Pool and Patio Palms
By Ellen Barredo
]An abbreviated version of this article appeared in The Gateway Gardener June 2014 issue.]
There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by boldly textured palms! Here are a few suggestions for success with palms. Purchase your palms at a local garden center as they usually acquire their palms from reputable growers that have techniques set up to ‘Light Transition’ palms before they are ever shipped to St. Louis. You get what you pay for in palms, resist that ‘great deal palm’ it probably came straight from the field and onto a truck.
Light will depend on the type of palm you choose to grow. The most important thing to note here is “Full Sun Palms Outdoors” grown indoors over winter will require as much light as you can manage. Supplemental light is almost a must for some palms.
Observe the soil surface in the pot for dryness. Water enough to ensure water flows from the bottom of the container. The watering process may need to be repeated to ensure this happens. Never let the container go too dry. (Take note rooftop and balcony gardeners.) Dry, hot, and windy conditions require more frequent watering. Moist or cold conditions usually require less frequent applications.
Salt buildup is a problem with palms grown in containers. Incomplete watering, along with fertilizers you give to the plant can result in salt buildup in the soil. This buildup can result in leaf tip discoloration (burning), general plant decline and eventual death if not corrected.
Organic fertilizers such as Espoma Palm Tone are slower acting and have less chance of burning your palm. Fertilize four times/year giving 1 teaspoon for every 4inches of pot diameter. Scratch it into the top of the soil evenly and water in. Palms also enjoy a little extra boost of micro nutrients. Do this with caution, additional micro nutrients may be iron, sulphur, or magnesium. Very small doses could help prevent yellowing foliage or spotted foliage. Usually by the time palms are exhibiting symptoms it is too late to save the look of the foliage. Although it is not a fertilizer, I would give a shot of Bio Tone periodically.
Pruning palms should be done with great thought. Many are slow growing. People in the quest for perfection want to trim away leaves with damage or tears. Just remember, Palms in the real world have imperfections. Even though these leaves are not perfect the leaves are providing a source of nutrition for the plant. When trimming a frond follow the stem and cut close to the palm’s trunk leaving about an inch to two-inch stub. Removing these stubs at pruning time can cause permanent scars to the trunk, increasing the chance of bacterial or fungal infections. This stub should be allowed to dry crisp and then they can be easily removed by hand.
A palm can usually grow well in the same container for one to two years before transplanting into a larger container. Repot when the plant’s roots are coming out of the bottom of your container, or when the plant is just too big and unstable for the container it is in. A container must give ample soil volume for growth and weight for stability. In general, palms prefer deep pots to shallow ones. Remember repotting is best performed in the spring or early summer, a time when the plant and its roots can grow optimally.
When repotting a palm into a larger pot, you should give ample new potting mix below the old root ball. I mix small amounts of Espoma palm fertilizer or Espoma Blood Meal into fresh potting medium and generous amounts of Espoma Soil Perfector in the bottom of the new pot.
Next place the root ball into the container carefully, taking care not to break it apart. This is an example of where we do not tease or separate the roots during repotting. Bismarkia nobilis are known for setbacks after repotting because of root disturbance.
Fill the sides with the new soil pushing down the side firmly leaving no air space. Do not cover the top of the existing root mass with soil and please leave several inches from the top of the pot to the soil line for easier watering. Next, water the repotted palm and do this at least three times in a row to ensure the water has wet the entire root mass. If soil has settled, fill with the open spaces with additional soil and water again. It could be a big plus if you watered with Espoma BioTone at this point. Remember, you should see the water draining easily from the pot. If you like you can cover the soil with a top dressing of decorative bark.
When making the move outdoors it is important to go to shade first and then to sun which takes about three weeks transition time. Start in early April when light and temperatures are more moderate. Move back indoors September – October. Don’t forget to spray off the foliage and soap spray before returning the plant to the home.
The following palms are some of the easiest to grow and move indoors to outdoors.
Palms for Sunny Spots
Windmill Palm, Trachycarpus fortune. The trunks are covered with brown-black fibers that appear as hair from a distance, and with age turn gray, old trees lose the fibers to and have a single stem trunk. The fronds are 2 feet long and 2 feet wide and have a bright green color. It is a slow grower. This palm requires sun indoors and out. Windmill Palm is a cold-tolerant palm and has been reported to survive in the city of St. Louis, Zone 6 if planted in the ground in spring and if very specific wintering conditions are met.
Bismarkia Palm, Bismarkia noblis. Bismarkia sports silver-blue fan-shaped leaves, develops a single stem and is very striking. It needs lots of space as the leaf spread can reach 6-8 feet easily. It grows a little quicker than some fan type palms. Requires sun indoors and out. We are talking a big south window with this palm. Bismarkia is very fussy about repotting. This palm tolerates lower temperatures right above freezing and so it can be enjoyed out on the patio into October.
Pygmy Date Palm, Phoenix roebelenii. A feathery palm, developing multi stems, and has the Las Vegas Look. Leaves are dark green on top and lighter almost silvery below. This palm is a slow grower. Requires Sun indoors or out. This plant is fussy about repotting and enjoys good humidity indoors. This palm tolerates lower temperatures right above freezing and so it can be enjoyed out on the patio into October.
Queen Palm, Syagrus romanzoffiana. Very fluffy, full leaves develop with maturity and it is a single stem palm. Requires sun indoors or out. This plants height will be determined by the size of the pot. Repot carefully each year to help gain height of 15-20’ can be attained. This is assuming you have vaulted ceilings! No cutting this palm back! This palm tolerates lower temperatures right above freezing and so it can be enjoyed out on the patio into October.
Palms for Shady Spots
Bamboo Palm, Chamaedorea seifrizii, This palm displays a bamboo look in the pot. Slowly it will drop lower foliage and display bamboo type stems. This palm is multi stemmed. Bamboo Palms require shade outdoors and part sun indoors. Keep misted when indoors and well watered at all times. I have seen this palm get 6- 8’ easily.
Lady Palm, Syagrus romanzoffiana. This is a rich-looking palm, just a perfect palm for dressing up the formal rooms of a home. This is a multi-stemmed palm. Lady palms require shade outdoors and part sun indoors. This is a pricy palm and you often find it sold in 10” pots at garden centers. This plant is bushy slowly attaining 5-6’. This plant enjoys frequent leaching of the soil to prevent leaf burn. Caution with the plant food.
Fishtail Palm, Caryota mitis. The Fishtail palm gets its name from the appearance of its jagged, chopped edged fronds. The Fishtail palm looks great in contemporary rooms. It is a multi-stemmed palm with a vertical habit. Provide shade outdoors and part sun indoors. Protect the foliage from dying winds outdoors. This palm enjoys frequent watering and fertilizing and heat and humidity. Caution, blooming fronds will expire and need removal. Seeds produced should be removed using gloves to avoid itching.
An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms, Riffle and Craft
Betrock’s Guide to Landscape Palms, Alan Merow
Palms won’t Grow Here and other Myths, David Francko
Ellen Barredo is a Missouri Certified Nursery Professional with more than 30 years in professional horticulture. She works at Bowood Farms and can be reached at (314) 454-6868.