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Palms at the Vogtland

by Frieder Höfer, Ebersbacher Str. 14, 08606 Unterhermsgrün, Germany
Chamaerops No. 43-44, published online 05-08-2002

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My love of palms started in 1984 with a seedling of Washingtonia filifera, which, even as an pot plant, shows amazing growth. In the winter 1999/2000, it had a reached crown diameter of 2 m and a large base. It was too heavy to bring it inside to a warmer environment, and got frost twice when the temperatures dropped to - 6°C, and was not able to recover that spring.

Unfortunately, our climate is not exactly suitable for growing palms in general, but this is what makes it so interesting. It is already cold, and often snows, in November; temperatures in winter can drop to below -18°C; and we get our last frosts in April. All of this makes growing Mediterranean plants very difficult. In 1991 I bought two Trachycarpus fortunei in a hardware store, and I was disapointed by the poor growth. So, I planted these palms close to the west side of my house near a dry wall. In the first winter I saved them from the cold by constructing a rack over them, covered with plastic, which was weighed down with gravel at the ground. I heated the enclosure with a 150 Watt heat light and ventilated it with an opening in the roof.

At this time I was not a member of the EPS, and so I didn't have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other palm growers. If I had, I probably would not have planted the Trachycarpus right in the cold clay. Astonishingly, this palm is now more then 2.5 m high. The new winter protection is made from hard plastic panels 200x20x2 cm with which are put together to form four walls. Every wall has a wooden frame and they are easy to transport separately, because they are light. In the south side there is a door, and the roof is made from the same material as the walls. All the materials are from a harware store and cost only around Euro 225.00. This "palmhouse" is excellent because the cost of heating with a fan heater is very low, it is easy to open during warmer weather, and it is easy to assemble and dismantle.

This winter, my Butia capitata and Butia yatay are also in this house. The space will soon be too small, and I will have to think about a new form of protection.
My other palms range from the seedling of Jubaea chilensis (the seed was collected on the Isola Madré at the summer meeting last year), to a 2.5 m Phoenix canariensis. I have around 24 species in different sizes. The Jubaea germinated after just four weeks, using a mix of sand and pine bark at 25°C. For the speed of growth, I've found the size of the pot is very important. The seedlings in the 20 cm pots have one leaf more than the plants in the 10 cm pots under the same conditions, the potting mix was made from loamy garden soil and sharp sand. I keep them in full sun and haven't lost any so far.

Growing the Hyophorbe verschaffeltii that I bought as a young plant in a garden center has been an interesting experience. Frequent problems with pests and the need for frequent watering prompted me to pot this plant in hydroponics a while ago. Since then it has grown very quickly, it is 1.3 m high now and free of pests.

Can anyone tell me something about Howea? My specimes are very different. One of them has grass green leaves, the leaves of the other one look more dark green to red brown. The new and freshly opened leaves are completely red brown coloured. Can this palm go outside in the summer?

I've found that Parajubaea cocoides grow very well in a deep pot; unfortunately this palm has still only undivided leaves to this time. Full sun is good for this palm, as it is for Brahea armata, which is growing very slowly. I find the slower growth of my Butias to be good because their big pots are very heavy already and I couldn't move a pot that was any bigger. Fortunately, they are very tolerant of cold and wet conditions, and so I do not often move them. They have survived frost and -5°C during the night in March twice without damage.

To close I would like to make a suggestion: With the combined knowledge of EPS members, I think it would be possible to make a map of Europe with places of interest for palm enthusiasts, which could then be published on the internet.

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