For some the mention of palms can take their mind off to a tropical oasis with a hammock and cocktail. For others you say the word ‘palm’ and they go to an unhappy place.  This is simply because the right palm in the right place will provide an amazing addition to your yard, but the wrong palm in the wrong spot and you will be forever picking up leaves, seeds and dealing with intrusive roots.

My Love
I always liked palms, but it wasn’t until I was going to TAFE and researching plants for assignments that I came across my first book on palms.  At that moment my love for them was set and I’ve enjoyed learning about them ever since.

Wrong choice
There seems to be one palm that causes everyone grief - the dreaded Golden Cane Palm (Dypsis lutescens, to show off my Latin).  For whatever reasons this plant was extremely popular for the home gardener years ago and people planted them in the hundreds. The trouble is, a full size Golden Cane is 7m tall x 7m wide so they will cause nothing but problems in small suburban blocks.

Palms, as with most plants, will always chase water, so if you plant one next to an agg pipe or have a pipe with a split in it, you can be sure the palm roots will get in and block it.  The larger the plant gets the further the roots will travel to supplement its water requirements, so if you only have a small area stick to a small palm.  Also keep in mind that palms have a million roots holding them to the planet, so again the bigger the palm the more roots for you to keep out of unwanted areas.

Bats and birds love a good fleshy palm seed to snack on, so from experience I can tell you not to park your car under a palm that’s in seed.  Different palms will seed different amounts and unless you are feeding the wildlife they can be a huge pain in the butt, especially the larger ones that you don’t see in the lawn.  Come the weekend, you’re mowing the lawn, daydreaming about all the things you’d rather be doing and ‘bam’ you cop a palm seed in the shin - now you’re daydreaming about all the ways of cutting the tree out.  Palms will start to seed once they are mature. For shorter palms it can be quite easy to cut them out, but for the taller ones you either have to climb up to them or just put up with them. An easy way to tell if a palm is going to produce a metric crap load of seeds is if the palms are cheap - because there is a lot of seed to grow them from and they start producing the seeds quickly.

For the average punter, it’s usually the look of the leaf that will determine whether you like the plant or not.  Broadly speaking there is two types of leaf shapes: the fan leaf (used by the aborigines for food wrapping), or feathered (like the spiky dwarf date palm leaf, which seems out to torture you if you try to cut away the old leaves).  Generally, palms will come in one of two forms self-cleaning or not.   Self-cleaning means as the leaf dies, it will fall to the ground and you can come along and pick it up off the ground.   The others will hold their leaves as they die, and they will droop down to form a skirt around the trunk, which means, if you wish to remove them you have to risk life and limb and climb up to cut them off.

Lawn feed. Yep, that’s right. As you’re fertilising your lawn (which I hope you’re doing) throw a handful around your palms because they thrive on the high nitrogen content, like the grass does.  Nitrogen promotes leaf growth and that’s all your palm is, a bunch of leaves sticking out of a trunk.  You can buy specialised palm fertiliser, if you feel like throwing around some of your hard earned, but the cheapest lawn feed will work just as well.  

Best Choices
I strongly suggest you take the time to find the right palm for your scenario. Go to a specialised palm nursery or at least talk with an expert about how the palm will look in the future.  But if you have read this and can’t wait, you just need a palm in your life now, then I have come up with a couple of lists of different palms for different situations, to give you a fix straight away.  

Small Shaded Areas:
Lady Palm Rhapis exclesa
Parlour Palm Chamaedorea

Small Sunny Areas:
Dwarf Date Palm Phoenix roebelenii

Large Feature Palms:
Bismark Palm Bismarckia nobilis Canary Island Date Palm Phoenix canariensis

Clumping Palms:
MacArthur Palm Ptychosperma macarthurii
Cascade Palm Chamaedora atrovirens

Hopefully this has been a good read and helped you out.  Feel free to contact me with any other questions you may have either through the contact page or on Facebook.

Until next time, Happy Landscaping,
Andrew Unwin

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