The Saunders Report

Palms as house plants, a special report.
Paul Saunders, Blaxton, South Yorkshire
pvsaund@globalnet. co.ok

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 antarctica.

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 1999.

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.

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 fully out.
C) Phoenix dactylifera: Moderate. One new leaf with first signs of splitting.
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.

A) Trachycarpus fortunei: Slow, 1-yr seedlings only put up half a spear.
B) Rhopalostylis sapida: Slow, 1 year as above.

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 tall.
D) Chamaedorea radicalis Quite fast. One new leaf, fully divided with a second just about to open. About 15".

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.


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