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PALM TREE LANDSCAPE
This article discusses basic concepts that
should be considered in creating a desirable palm garden.
Placement of palms is very important. A strategy would include planning ahead, giving plants ample room to grow,
establishing an overhead canopy, spacing of plants so that plants
aren't too crowded, knowing sun or
shade requirements, preserving desirable views and utilizing
different appearing species to make the garden interesting.
While writing this article I remember all
the mistakes I made in planting palms in my garden. As a palm
enthusiast, like many others, I tended to over-plant. If you
are blessed with a huge yard, over-planting might not be a concern.
if you have a smaller garden, you have to select palm species
carefully so you don't overwhelm the space you have. The photo
to the left shows a "crowded" garden. If you are just starting, an
important part of your garden and palm tree care is to have a scheme
or plan of what you are doing. Remember, haphazard planting
gives haphazard results. Unlike other types of trees, palms are very
predictable. You can predict trunk diameter, crown diameter, and
eventual overall height. You also should know whether or not it will have
spines, whether it will sucker, and the cultural requirements. What
one must do is give the palm enough space for what it is going to
be, not what it is now or in the near future. In this way, you are
planning ahead for the plant's future. Below I will discuss the
various aspects you should consider when planning a design for
putting palms in your garden.
GIVING PALMS AMPLE ROOM TO GROW
When growing palm trees, think about
how much space a species will ultimately need. For instance, if you
put in a large species such as the Canary Island Palm, Phoenix canariensis, give it a lot of
room. Such a plant could easily dominate a 20-foot circumference
area. Likewise, Phoenix reclinata (shown to right) will, in time, form multiple stems
and need a large area.
Even a triple
Archontophoenix cunninghamiana needs a fair amount of room.
(shown to left) It is true that, when some
trunked out and are well overhead, the problem is less apparent.
This would be the case with a King Palm. But, suckering
species like the Phoenix reclinata (right) just have to be given adequate space to grow. If you can't step back and take a
photograph of a palm in your garden, you have probably planted
things too closely. Suckering palms also tend to take up more
garden floor space (plant "footprint") over time. This can
affect space available for smaller plants or companion plants that
you may want to add in the future. The important point here
is: Consider the size the palm will eventually be, not the size it is when it's in the
nursery pot in front of you.
ESTABLISHING A CANOPY WITH YOUR PALM TREES
An important concept to understand
when you create a tropical garden is the establishment of an
overhead canopy. This is a very important
factor in creating a lush palm garden. An
canopy provides filtered light below, keeps harsh sunlight off the
more tender garden floor plants, increases humidity at ground lever
and acts as an "overhead blanket" protecting plants below from cold.
Examples of fast growing palm species would include Archonotophoenix, Caryota, Syagrus,
Washingtonia and some Ravenea.
These genera usually put on height rapidly and are ideal for
establishing a canopy. There are certainly many more genera of
palms that attain enough height to give canopy. Such species also
help create microclimates within your garden. Many enthusiast
think that creating an overhead canopy is one of the most important
factors in eventual garden success. Shown to the left is Caryota
gigas which has fifteen foot
long leaves that are almost as wide as they are long.
To the right are multiple tall trees giving filtered light below. When the leaves are overhead, one definitely notices the shade
created below. A final point: When you select canopy
forming species, they are, by definition, large palms or other trees. So, you
must (as mentioned above) give the trees ample room to grow and
KNOW THE SUN OR SHADE
REQUIREMENTS OF WHAT YOU ARE PLANTING
Some palms don't like full
sun. Others demand full sun and may even die if planted in shade.
This means the garden designer must know the individual sun
requirements of all species selected. At this website there
are lots of references to individual species and their sun
requirements. Or, one could use the Internet or reference
books to obtain this information. Another important point is not all
sun is the same. Sun along the coast is not nearly as intense
as sun in a desert area. If you live in the desert,
specifically look for species that are known to do well. We
help customers with such selections all the time. But, if
are researching things on your own, do consider far inland sun
intensity. With these things said, some sun-loving species
would include Bismarkia nobilis, Dypsis decaryi,
Chamaerops humilus, Roystonea regia, Acoelorrhaphe wrightii,
Roystonea regia, Wodyetia bifuracata and
many other species. Shade loving plants would include most
Chamaedorea, most Rhapis,
Dypsis, most Licuala, Laccospadix, Cryosophila,
and others. Of note,
there are some palms that would like part day sun (less than full
sun). Such palms would include Pritchardia, most
Arenga, Rhopalostylis, Euterpe, and many
Ptychosperma. Ideally, one would get started on
establishing a canopy before
planting shade demanding plant - or they could burn. Shown
here is a shade loving Chamaedorea and a Pritchardia, which
likes part day sun, to the right.
A website feature we've added to this
Site will give you quick ideas about sun or shade loving species.
Click to See.
