, most palm reference books lack any meaningful information on growing a given species in different localities.  Cultural advice given is typically quite general.  Terms such as "good for temperate or subtropical climates" is about all you'll read.  This is because an author cannot write text that addresses everyone's growing environment.  It would be nearly impossible to write such a book.  So, you can learn what a species looks like but only get a "hunch" as to whether you can grow it.  This same limitation may also be seen in articles on the Net.   

TALK TO FRIENDS OR ENTHUSIASTS IN YOUR AREA
If a friend or associate is in your area, he will be a great source of information for you.  This is a very good means of acquiring knowledge, especially if such a person has tried a lot of species in your locality.  A person who has "been there and done that" can give you a lot of good pointers.  And, you can visit his garden and see the results he's had with various unusual plants.  It's also a great way to make new acquaintances.  Remember above I proposed that you "knock on the door" of someone with a beautiful garden.  he can also advise you of nurseries that supply quality plant material in your area.  

 

  

palms and cycads 
A neighborhood palm garden you can see right from the
street.  Knock on the door and ask if this person
for advice.
 
streetside garden 
Another street side garden with palms
 

 

VISIT A PALM SPECIALTY NURSERY
Most enthusiasts rapidly discover that finding desirable species of palms is not as easy as they first thought.  This is usually because they have not visited a nursery that specializes in palms.  I might first mention the difference between a general nursery and a specialty nursery.  General nurseries sell a little of everything.  They are not experts typically with any given group of plants.  Specialty nursery usually just grow certain groups of plants.  And, typically their knowledge of these plants is far greater about those plants than you'd experience in a general nursery.  For instance, our nursery specializes in palms, cycads and tropical plants.  And, we have had a lot of experience with these groups of plants.  We can't give nearly the same degree of advice when it comes to things like roses, pony packs of flowers, or citrus trees.  Although general nurseries are much more prevalent in communities, most enthusiasts eventually seek out a palm specialty nursery.  And, when you find such a specialty nursery, I'd recommend one that propagates palms right there at the nursery.  This is opposed to a "broker" who is selling someone else's plants.  Such brokered plants are often imported from more tropical areas and are prone to problems.  If you see plants of all sizes, little to big, at a nursery, the chances are this is a propagating nursery.  Such nurserymen usually have a lot more experience with the species and advice you get will be more reliable and accurate.    

Such nursery owners or staff can be of tremendous help to you.  They'll readily have information about any species that you inquire about.  They'll most likely know whether or not you can grow a given species.  And, most will propagate species that will live in the locality of the nursery.  Oppose this to a brokered in palm that "might" survive.   When a new client comes into our nursery, the first thing we do is ask them Where do you live?".  The reason for this is that we probably know the cultural limits of his or her locality.  Other questions we ask are "What are you trying to accomplish?, "Are there view issues?", "Nosey neighbors?", "Drainage problems?", etc.  Once we get this information we can give meaningful ideas to the customer.  You'll find this at most quality specialty nurseries. It would be very rare to get such information and guidance from a general nursery.   

Another major benefit to a specialty nursery is the selection of species available.  Rather than five or six species, typically hundreds of different species are being grown and sold.  We grow about 850 species of palms.  It's hard for a nurseryman to offer advice about species if he's never even tried to grow different species.  At our nursery, I think we've tried about every possible species imaginable.  And, after 35 years, we pretty much know our stuff about survivability of species in any given area.

  

Jungle Music 
Palms and tropical plants at Jungle Music
Jungle Music palm trees 
Assorted plants at our nursery
 
smaller palm trees on table
Different young palms propagated at the nursery. 
We grow most of the palms we sell
Assorted larger palms at nursery
Assorted palms in a bit larger size at the nursery
 

 

There's lots more!  (includes design issues, layout of the garden, species to pick, commercial applications, pitfalls to
avoid and companion plants)


TO READ THE SECOND PART OF THIS ARTICLE, CLICK HERE

 

LINKS TO OTHER INTERESTING ARTICLES ON LANDSCAPE



Tropical landscape, general principals
Easy to view pictorial guide to palms suited for the garden
Cycads in the landscape, their usage and appearance




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Last modified: July 18, 2013

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