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Palm Tree Landscape Ideas

Ideas / May 22, 2012

Getting the Right Property
If you haven't yet purchased or leased your home, search out the perfect location for growing. Find the warmest area in your locality and make sure you have good sun exposure. If you're in a cold area, find property on a ridge or hill to promote cold drainage. Ask prospective neighbors if it freezes. Look for successful growth of palms in that neighborhood. Investigate water quality, soil quality and drainage as well. And finally, pick a property large enough to support your present and future palm habit. It's all too common to "run out of room" even though you want to try different new species.

high grade of soil

Before You Begin Your Garden

It is advisable to have a plan before you put in your first palm. Decide what you are trying to accomplish. Determine planting density desired, pathway location, needed retainer walls and improvements, and work areas. Dig a few holes just for the purpose of examining the quality of your soil and for checking drainage. This can be done by digging a hole about 18 inches deep. Then, rapidly fill it with water. If the water is gone within an hour or two, then you have great drainage. I'll talk about this more below. Remember, if your soil is of poor quality, import new soil or begin amending soil before planting.

If you buy large amounts of soil, research it thoroughly and purchase top quality soil blends. Affordable fill dirt will haunt your garden forever. If drainage is bad, amend your soil with sand and install leach lines where needed. If possible, install your irrigation system prior to planting. Also, create your own home nursery and gradually accumulate species that you wish to eventually plant. This also gives time for acclimation (see below).

Don't make the mistake of finishing your hardscape and then "having to buy all the plants today". Or, trusting your beloved gardener to get you anything but the most common of species. I've seen it happen hundreds of times that people want unusual and end up with depot-type store plants.

Crowding next to street parking area. Phoenix reclinata will soon overpower this area with spiny leaves where people exit a car.

Juvenile Phoenix canariensis

Triple Pygmy Date with Canary Palm in background

Garden Design
Haphazard planting gives haphazard results. Plant species in the appropriate locations. Palms are quite unique in that you can predict the plants eventual size and appearance. Also, one can get an estimate on the likely rate of growth. Usually, if you know the species you can anticipate how it will perform for you. You can predict how it will look in the chosen location in your garden. This allows you to pick the right location for each species.

As an example, a large clumping palm will obscure smaller species planted behind it. So, put smaller plants nearer the foreground. Or, the tall Caryota urens may shade out an adjacent sun loving species. The huge Phoenix canariensis planted right next to the house will most likely need removing later. A spiny species planted right next to a walkway could be dangerous. By knowing your palms and what they will be, you can avoid these problems.

A very successful plan is to plant fast growing palms to establish canopy and resulting filtered light or shade. This not only gives a more protected environment below the canopy but vastly expands the number of types of plants that can be grown below. Just plant so the shade produced is where you want it. For instance, shading out the swimming pool might not be a desirable thing. Put spiny species away from well traveled areas. Remember to plant palms far enough apart to give plenty of room for growth and viewing. Also, be willing to plant fan palms to mix with your pinnate palms as this will add eventual diversity and beauty to your garden.

Another nice thing to do is to group multiple plants of the same species together. I.e., form a clump of multiple single trunked palms. Certain species such as Archonotophoenix, Howea, and Roystonea are attractive when grouped, so consider such a planting. Also, be imaginative. Use boulders if available. Have different elevations and mound some plantings. Utilize companion plants such as cycads, ferns, Ti, Heliconia, Philodendron, etc. as these can really give a great finished look and blend nicely with the palms. You can even attach a few epiphytic orchids or Bromeliads onto your palm trunks to add color and distinction. Also, palms in a row along a sidewalk or driveway can be quite dramatic.

Assorted understory palms beneath larger species makes for a beautiful landscape effect.

Exotic garden design.

Triple King Palm

King Palms & Canary Palm, both adding overhead canopy

The Importance of a Canopy
We mentioned the desirable advantages of establishing a canopy above. Rapid growing species such as Caryota, Syagrus, and Archontophoenix will quickly grow overhead and produce resulting canopy. This is aesthetically pleasing because it gives the third dimension of height to your garden. More importantly, it gives a protected environment below that enables you to introduce many more exotic and sometimes fragile shade-loving species.

A well formed canopy may be the single most important thing you can do while creating a palm garden. The canopy results in areas below that are warmer in the winter, have less wind, hold more humidity and create a rain forest appeal. Many genera such as Geonoma, Chamaedorea, and understory Dypsis sp. cannot survive direct sun, especially at a young age. It would not be unusual to have microclimates below your established canopy that are three to six degrees centigrade higher on a cold night. However, always remember that palms will grow and your "canopy" might shade out a sun-loving species.

Foliage canopy.
(click photo to enlarge)

Caryota gigas makes a great canopy-forming plant. In San Diego these will get up to 35 feet

Customer selecting plants at the
nursery.

Selecting the Palms to Plant
Gradually accumulate the species you want for planting. Remember your canopy plants. Be adventuresome and try new species. Mix fans with pinnate palms. Try some dwarf species. Try species with different trunks, textures and color. Read about palms or ask friends who grow palms which species can be grown in your area. A good palm specialty nursery can easily provide this information. Don't over-utilize a single species or genera. Just because Queen Palms were a good buy doesn't mean that you should plant fifty of them.

canopy palm

Source: www.junglemusic.net