Pot Planting: The Saga Continues
An update on the most controversial issue to grace
Don Tollefson, 599 California Ave., Venice, CA 9029, U.S.A.
Chamaerops No.33 Winter 1999
I'd like to report a recent revelation." Pot
planting enables the planting of palms the year around. Even during
the dead of winter! In some respects, this is nearly as remarkable
as pot planting itself. Pot planting is the practice of planting
a palm in the ground, "pot and all!" Traditionally, planting
a palm during the winter was the kiss of death. Step one, plant
the palm. Step two, watch it die! But now, you can obtain a plantable
palm during the winter and plant it the same day. The same day!
You no longer have to wait until the weather warms up the following
spring. Now, any time of the year, successful palm gardening is
within the realm of anyone. Even the newest beginner.
I'd also like to report the best formula for successful
palm gardening. Pot plant a plantable palm. In the past, successful
palm gardening was a complete mystery. Particularly to beginners.
When they visited outstanding palm collections they witnessed success.
But they didn't have the slightest idea how this success was attained.
Not the slightest. Even successful palm gardeners couldn't put their
finger on it. Plus, successful palm gardening required at least
ten years of trial and error experience. Of the many who embarked,
only a handful succeeded. Unfortunately, palm gardening was not
a hobby of gardening. It was a hobby of dogged determination and
dogged persistence. Not particularly alluring for the patience impaired.
Nor for gardeners and backyard green thumbs with gifts of creativity
and horticultural proclivity, but lacking intransigent resolve.
Palm gardening needn't be the exclusive domain of the boneheaded.
It should be for anyone with an affinity for palms. And it easily
can be if these simple rules are followed:
"Pot plant" a plantable palm. It's as easy
(1) Dig a hole (2) Place the plantable palm in the
hole, "pot and all" (3) Backfill and water.
Sound simple? It is. But success begins with a plantable
palm. Plantable means that the palm is well grown, outdoor acclimated,
five gallon sized and of a species known to survive in your area.
The ability to produce a plantable palm requires
years of growing experience and a state of the art greenhouse (or
a perfect tropical environment). Producing a plantable palm is better
left to speciality palm growers. At least until the beginner becomes
an advanced palm gardener. Advanced enough to produce a plantable
palm which possesses the following attributes:
Well grown: The palm must be healthy, compact, lush,
good sized for the container and quickly grown. If a palm is missing
any of these attributes, it will have difficulty surviving the planting
transition. Outdoor acclimated: The palm must be "hardened
off' to the immediate conditions to which it will be introduced.
If not outdoor acclimated, it will perform poorly. Acclimating a
palm is a difficult skill to the inexperienced. It makes sense for
a speciality palm grower to do this rather than pass this burden
Five gallon: This is universally recognized as the
ultimate size for pot planting. Palms can be smaller or larger and
still succeed. But smaller palms generally suffer from "delayed
start up time. This delayed start up time can be as long as four
or five years. Larger palms can experience "post greenhouse
shrink." This is even worse. It's a non reversible condition
in which the trunk of the palm shrinks grotesquely at the point
of new growth. Since the perfect size seems to be a five, why not
just start with the perfect size? A species that can survive in
your area: All of the best growing techniques in the world won't
work if the palm is one that cannot otherwise survive.
The final step to successful palm gardening is pot
planting the plantable palm. This is left to the enthusiast. The
purpose of pot planting is to avoid setback. When a palm is planted
traditionally, it always seems to suffer setback. - Why obtain a
perfectly grown, perfectly acclimated, perfectly sized palm of a
species known to grow perfectly in your area and then traumatise
it by planting it conventionally? It would be like sending a strong
young adolescent into a rigorous sports competition, but first subjecting
her to a near fatal automobile collision. Or like breaking a tiny
bird's wings, just as it was attempting its maiden flight from the
nest. Don't do it. Pot plant the plantable palm instead. It factors
the near fatal automobile collision or the broken wings out of the
planting equation. Following is the unabridged version of what is
really required for palm gardening success.
Pot plant a plantable palm (It's as easy as 1,2,3)!
(1) Dig a hole (2) Place a well grown, outdoor acclimated,
five gallon sized palm of a species known to be cold hardy for your
area in the hole, pot and all. (3) Backfill and water.
Sound simple? It is. Pot planting plantable palms
has now enabled successful palm gardening by even entry level growers.
Beginners with no previous experience, but with the simple goal
of planting ten palms during their first year (an entry level palm
collection). And increasingly, palm enthusiasts can now obtain plantable
palms at affordable prices. These palms are available from at least
three, Southern California speciality palm growers (and probably
numerous more). Growers who have learned the necessary prerequisites
for developing a plantable palm.
