Is it better to encourage our palms to grow over
the winter, or to allow them to rest? Alan Hindle discusses the
pros and cons.
by Alan Hindle, 3 Wenlock Close, Sedgley, Dudley, West Midlands
Chamaerops No.37, Winter Edition 2000
Caryota sp. Himalaya growing in Katmandu,
As a relative newcomer to palm cultivation, my collection
consists mainly of seedlings, which I would obviously like to grow
to a plantable size as quickly as possible. My first batch of seedlings,
purchased in 1996, consisted of Trachycarpus fortunei, Trachycarpus
wagnerianus, Phoenix canariensis, Dypsis decaryi, Livistonia australis,
Rhapis exelsa, Caryota rumphiana, and Butia capitata. I potted them
up straight away into 10cm terracotta pots using a proprietary loam
based compost and then placed them in our lean-to conservatory.
Subsequently a green slime appeared around the outside of the pots
indicating poor drainage. Only the two Trachys survived, which I
believe was due to their more rootbound state and robust constitution.
They are now about 40cm high and will soon require repotting for
a fourth time.
Somewhat disillusioned by my lack of success, the
following year I obtained large specimens of Chamaerops humilis
and Yucca gloriosa (20-cm pots), which both went straight into the
ground. The Chamaerops are protected from hard frosts with bubble
wrap, and the Yucca, with its razor-sharp blue-green leaves, receives
none. The latter is also starting to become quite large and is beginning
to develop signs of a trunk. Later on I also purchased a Butia capitata
of a reasonable size (12-cm pot), along with seedlings of Brahea
armata and Chamaedorea radicalis.
In order to try and improve the drainage quality of
my potting mixes I started off by adding sand and coarse gravel
to my loam based John Innes 3 compost, but found this difficult
to wet and slow draining. I now add perlite granules, grit, and
some organic matter to a loam based or peat based compost (depending
upon the plants acidity requirements). I also decided to stand
the pots on saucers full of gravel in order to minimise the chances
of plants being left standing in water. Also that year I pot-planted
a cheap but fairly large Phoenix canariensis into a barrel planter
along with half a dozen Pelargoniums. This attractive arrangement,
placed outside our front door, is brought into the porch on frosty
nights and moved under the carport during ground frosts.
In the spring of 1998, I ordered seedlings of Caryota
Himalaya, Rhopalostylis sapida, Sabal bermudana, Sabal
palmetto, Trithrinax acanthocoma, Brahea edulis, and Jubaea chilensis.
The Sabal palmetto, Trithrinax acanthocoma, and Brahea edulis were
re-potted due to their more developed root systems. The Jubaea chilensis
died inexplicably, something I have heard has happened to other
EPS members. I would like to know what accounts for failure with
Jubaea seedlings and the secrets for their successful cultivation.
Are better results achieved by planting them straight into the ground?
That spring I also emptied my Pelargonium barrel to
find that the Phoenix had sent roots down to cover the base of the
barrel. While still in its plastic pot, I decided to transfer the
Phoenix into the ground. I then bought a new one (along with some
more Pelargoniums) to refill the barrel. The Phoenix in the ground
is protected with bubble wrap when the temperature drops below 3°
Celsius (as reported in my letter in Chamaerops 33). In the autumn
I purchased seedlings of Sabal minor, Syagrus romanzoffiana, Trachycarpus
latisectus, Trachycarpus martianus and a Trachycarpus fortunei of
about 1.2m in height, which remains in its tub.
Later that year, in my eagerness to induce winter
growth in my seedlings without the high costs of heating the whole
conservatory, I proceeded to make a foolish mistake. I purchased
a two-shelf cold frame with a removable transparent plastic cover,
which also unzipped at the front. In this I placed many of my small
seedlings together with a fan heater at the bottom, which was set
to a minimum temperature of 16 Celsius.
Unfortunately, the dry air created by the fan heater,
in such a confined space, had serious consequences for those seedlings
which were either in the firing line or were more sensitive to low
humidity. Of the casualties, my Sabals, Brahea armata, and Trithrinax
were damaged but all recovered, whereas my Caryota Himalaya
palms are still suffering. Caryota Himalaya is living
on the edge, not helped by its mineral requirements; Trachycarpus
martianus is now just about recovering but the dry air exacerbated
its problems with red spider mites; and Trachycarpus latisectus
is just a brown stump. At the conclusion of my experiment I must
report that most of these seedlings are still in their original
pots, and are no more advanced than when I bought them.
Late in the autumn of 1999, I received seedlings of
Ceroxylon parvifrons, Dypsis decipiens, Jubaea chilensis, Livistonia
jenkinsiana, Parajubaea cocoides, Phoenix reclinata, Phoenix rupicola,
Sabal uresana, and Trithrinax campestris. Still adamant on maintaining
winter growth and having read Paul Saunders article on the
subject of over-wintering seedlings indoors (Chamaerops 34), I took
advantage of the fact that we were renovating our front room and
had removed the radiators. The room also has a large south-facing
window, thus providing conditions of good light, no dry air, and
cooler nights. The rooms temperature in the winter rises to
around 18 Celsius in the daytime and drops to around 10 Celsius
at night. I brought in those small seedlings, which were more likely
to respond to the darker conditions and cooler temperatures (no
Braheas or Sabals), together with my three Caryota Himalaya
seedlings, which had suffered from the previous winters treatment.
I hoped that this would at least keep them alive over the winter
until the conservatory started to warm up again. Most of the seedlings
have, so far, grown slowly throughout the winter, requiring more
frequent watering compared with those plants that remain in the
cold conditions of the conservatory. Unfortunately, the leaves of
the Dypsis decipiens shrivelled one by one, leaving just an emergent
spear, which was either due to the compost drying out or an attack
of scale insect. I am hoping that it will recover in the conservatory
Overall, I am not sure that trying to encourage winter growth, rather
than leaving the plants to enjoy a winter rest, is productive in
the long term. Paul Saunders concluded that, although he had achieved
quite good growth over the winter, in many cases he was a little
disappointed with the lack of accelerated growth the following summer.
I will be able to judge this in the autumn but am hoping that the
fact that I have not administered any feed during the winter will
at least have afforded the plants some rest. Maybe over-wintering
indoors is best left for rainforest species rather than for the
temperate palms which the majority of us EPS members prefer. This
method may also be useful for nursing sick plants through the winter
until more favourable conditions for recovery arrive.
I hope that my experiences may be of use to other
new members who may be tempted to make the same mistakes. I am beginning
to realise that palm growing is all about reproducing as closely
as possible the growing conditions in a palms natural habitat,
and having a good deal of patience along with it. Meanwhile, my
latest batch of seedlings is an assortment of Trachycarpus species
and a Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera, which spent the winter enjoying
their cold rest in the conservatory.
26-01-20 - 02:17GMT
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