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Outdoor Palms

Outdoor Palms

If a palm is potted in a large container there is flexibility about its position as it can be moved around if the initial position proves not suitable. If you want to plant a palm out in the garden it is best to grow it initially in a container and bring it undercover, ideally into a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory during winter until well-rooted in at least a five-litre pot.

If it is planted in the ground then you need to select a bright position ideally sheltered from strong winds. This is important especially for palms with large fan-shaped leaves which can be damaged by the wind. Some palms can be grown in shaded positions but they tend to grow long leaf stems that can break easier.

Palms will do better in warmer regions but there are few species that are very tolerant of cold, so you need to choose the species very carefully depending on the local conditions. In areas, with cold winters you will need some winter protection but as plants grow older and bigger they will become more tolerant of cold winters.

It is advisable not to use plastic foil or bubble wrap to protect the top of the palm as these are not breathable materials and the accumulating transpiration in combination with the cold will provide ideal conditions for rot.

Palms in containers will also need to be protected in cold winters, either to be brought in a greenhouse or protected with special wrapping. The container also needs to be covered to protect the roots from cold damage.

Palms require plenty of light but some species are tolerant of shady conditions so you need to carefully select the palm depending on the conditions in your garden. You will also need to consider the ultimate height of the plant. Palms should not be pruned as they only have one growing point.

Most palms are dormant during winter and they will not need much extra watering. However, they will need regular watering during the growing season, especially if they are in containers to prevent drying out and ensure good healthy growth.

It is a good idea to make a rim of soil around the palm with a diameter of 70-80 cm which will trap water and funnel it to the roots.

It is best to use a fertiliser specifically formulated for palms such as Palm Focus at the recommended rate, with every other watering. For best results use in conjunction with Root Ultra, a root promoter. Root Ultra is especially recommended for newly planted or replanted trees as it helps the plant to produce a stronger, healthier and vigorous root system so the plant is better able to resist winter cold.

Palms are best planted in the spring so they have time to get established ahead of the winter. A summer planting in warmer areas can be good too. Apart from a sunny and sheltered position you also need to examine the soil. It is important that it drains well as waterlogged soil will lead to problems with the plant and very slow growth. If the soil has high clay content it is advisable to mix in sand, grit and maybe some fibrous organic material. It is sandy some organic material will help with growth but you will also need to make sure that you feed the plant regularly as sandy soils do not hold nutrients well.

You will need to dig a hole significantly bigger than the root-ball, and ideally give a good soak before planting, then fill the hole around the plant with a free-draining mix and water thoroughly.

Using Palm Focus and especially Root Ultra in the first few waterings will help the plant get established quicker and better as they encourage a vigorous and healthy root system. 

Do not use plastic foil or bubble wrap to protect the top of your plan, it is essential that the plant breathes well. If you cover it up with foil it will simply suffocate and rot.

Protecting your palm in cold weather - if the temperature is going to drop below the level at which you should start protecting your palm, you should act as follows:

First wrap the leaf crown with garden fleece, if necessary twice, then wrap the trunk with bamboo mats. Tape the fleece overhang to the bamboo mats. Finally, cover the ground to about 50cm around the trunk with a generous mulch. Do not overprotect!

Once a cold snap has passed, unwrap the palm as appropriate and let it breathe.

Spear Rot

The most vulnerable and sensitive part of the palm is its growing point in the middle of the foliage (the spear). If this appears rotten it could be due to the following:

Fertilizer burn - If you apply powder fertilizer, make sure it is applied to the ground around the plant and not on the plant itself.

Mould or bacterial infection - This does not usually occur in a healthy plant and can be treated with a fungicide. Follow the instructions as per the label.

Cold and damp - If the plant becomes wet and then cold the expanding ice will damage the cells. Test the spear of the palm in the spring and if it is loose remove it alongside any dead leaves to prevent the rot spreading.

Leaf browning

This can be due to warm temperatures especially shortly after a cold winter. It is an indication that the plant is not at the best of health. Look after the plant better with regular watering and feeding and maybe use Root Ultra as an extra boost.

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