Planting guide for Tropical Plants and Palms
- Choosing the right palm for you.
Palms and tropical plants come is a stunning array of shapes, colours, heights, and styles, but not all positions in your garden will suit every variety. Most tropical plants (particularly palms) prefer well-draining soils with some moisture and plenty of light. It is important therefore take some time and consider the following questions about your garden;
- What degree of sun and shade does it get?
- Is it morning or afternoon sun?
- How good is the drainage?
- How much and from what direction does wind impact the area?
- What are the maximum or minimum heights I require?
- How much space is there for the plant to grow?
- Will frosts impact the area and to what level?
Understanding how the answers to these questions will influence what is suitable to plant is very important, and that’s where we come in. The team at The Palm Place Nursery has over a 100 years of combined experience in palms and tropical plants. We consider ourselves to be a bank of knowledge that can help guide in any question or consideration you have ensuring that you end up with the best result.
Before digging we recommend you take some time to consider the aesthetics that you desire. Take all the plants that you are installing in your garden whist they are still in their pots and move them around until you are happy with how the garden will look. Again Palm Place is more than happy to help you to get the right qualities for your garden.
With most plants and all palms you need to dig a hole a little wider and a little deeper than the root ball of the plant you are putting in it. This extra space will allow the plant’s roots to grow into this space and it will also help with drainage, however it should not have too much room as it may become loose or may even fall over.
We recommend as a general rule digging a hole that is approximately 15-20cm wider and deeper than the pot of the plant. For small pots (under 25cm) the hole can be a little thinner and for large pots (over 50cm) the hole can be a little wider (please ask our staff for more guidance).
Once you have your hole you now need to again consider the drainage of the area and the condition of the soil in the area. Perform a drainage test; fill the holes with water and see how well it drains away. As a rule if it drains within an hour or two, you have excellent drainage. If it drains within 12 hours, you have acceptable drainage. If it hasn’t drained after 24 hours, you have a drainage problem, and you probably shouldn’t plant at that location without fixing it first. (Note that when performing a test like this it is important to be aware of the environment and condition of the soil beforehand. Obviously arid and dry soil will drain much quicker than normal and soaking wet soils will drain much slower. A drain test should be performed at a time when the moisture of the soil is approximately normal; i.e. not after heavy rain or prolonged dry spells).
Now that you are ready to plant the first task is to fill the bottom of your hole with some free draining material such as sand or scoria to increase the drainage and raise the plant up. You need to add just enough of this material that when you install your plant the existing soil will be at the same level of the top of the hole. (If the plant already has some exposed roots you need to plant a little deeper to bury these roots) It is important not to plant too shallow as this will expose the roots to harsh UV and can mean the plant may come loose, and it is equally important not to plant too deep as this may lead to the trunk rotting or a disease attacking the plant.
Palm and tropical plants do not need to have their roots loosened before planting and therefore when removing the plant out of the bag or pot you should be careful to maintain as much soil as possible in the established root ball.
Before putting the plant in the hole consider the orientation of how you want to plant it; is there a particular direction or alignment that you want it in? Ease the plant into the hole taking care not to damage the roots or the trunk. Once in the hole take some time to straighten the plant up and ensure that you don’t plant it on an angle.
When back filling the soil around the plant you need to use a free draining soil type or garden mix such as a sandy loam soil (do not use warm or fresh compost or manure mixes as these will burn the roots). Don’t fill in all soil at once; take your time putting down a layer at a time and compacted the soil as you go (use some water as you do this). Once you have back filled all the way to the top compact as much as possible without damaging the roots or trunk.
Freshly planted palms and plants do not have the established root system (taproots) to support themselves particularly in high winds. It is therefore imperative to ensure that you stabilise the plant with garden stakes until a time where the plant can support its self (approx. 12-18 months). To do this simply drive in 3 stakes in on a slight outward angle equidistant around the plant and secure the plant to these stakes with tree ties or hessian strips (for large palms you may need to use timber for bracing).
Soak the soil around the palm or plant to ensure the soil is compact and to minimise any air pockets around the roots. We highly recommend that you mulch around the plant to hold moisture in the area and to ensure the soil maintains a high level of nutrients. Avoid placing any rocks around the base of the plant, particularly palms, as these will heat up in the sun can cause significant damage the trunk and/or foliage of the plant. Additionally rocks can bake the soil around plants which causes the roots to dry and wither.
Finally ongoing watering particularly in hotter months is extremely important. We cannot recommend a watering system enough in our climate. As stated above; palms and all tropical plants prefer well-draining but moist soils. To achieve this it is best to maximise drainage by following the steps above and to ensure the plants get frequent water in small doses. It is not appropriate to dump large quantities of water onto a palm or tropical plant and/or not water for a prolonged period of time. Think about the drainage test you performed before watering; how much water was needed to fill the hole? How long did the water remain there? A watering system with a timer allows you to balance the amount of water the plant receives so it stays in that sweet spot. For example you can set it to water 2 or 3 times a day in small 2-3 minute increments that ensures the plant as access to moist soils throughout the day but does not become water logged by overwatering. Water timers can also be adjusted or turned off over the changing seasons or readjusted once the palms and plants are established (1-2 years).