Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
August, 2007
Regional Report

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This sago palm started from seed six years ago isn't imposing yet, but it will be.

Palm Cares

Sago palms, which are technically cycads, are landscape standards everywhere from stately homes to the newest developments. But a great group of real palms await your consideration. The coastal and tropics regions are known for palms, and every garden can host the varieties that won't dwarf the house nor lose fronds in a rough winter.

Popular palms hardy into the 20s include short and tall sorts, but each offers strong style. Sagos (Cycas revoluta) slowly achieve 10-foot trunks, saw palmettos (Seronoa repens) are a bit shorter at 8 feet. Perhaps the most popular lately has been European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), noted for dramatic clumping form about 15 feet tall. Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), also called chusan palm or just windmill palm, usually tops out at 20 feet in the average garden setting, creating an instant focal point.

Growing Notes
For all but the bog-tolerant sabals, this group of palms thrives in well-drained soils of any sort. The sandy soils of our regions can shed water quickly, so drought tolerance is important in palm choices. Both fan palms are nearly carefree once established. Collect palm seed if you are young and patient, as the wait for simple sprouting can be up to a year. Or spend the money for garden-ready specimens and plant while soils are warm.

Fertilizing palms is a necessity, yet few agree on what and when. Read the labels until you find a slow-release formula with micronutrients that lists the major elements (N-P-K) in a 3:1:3 ratio. Even in the tropics, fertilizing three times a year with such a formula is plenty. Overfeeding palms can shock and even kill them, but no fertilizer at all for a young plant is slow starvation.

Placing Palms
To flaunt your tropical style on a smaller scale, plant mature cabbage palms for their strong upright trunk and pompom of fronds on top. For a more Oriental look, grow the fan palms and remove the lower fronds from the taller of the trunks. To accent a doorway or pool area entrance, windmill palms or sagos deliver palm power to intimate settings.

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