DON'T PLANT PALMS TOO CLOSELY TO A
WALKWAY OR STRUCTURE
palms do not lift sidewalks nor damage foundations. However, there
is a limit to this statement. A very large species planted inches
away from a house's foundation can cause problems. By knowing
what you are planting, you'll avoid planting a palm close to a
structure or walkway that
eventually will get huge. An example would be a spiny,
suckering palm like Phoenix reclinata two feet from an important
walkway. In time, it'll encroach upon the walkway and, because
of the spines
the leaf-stems, be a threat to pedestrians talking a stroll.
The palm shown to the right is a Rhapis humilus. This species is fairly benign but suckers and
the footprint of the plant expands. So, it'd ideally be
planted at least four feet back form a walkway. Also consider if the plants crown will clear the
house's eaves. If you are planting along a public sidewalk or
in a street-side planting area, be particularly cautious about palms
that are a threat to others or put out new stems that will be a
problem. Also, never put a spiny palm, especially Phoenix species, next to an area where people walk or play. Palm spines can
cause serious body injury. Finally, consider the mature trunk
diameter. Jubaea chilensis shown to the left can develop a trunk with a four foot diameter.
It needs lots of room.
CONSIDER CLUMPING SPECIES OR "MULTIPLES"
In case you
didn't know, when you see a palm with multiple stems, one of two
things is present. It could be a true "suckering" species that
puts out new offset stems and then forms a clump of
stems. Or, it could be a single trunk palm where several were
put into the same pot and were grown to form a "multiple". One
sees this latter situation most commonly with the Pygmy Date Palm,
Kentia Palm or
the King Palm. A double, triple or even quadruple
planting of King Palm is really quite dramatic (first photo of a double
Purple King Palm to the left). Each trunk
nicely curves away from its partners over time. Such a grouping is also
aesthetic with Roystonea, Wodyetia and single trunk Chamaedoreas.
Clumping of individual plants typically does not look good on very
large species, e.g., Phoenix canariensis, Arenga pinnata, or
urens. Also, many fan palms are not well suited for planting as
"multiples". An interesting medium sized palm that suckers on
its own is Arenga engleri, the Dwarf Sugar Palm, shown the
right. The second photo to the left is a triple Pygmy Date
Palm. All of these types of palms are an interesting addition to any garden.
The last photo to the right is the Areca Palm, Dypsis lutescens.
This species tolerates full coastal sun and only gets
a mature height in So Cal of twenty feet. It puts out
multiple stems. Most plants carry about 8 to 10 stalks. We tell
customers it's a great palm to block a structure or "hide a
neighbor". The palm to the left is a "multiple" of single
trunk Phoenix roebelenii, the Pygmy Date Palm.
Whether you choose a true suckering species or a "multiple", these
plants are fun in the garden and people like them.
CONSIDER USING UNUSUAL FAN PALM SPECIES AND NOT JUST FEATHER PALMS
Diversity of species really add character to a garden and gives it
some botanical significance. By the latter, I mean that people
who visit get excited because they've not seen these plants before.
With this said, I've heard many times from new palm enthusiasts,
"I don't like fan palms. - I only like the feather palms!".
This comes from lack of experience and associating "fan palms" with
the very common Mexican Fan Palm. But, there is a whole
assortment of gorgeous and different fan palms that add to the appeal
of any garden. I've said many times, "If you garden only has
palms that look like
Palms, it's going to be boring". Consider varying the species
that you plant.
Fan palms look great alongside feather
palms. They add a different character and texture to the garden.
A very popular fan right now is the blue Bismarckia nobilis,
photo to the left. It really does get as
as you see here. It demands full sun. In some areas if
you don't get very cold, consider Licuala species. (photo
to right). Or perhaps the dwarf, blue Brahea decumbens
(second photo to left) may appeal to you. But, consider the
idea of utilizing some fan palms. Also remember that fan palms are typically slower growing
than pinnate palms. Plant your fans early in the course of your
development so the fan palms can keep up with your pinnate
palms. Be imaginative: use boulders, mounds, or small walls in your
garden to give elevation differences. Strap some orchids onto your
trunked palms. Add some ferns and flowers. All these things add to
the charm of your garden.
PRESERVE AND ACCENT ALL VIEWS AND VANTAGE POINTS
Be selective in planting your
palms so you can maintain views around your home. This includes
sought after panoramic
views. In the view "alley, use less obstructive palms, i.e., smaller, shorter or thinner
palms. Another view to maintain are the multiple areas where you
enjoy stopping or sitting to view your garden. It's your
chance to enjoy your creation. One
shouldn't block views
the garden from these vantage points.
You don't want to stop, look at the garden and see only one
suckering, thick and view-obstructing palm. So, consider this
before you plant.
Things to consider are: Allowing enough space space
between plants and avoid clumping palms near your vantage point or
Rather, utilize the clumping palms toward the back of the garden to hide unsightly fences, walls
or an unwelcome neighbor.
