Seasonal Palm Growing

(page 2)

Here in the UK we have to put up with 3-4 months of dull, cloudy days where the temperature rarely rises above 10°C and night temperatures usually fall to a few degrees above freezing. This leads me to believe that a palm‘s hardiness should be assessed by whether it can survive a British/European winter or not, and not purely by the figure of a minimum temperature.
I have lost many small palms due, I believe, to the lack of any real heat. I have a polytunnel where I try to prevent temperatures dropping more than a couple of degrees below 0, and a small greenhouse, where I keep my more tender palms frost free, though even here losses have been high. Although it can be disheartening to have these losses, I believe that I have learned a lot by experimenting in this way. For instance, I‘ve learned that seed provenance can play a big part when trying new species. I have tried out many Copernicia seedlings this year, species including C. alba and C. prunifera, many of which have succumbed to the low winter temperatures. However, I managed to obtain seed of Copernica macroglossa from the US from a parent that gets a regular frosting, sometimes as low as -7°C!!! Needless to say, I haven‘t lost a single seedling (yet) and I‘ve allowed them to get frosted to -2°C. Watering is another area that needs to be observed as well. I tend to keep my palms very dry during the winter and water with a fungicide solution about once a month just to keep any root rot in check; it‘s amazing how a little moisture and cold temperatures can rot some palm roots in no time.

Other palms that have taken -2°C with little or no damage include Wallichia disticha and densiflora, Wodyetia bifurcata, Parajubaea cocoides, Dypsis decipiens, and Chamaedoria seifrizii and C. oblongata. Happily the garden and unprotected old favourites are doing well. Phoenix canariensis, Rhapis excelsa, Brahea armata, Brahea edulis, Trithrinax acanthocoma, and Washingtonia robusta and filifera have all come through our lowest night of -4°C so far without being scathed, although Livistona chinensis suffered slight tip burn. I was also shocked to find that same following morning that my heater had failed in the polytunnel. There was ice everywhere, which was soon defrosted by the fiery language that followed, of which I couldn‘t possibly repeat in a family magazine like this one. Ravenea rivularis and Coccothrinax barbadensis had been totally destroyed, with most of the leaves being lost to the low temperature. However, I think they will recover as the new spears seem to have remained intact. Howea forsteriana had suffered about 20% tip burn. It took me the following weekend to sift through the debris, but to my surprise I didn‘t lose a single palm, and a few weeks later, they still seem to be alive. All the other palms have come through OK. Caryota himalaya is actually growing, if very slowly; Syagrus romanzoffiana and Livistona Saribus look great, although they did sustain some damage; Phoenix roebelenii and P. theophrasti are untouched; as are Rhopalostylis sapida, Chamaedorea microspadix and C. radicalis, and an X Butiagrus hybrid.

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