The following handout was provided to prospective
buyers at the First Annual Los Angeles Area Winter Palm Sale. The
sale was held December 05, 1998, in Venice California. Blue Moon
Palms, Malibu Palms and Palm Bay Palms collaborated to provide a
large and varied selection of plantable palms. All of the palms
had four things in common. You guessed it! They were well-grown,
outdoor acclimated, five gallon size and of a species known to be
cold hardy for the area. Only the final step, pot planting the plantable
palms (as soon as they arrived home or the following day), was left
to the palm enthusiasts.
From reading the handout you can quickly see the emphasis
on pot planting. It has been discussed throughout the palm world
for the past two years. The subject has even been aired frequently
on the internet. Each month, more palm enthusiasts join the fray.
Many in support. Some in disagreement. Personally, I believe pot
planting to be the most significant advancement in temperate climate
palm gardening since the greenhouse. It is specifically beneficial
to new palm society members (beginners). In the past, all sizes
and species of palms were sold to this unwitting group. Most of
these palms were then planted in the traditional manner. Sound like
a formula for disaster? It was. The following year, less than one
in ten of these victims would return for more abuse. The rest gave
up. The few that remained were those who probably would rather have
belonged to "the persistence, disappointment, frustration and
sadism society." Lost were many talented and creative, "would
have been" palm gardeners. Lost also, were their many, exquisite,
sub-tropical palm collections that should have adorned the Southern
California landscape. Lost, needlessly forever, in an ongoing, yearly
misadventure that was pushing palm gardening toward the bottom rung
of the horticultural ladder.
Fortunately, that has all changed. And almost overnight.
It has changed because pot planting plantable palms has become a
mainstream palm gardening technique. Ironically, it's the beginners
who paved the way. Two years ago, Pauleen Sullivan and I first reported
the benefits of pot planting plantable palms. It's an understatement
to say the concept was poorly received. Experienced growers considered
it repugnant (with the notable exceptions of Mardy Darian and John
Tallman, both of whom had pot planted for years). Fortunately, many
beginners were not so jaded. In fact, pot planting plantable palms
made perfect sense to them. And it was beginners who embraced pot
planting most enthusiastically. So for the first time, beginners
attained some of the highest levels of success in palm gardening
history. Gone are the days when a 60% palm survival rate was considered
excellent. Now, by pot planting plantable palms, many beginners
are reporting palm survival rates of over 90%. Several have not
yet lost a single palm. And they consistently reported that most
of their palms grew continuously and robustly through their first
winter. With no sulking! Obviously, palms growing continuously and
robustly will fare much better than palms that have merely managed
to remain alive. They are also far better to look at and enjoy.
Read the following handout. And remember, it was for palm enthusiasts
purchasing plantable palms, three weeks before Christmas.
Can I Plant My Palms Today?
Yes or no? Absolutely. Blue Moon Palms, Malibu Palms
and Palm Bay Palms sell plantable palms that are outdoor acclimated
and ready for planting. Today, tomorrow or anytime in the future.
No surprises such as a palm "taking a hit," because it
just came out of a greenhouse. All the palms on sale today have
been growing outdoors for several weeks or months. They should have
no difficulty in our climate so long as they are "pot planted"
and protected from cold winter wind.
Pot planted? That's right. And protected from cold
winter wind. Pot planting is a relatively new concept in which the
palm is planted in the ground, pot and all. It's as easy as 1,2,3.
1. Dig a hole. 2. Place the plantable palm in the hole, pot and
all! 3. Backfill and water.
What does pot planting do? It's not what it does.
It's what it doesn't do. It doesn't cause a palm to set back when
it's planted in the ground. For some reason, palms always seem to
set back when they are removed from their containers and planted
in the ground. And it can be drastic. Often a palm even shrinks
in size. This setback is the major limitation to palm gardening.
The process, termed "sulking," normally continues for
one to three years. If a palm sulks, it's not strong and healthy
and prepared for its first winter. Unfortunately, the first winter
is the major obstacle to successfully introducing a palm outdoors.
If a palm does poorly during that first winter it will often die.
Or if it lives, it will generally "lag." Once a palm lags,
it rarely catches up. Conversely, if it does well, there's no looking
back. The secret to successful palm gardening is simple. No pot
removal, no setback.
Isn't pot planting a bit like taking a bath with your
shoes on? Yes. But you get over it when your palms explode with
exuberant growth the following spring.
What do I do with the part of the pot that shows?
You can cut off the part that shows or you can just look at it.
