Are palms worth the effort?

Palms have definitely lost a lot of their popularity here in north Queensland. And no doubt some people have skipped this article simply because it has the word, “Palm” in it. It’s no surprise either because I’ve spoken to a lot of clients who say they will never plant another palm in their garden again. And that’s a pity because they are actually very attractive and tough plants. In my opinion the demise of palm popularity can be attributed to two main factors.

The first being the Golden Cane Palm. This exotic palm is extremely easy to grow and has thus become a very common garden plant. The big problem is that it sheds a lot of fronds from its multiple trunks. And unless it’s tidied up regularly it ends up looking sick because there are dead fronds stuck between the live ones.

The second is, that because palms were extremely popular in the past, people planted too many of them in their gardens. Subsequently there were a lot of palm fronds falling down, making a mess and a whole lot of work. The problem is that palms don’t drop little leaves like trees do. Instead they drop whopping great big fronds which most people don’t know what to do with.

My advice regarding palms is quite simple. Avoid messy palms such as the exotic Golden Cane Palm and stick to neat single trunked and preferably native species. And only plant a few. That way cleaning up their fallen fronds be comes more of a rare occurrence rather than a regular weekend chore. If you’re wondering what to do with the fallen fronds, just cut them up with secateurs and use them as mulch. As long as you don’t have too many, it takes very little effort to do.

In my garden I have only a handful of palms and all are native. Of these I have a couple of favourites including the Black Palm (Normanbya normanbyi) which in my opinion looks like a more elegant version of the commonly grown Foxtail Palm. For a moist shaded area the local Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi) would be the pick of the bunch. It’s a magnificent palm often seen along costal rainforest tracks, and because it is relatively slow growing you’ll hardly even notice it when an old frond dies. If you’re property is a little on the dry side, the Ribbon Fan Palm (Livistonia decipiens) is a good and somewhat faster growing alternative. Sure, that means more fronds to tidy up, but to be honest, I’d rather spend ten minutes a year tidying up my single Ribbon Fan Palm, than not having it.

Palms are beautiful and elegant plants that give tropical gardens that distinc tively tropical look that can’t be achieved with any other plants. I believe that little bit of work is definitely worth it.

Marcus Achatz
Yuruga Nursery

(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, June 2009)