Also, some people prefer stair-step plantings
- smaller plants closer to you up front,
larger plants or suckering ones in the rear. The
photo to the right above shows a miniature palm, Chamaedorea
ernesti-augusti, that rarely gets to five feet palm. It's
a cute way to adorn a shady spot next to a walkway. Below is
Chamaedorea metallica, a different small dwarf, single
trunk shade plant that's good for the foreground. Choices
are up to your own aesthetics. You
can accent an entrance or courtyard with colorful or lush species of
palms or nice companion plants. But, remember views are important as they affect the way you and
others look at your yard. Think about the ideal planting scheme for your
CONSIDER SPECIFIC NEEDS - BOTH YOURS AND THE PLANTS'
Proper palm tree care
demands that you know that different palms require a wide variety of
conditions. So, it is important to know what your conditions are and
what any given species
prefers. Soil type, high and low
temperatures, wind, etc., are some of the important factors to
consider when you plant your garden. Sun requirements should
be known before planting palm trees into the ground. But,
water needs also is a concern. Acoelorrhaphe wrightii
(left), the Paurotis Palm, loves a lot of water -
it's almost a swamp palm. Contrast this to Brahea armata
(right), the Mexican Blue Fan Palm, that wants more arid conditions.
So, you wouldn't want to
put these two palms side by side, being watered the same.
Rather, make a more moist area and a drier one and control
irrigation differently to each area.
Also remember your own particular needs. This might be to
create privacy for a spa, maintain a view for city fireworks, block
visibility into a window, hide an ugly apartment building in the
distance or hide the garbage cans. I've heard them all.
There is most likely the perfect palm for all these needs.
Some enthusiasts have particular
situations like oceanfront gardens, hot inland gardens, arid gardens, and windy
gardens. All of these have their own specific conditions and preferable palm
species. Within your
garden itself, there also may exist different
microclimates. You may have wet areas. You may have dry soil areas.
But this is not a problem and you can take advantage of this and plant species specific to each
microclimate. Research will lead you to the right palms. Or,
drop by our nursery and we'll help guide you to the perfect plant
DON'T OVERPLANT ANY GIVEN SPECIES
Be experimental in what
you plant. Mix species, textures, types, and looks when growing palm
trees. Importantly, try to avoid planting too many of one species
just because you got a good
deal. The latter will lead to a boring
garden. I once knew a man who planted one hundred Queen Palms in his
front yard. He said he got a good price and thought he'd make some
money by digging them up later. He planted them all in rows.
Needless to say, it was the worst landscape job I have ever seen.
Eventually he lost money because he had to pay tree-removers to
correct his mistake. Remember the saying that more may not be
better. Its also more fun to expand your collection. One exception
to repetitive plantings might be along a parkway or along a
driveway. In these locations repeating Royal Palms or King Palms look
very nice. See photograph to the left where many Roystonea
regia are planted in a row and are very attractive.
THINK ABOUT THE POTENTIAL LOSS OF SUN OR VIEW IN THE FUTURE
You may have wide open
sun today, but with planting of the fast growing species, your sun
is going to diminish and your palm tree care will suffer.. Plan on
this. In other words, think about where you shade is going to be
when your palms are large. For instance, if you are trying to keep
sun shining on a swimming pool, don't plant canopy-forming species on
the southern side of the pool. Also don't plant a sun-loving species
in an area that you know will eventually be shaded out. I have lost
Phoenix roebellini, and Aceoelorrhaphe wrightii in
my garden because they got shaded out. Also realize that any
plant, including palm trees, can block a desirable view of the
horizon. Plant accordingly.
REMEMBER TO ACCLIMATE YOUR PALMS
Make sure your palms are
acclimated to your area and your sun before planting palm trees. If
a plant is coming from a greenhouse or filtered light, gradual
acclimate it to full sun over a few months. Alternatively, one can
use temporary overhead shade structures for protection while growing
your palm trees before planting. Remember to water thoroughly
after planting a new palm. If you are craning in large specimens,
you can get some instant shade for under-story palms. Take advantage
Read How to Acclimate Palms
SUMMARY AND WHAT
Every garden and every palm enthusiast's ideas and needs are
different. However, above are some agreed upon concepts that will
help guide them through their goal of creating a beautiful garden.
All are simple, usable rules. If you
follow them, you will perhaps avoid some of the mistakes that others
have made. The photos below show you ideas of what you can create. Use your
imagination but follow rules on what to plant and where to plant it
accomplish your goals and needs. Good luck with it.
TO LEARN MORE:
Thank you for reading this article.
Owner of Jungle Music Palms, Cycads and Tropical Plants
and Creator of this Website
Phone: 619 291 4605
Nursery Location: 450 Ocean View Ave., Encinitas, CA