It's perfect to catch and hold water. And you don't need to water
outside the pot. Just inside. It's an excellent water conservation
method. Typically a palm can scrape by with only a gallon or so
Can I pot plant in the winter? Absolutely. A major
benefit of pot planting is that you can now plant properly acclimated
palms in the winter. In the past, traditional winter planting (removing
a palm from the pot and planting it in the ground) was the kiss
of death. But if pot planted, the palm doesn't skip a beat. It continues
to grow just as if it were still in a growing area. Winter has now
become an excellent time to plant palms. Arguably the best time
to pot plant is during the late winter, right after the cold winter
winds have subsided. This is because during winter, the sun is not
so intense that it can easily burn palm fronds. Unquestionably,
the most frequent error committed by "advanced" palm gardeners
is sunburning newly planted palms. Winter pot planting prevents
this by providing more than six months for a palm to establish and
acclimate to summer. This also removes the necessity of providing
shade protection. Another essential consideration when planting
during the summer.
Should I slit the sides or remove the bottom of the
pot? The jury's still out. The one thing for sure is that 'lust
plain" pot planting works. However, many palm enthusiasts are
experimenting with pot planting variations. The future will no doubt
yield substantial information in this area.
Does pot planting work in all climate zones? I don't
know. And this could be very important. Most experience is in winter
wet, summer dry, Southern California. If you're a palm gardener
from another climate, you must make your own determination. However,
pot planting would most likely be beneficial anywhere (or in any
instance) that palms set back due to traditional planting. The operative
concept is "setback avoidance." It's simple and basic.
Setback is devastating and pot planting avoids it. Even in a warm
climate, palms outperform their litter mates that have been setback.
Each grower must determine individually whether setback occurs to
her palms. It's easy enough. After you plant a palm conventionally,
mark the emergent spike with a felt marking pen where it penetrates
the lower leaf sheath. Then check for growth daily or weekly. Does
it continue to grow or does it sit and sulk (or even shrink in size)?
Do you have a favoured method of pot planting? Yes
I do. I love to pot plant without backfilling. I allow a little
dirt to fill back in each time I water. This nearly duplicates the
condition of a palm sitting on top of the ground. Everyone has seen
the explosive growth that occurs when such a palm connects with
Mother Earth. I wait until after I witness that explosion. Then
I complete the backfill. It's a fool proof system.
You emphasised avoiding cold winter wind? Yes. And
this is so extremely critical that I can't emphasise it enough.
Although pot planting gets most of the attention, protection from
cold winter wind is even more important. This is because cold winter
wind is even more adverse to successful palm gardening than traditional
planting. Wind and wind-chill effect a palm just as it does a human.
Exponentially! Cold wind can easily lower your growing level a zone
or two. If cold winter wind is prevalent, you must counteract it.
Either with wind barriers (fences, shrubs, trees etc.) or by growing
the palm to a larger size before planting it. For instance, from
the recommended five gallon size to perhaps a ten or fifteen. Likewise,
a five gallon palm, pot planted in a windy location, is like planting
a one gallon in a non windy location. So don't concentrate on setback
avoidance (pot planting) and overlook the even more important aspect
of protecting the palm from cold winter wind. Is there an easy method
of wind protection. Yes, there are several. One popular method is
to position "windbreak objects" between the palms and
the direction of the prevailing winter wind. Throughout the world
(northern and southern hemisphere), cold winter winds arrive from
the north to northeast. This is due to the counter clockwise rotation
of the earth and its atmospheric reaction between its large land
masses and its large water masses. Windbreak objects can be items
such as barrels, boxes, larger potted plants, or shade cloth attached
to lodge poles. Anything that can serve quickly as a windbreak.
A solid fence is best. And don't be concerned with the marginal
impact of wind turbulence. It's the ongoing, cold blasting wind
that is damaging. A sure-fire method is to plant palms up against
the south side of a solid north wall or fence. Don't be afraid to
use shade cloth either. A 70% shade cloth will diminish a ferocious,
100 mph gale to a 30 mph breeze. Allow the windbreak to remain until
the palm becomes equivalent to a good sized fifteen gallon. Even
larger if possible. This could require a couple of years or more.
By then, the palm is established and has the mass and hardness to
endure the wind. And it will have grown much faster then it would
have had it remained in a container. Remember, cold survival is
a species thing. Wind survival is a size thing. Make certain that
your palm gardening limitation is cold and not wind. The two are
Don Tollefson is the Los Angeles Area Chairman
of the Southern California Palm Society. He offers < The Diamond
Lane Guide to Growing Palms > for $29.95 plus $2.95 shipping
and handling ($32.90 domestic, $33.90 foreign) California residents
add $2.47 for tax ($35.37). Send orders to 599 California Avenue,
Venice, CA 90291.
12-12-19 - 22:35GMT
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