The Saunders Report
Palms as house plants, a special report.
Paul Saunders, Blaxton, South Yorkshire
This article was originally written at the end of
January '99 and was concerned with the overwintering of seedlings
and young plants. Now, on the last day of August 1999 I am in a
position to update the article somewhat, although it will primarily
remain in its original form.
Last winter here in Doncaster was quite similar to
the previous year's mild winter. There have been many mild spells
with temps up to 13 deg C and only a handful or so of nights where
temps dropped below -3deg. C (the coldest being about -5). Both
rainfall and sunshine have been about 1015% above normal, although
the extra rain hasn't been a great problem as our annual average
is only around 7OOmm. On the whole the average max would have been
about 7-8degC and the average min about 2-3degC, so we have been
rather lucky compared to our central European friends.
So what about the Palms? Well they all came through
the winter unscathed. In my small south facing front garden I have
the following species: Phoenix canariensis, Butia capitata, Washingtonia
filifera, Trachycarpus fortunei, Trachycarpus wagnerianus and Chamaerops
humilis Of these only two received any protection, these being the
Phoenix and the Washingtonia This protection took the form of simply
tying the fronds together and wrapping fleece around them. I have
only done this when the temperature has been likely to drop below
-2degC and as soon as I am up in the morning it is removed to allow
sunlight to warm the leaves and dry the plants out to prevent any
rotting. On about 45 occasions I have forgotten to do this with
no lasting conseq}ences.
If left unprotected the leaves of the palms develop large dark green
blotches all over them making you think the palm has surely had
it. Not so, when the temp returns to around 6-7 degC the leaves
revert to their normal colour. This mechanism is actually a good
sign and shows the plant is responding to the cold conditions.
As well as these main plants I had a small seedling
of Washingtonia filifera which I had grown from seed I collected
in Majorca. This plant was of a size where it was just putting out
it first true fan leaves of about 8 inches across. It was positioned
about 3 ft from a south-facing wall. It received no protection at
all and came through the winter unharmed. It has now doubled its
size and continues to grow rather quickly.
In my rear garden I have a 7ft Musa basjoo This was
protected in the same manner as the palms with fleece on the coldest
nights, and removed in the morning. It had of course had all its
leaves removed at the first frost. It continued to push a new leaf
in mild spells and came through unscathed, as did a small Dicksonia
Turning now to the young plants that initially made
me put pen to paper. I bought many plants in to the house for overwintering
rather than leaving them in the greenhouse. Not for fear of loss
through cold but in order to encourage continued growth to get them
to a size where they can be planted out as soon as possible. I shall
describe the position and growth rate of the plant over the winter
period then go on to briefly outline its progress over the summer
months. The descriptions below were written at the end of January
1/ SOUTH FACING KITCHEN WINDOWSILL.
A) Livistona australis: Fast. Three new fans, a lovely dark green,
about 15-18" tall. The leaf petioles are quite long (and very
spiky) giving it a good size at an early age.
B) Livistona chinensis: Slow. Only one new fan, but a second on
its way. A lighter green with shorter petioles, about 12".
C) Dypsis decipiens: Slow. One new leaf with first signs of splitting.
The new emerging spear has in the last week or so, suddenly accelerated
in growth rate and is developing quite quickly. About 10".
D) Trachycarpus wagnerianus: Moderate. Two new fans, about 12".
In addition to the above I have just added the following:
Syagrus R., 80cm, Chamaedorea microspadix, 80cm, Parajubaea c. 2yr
and Dypsis onihalensis I yr. In the short while they have been there
they have grown at a good rate.
Although the window is south facing the direct sun
is not a problem in the winter months. Due to the northerly latitude
the strength of the sun is insufficient to harm the plants. At the
end of February I will remove the more sensitive species back to
the greenhouse out of the way of the strengthening sun, whilst the
more sun-hardy species will remain till the end of March.
2/ SOUTH FACING BEDROOM WINDOW.
A) Ceroxylon ventricosum: Fast. Two new leaves, the second of which
has a few divisions. A third leaf, with even more divisions is almost
fully out, with a fourth spear about 6" tall. For a young plant
it is a good size about 18" tall and just the same in circumference.
It has lovely dark green leaves.
B) Ceroxylon alpinum: Moderate. One new leaf with second almost
C) Phoenix dactylifera: Moderate. One new leaf with first signs
D) Rhopalostylis sapida: Quite fast. Two new fully divided leaves
transformed the seedling into a handsome young plant about 18"
tall, with a third spear pushing up rapidly.
3/ WEST FACING LANDING WINDOW.
A) Trachycarpus fortunei: Slow, 1-yr seedlings only put up half
B) Rhopalostylis sapida: Slow, 1 year as above.
4/ ADJACENT TO NORTH FACING PATIO DOOR.
A) Howea forsteriana: Slow. A pot with three plants about 4ft tall
has barely pushed up 8" of a new spear.
B) Phoenix roebelenii: Very fast. A pot with 5 young plants started
the winter with a height of 20". Numerous new leaves have pushed
the height to 30" with all the plants leaning out from each
other giving the plant a lovely rounded appearance.
C) Rhopalostylis baueri: Moderate. A new leaf finished opening and
12" of a new spear pushed up. A good-sized plant nearly 3ft
D) Chamaedorea radicalis Quite fast. One new leaf, fully divided
with a second just about to open. About 15".
5/ SOUTH FACING BATHROOM WINDOW.
A) Jubaea chilensis: Quite fast given the age of the plant. It has
put out its first fully split leaf with a second well on the way.
B) Phoenix canariensis (NZ seed): Moderate. Young plants have put
out nearly two fully split leaves. About 15"
C) Phoenix reclinata: On the floor of the bathroom about five feet
from the window so not as much light as would be ideal. It has grown
well with nearly two new fronds, now to a height of 25".
Well that's nearly it. Just a brief mention of how the above fared
when put out in the spring. Well surprisingly many of them seemed
to slow down in growth rate. They all put out new leaves but many
seemed slower than over the winter period. The main exceptions being
the Livistona australis Jubaea and Phoenix species. These continued
to grow at a good rate.
The larger palms which had been overwintered in the
garden all grew quite fast as one would expect given the fairly
hot July we had here. The only thing I can think of is that the
palms overwintered in the house had spent much of their growth energy
for the season and were unable to sustain an acceleration in growth
over the summer. Anyone any ideas on this matter?
I have added to my collection over the summer. In
particular I acquired a large Dicksonia which with the leaves fully
grown now is 7 ft tall and looks simply great just outside the patio
door. Under the leaves of this I have planted a 3ft clump of Chamaedorea
radicalis as well as other smaller palms giving the area a real
tropical look which should last through the winter. When larger
all the seedlings and small plants mentioned above will be planted
out to give that really dense tropical planting effect. Hope the
coming winter is kind to all.