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What is it about palm trees that give so much pleasure? Is it because they evoke a hoiday mood? And are they hardy in the UK? Here is a selection of four hardy palms for UK gardens and three excellent palm varieties for indoors too. Just be aware that some palm trees are difficult to source due to plant passport requirements to help guard against pests and diseases.
Palm trees are iconic plants that signify hot weather, holidays, gentle breezes and relaxation. There's something about palm trees that needs a blue sky and yellow sun to make them look comfortable. Here in the UK there are many people who give palms some garden space, presumably in the hope that they might create some sort of tropical paradise. Some of these plants fail miserably to achieve much growth. Others die during their first tough winter. A few, however, are hardy and can grow into sizeable trees. Given the right environment, underplanting and setting, these palms can create an impressive impact, even in the depths of winter.
Some palms have fan shaped leaves. These 'windmill palms' are hardy in the UK. they are Trachycarpus fortunei and Trachycarpus wagnerianus, both having a similar appearance.
Palm trees are iconic, provided they sit comfortably within their surroundings. These architectural evergreens bring structural grandeur to their setting. Be sure to provide effective planting partners, however. You could consider strappy Phormiums, bamboos, bananas and many different ornamental grasses. A palm in isolation looks a little forlorn, but create an avenue of trees leading to a focal point and the picture is completely different.
Choose the right variety
Our hardiest palm tree species is Trachycarpus, or fan palm. There are several different varieties, but the two you are likely to see most often are Trachycarpus fortunei and Trachycarpus wagnerianus. Theres also a dwarf fan palm called Chamaerops humilis which is hardy to at least -10 degrees, or even lower in a sheltered spot. These trees have similarly-shaped foliage, appearing almost like a fan hence their common name.
Trachycarpus fortunei, also known as the chusan or Chinese windmill palm, is probably the most common and these trees can grow to 8m high, given the right location. In their more natural setting they will grow to 20m or more. The main drawback is tattiness of the foliage which tends to become rather battered by wind as the age of the plant progresses. It's a great idea to remove the damaged fronds, but once the tree reaches three metres tall it can be hard to reach the leaves!
Perhaps a better bet for long-term beauty here in the UK is Trachycarpus wagnerianus (pictured below) which is also known as the dwarf chusan palm, the miniature or dwarf windmill palm. This is a slightly smaller tree and it has the bonus of foliage which is a little stiffer and more robust than T. fortunei. Its foliage is, however, slightly smaller too so it might not provide maximum impact to the same degree.
Chamaerops humilis (pictured below) isn't completely hardy, but this Mediterranean fan palm can often survive in a sheltered garden spot. It can tolerate temperatures down to at least -10 degrees provided the ground is free-draining. A horticultural fleece covering will also help to protect the foliage during winter.
There is another hardy option available to UK gardeners, in the form of the more unusual Rhapidophyllum hystrix, which is also known as the needle palm (pictured below). This is a slow growing plant which is said to be probably the hardiest palm in the whole world. It gradually forms a neat mound of fan-shaped leaves and it loves sunshine, although it can cope with damp soils, provided they are free-draining. The main point to consider is the slow growth rate of the Rhapidophyllum hystrix. It needs a lot of patience! In UK gardens it will rarely reach more than about 1.5m high.
Palms for indoors
There are several palm trees that are not hardy in the UK and these include the highly popular Phoenix canariensis, or Canary Island date palm (pictured above). It has been awarded the coveted RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) because its feathery leaves and forgiving, robust nature make it an excellent choice for many different environments. It needs winter protection as it is hardy only down to around -8 degrees, but could be the perfect choice for an atrium situation or sun room where it will add a bit of drama.
The smaller Phoenix roebelenii, pygmy date palm (pictured above) is also highly suitable for a house plant. It grows to a height of about 3m, but will be contained indoors by the size of the pot.
Areca palms and Kentia palms
But by far the most popular palms for those wanting to deck their home or office space with a touch of the tropics are the Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens or Dypsis lutescens), and Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana).
The Areca palm has long, evergreen fronds that appear on golden stalks that arch upwards, outwards and down (pictured above). This houseplant will generally reach a height of up to 2.5m indoors, whereas in its natural outdoor setting it could easily reach 10m tall. It is generally free from pests and diseases but, in common with many house plants, its enemy is over-watering.
Its botanical name is Howea forsteriana and it's very easy to please. This has a similar, elegant form to Areca palms and easily provides the illusion of a tropical oasis. Its well suited to being grown in a container and it is one of those rare plants that doesn't mind a darker position. This palm wont much appreciate a bright conservatory but it will be happy in medium to low light.
Filtering out toxins from the air
There are so many reasons to love palm trees, not least the fact that they are good for your health too. Palms are excellent air-filtering devices that are capable of absorbing toxins from the air. These potentially harmful substances include toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene and plants such as palms help to neutralise the effects of sick building syndrome.
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