In the Garden | Palm trees

At the beginning of the last century, the Canary Island date palm was a popular street tree in Sydney and Melbourne.

It is one of the few palm able to withstand cold dry conditions as well as frost in its mature years.

Two of finest trees in Canberra, thought to have been planted by Mrs George Campbell, can be seen growing by Duntroon House.

While the Canary Island palm is far too large for today’s suburban gardens, there are other more suitable plants, such as the Californian fan palm or cotton palm (from the white filaments that protrude from the leaflets). Unfortunately it has a prickly stem so is best planted away from any line of traffic.

The Bangalow palm is cold tolerant and readily propagated by seed. It looks good planted in groups or grown as a verandah tub rather than indoor, for it has a high light requirement.

COLD TOLERANT: While most suburban gardens can't accommodate the Canary Island palms popular a century ago, alternatives like the Bangalow palm provide a tropical look planted in groups.

COLD TOLERANT: While most suburban gardens can't accommodate the Canary Island palms popular a century ago, alternatives like the Bangalow palm provide a tropical look planted in groups.

The Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is one of the cold hardiest of all, surviving frost and snow yet equally tolerant of conditions indoors. Slow growing and decorative in a large tub this is a palm that will benefit from regular spells outdoors helping  to encourage new growth.

As the palm trunk begins to grow and new foliage appears on top it acquires a covering of dark brown fibre which can readily stripped away to make a useful liner for hanging baskets. Outdoors, the plant needs a  sunny position in well-drained soil.

One of the most attractive and popular of all dwarf palms is the multistemmed lady palm (Rhapis excelsa), arguably unsurpassed as a container plant. Because the Lady Palm is so slow growing, large plants are expensive to buy. 

Even though it is frost hardy and will tolerate considerable exposure to sunlight, it deserves a great deal of care with regular supplies of food and water and a semi-protected place where the foliage receives only dappled or partial sunlight during the day.

Slow-growing tubbed palms can stay in the same container for many years with little more than the annual removal of some of the growing mix and replacement with fresh. Slow release fertiliser is the recommended plant food.

Before you purchase a potted palm, especially one for indoor decoration (Arecastrum romanzoffianum), check the overall health and query the reason for any obvious blemishes.

Check leaf joints in particular, where mealy bug – a fluffy white coated sap sucking insect – hides away and causes considerable damage. While small infestations may be controlled by dabbing with methylated spirits, the careful application of a systematic spray (used outdoors not inside) will be required on large plants.

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