Planted Palms

Macon, Georgia (zone 8a)


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Fortunei

Planted August 1, 2006

My first palm, this trachy was purchased from a local nursery, and to my untrained eyes it looked to be in good shape. It was growing in a seven gallon pot, and it had about six inches of clear trunk. The tallest frond reached about three feet above the soil when planted. It gets full sun in my garden (probably too much for ideal trachy growth), and it's relatively exposed (probably not good for a wind-sensitive palm like tracycarpus fortunei). I filled the planter with a combination of sand, local sandy-clay soil, wood-chip mulch, and humus. I also added some lime and magnesium, because our soil tends to be rather acidic and because palms like a constant supply of magnesium. I probably over-amended the soil, but I wanted to make sure that this palm was very happy. So far, it seems to be.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Butia Capitata (Shady)

Planted September 11, 2006

This palm was rescued from a local orange box, and it was not in good shape when I found it. Its fronds had been beaten up pretty badly, its pot was full of weeds, and it looked like it had been underwatered. It was growing in a seven gallon pot, and its tallest frond reached about four and a half feet above the soil when planted. This palm is rather green, for a butia, and its fronds are somewhat less recurved than most butias I've seen. In this location it gets full sun for about five hours a day during the growing season. Because this planter was the shallowest of the ones I had built so far, I dug a drain hole in the ground and filled that with sand before I filled the planter, itself, with a combination of sand, local sandy-clay soil, wood-chip mulch, and humus. I also added lime, magnesium, and mycorrhizal fungi (to aid in getting the roots established before the onset of cold weather). I call this palm "Shady" because of its relatively shady location in the garden.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Livistona Chinensis (LC Left)

Planted September 16, 2006

Like the butia capitata above, this palm was rescued from a local orange box. Its label described it as a "Chinese Fan Palm," but I was convinced that it couldn't possibly be livistona chinensis becuase there seemed to be several palms coming out of the same pot, and I knew that livistona chinensis was not a suckering species. The sales assistant at the box was no help. She said it was "an indoor plant" (the standard caveat of a box employee who doesn't want to get reamed when a plant dies from exposure to the elements). When she told me this, I nearly laughed out loud because livistona chinensis grows to be a full-sized tree, and it is by no means an "indoor plant." Nevertheless, the palm was pretty, and it only cost me eight bucks, so I took it home.

Once home, I began to operate. Convinced that what I had was one palm with several suckers, I tried to remove the suckers from the mother plant. This task proved to be extremely difficult. In fact, after trying for over an hour to remove a sucker carefully, I threw caution to the wind and decided to pull out the big guns. I took a foot-long serrated knife and literally sawed the root ball into four, roughly-equal parts with each part having at least two "suckers" in it. I potted up the four segments in separate, three gallon pots and began studying the plant so that I could definitively identify it. It was only after several days of thorough inspection and research that I was forced to conclude that this plant was, in fact, exactly what its label said it was. It then occurred to me that some bozo at the supplier's nursery must have thought it would be a good idea to throw about twenty seeds into a pot and very quickly create a nice, little "house plant." What I had purchased, I realized, was many baby palms, all root-tangled and growing together.

Surprisingly enough, most of them have survived. Pictured to the left is one quarter of my original pot, planted in heavily-amended clay soil. I added mycorrhizal fungi to the mix to help get the palms' roots established before the onset of cold weather. "LC Left" seems quite happy in this location where it gets full sun for about six hours a day during the growing season. I call this one "LC Left" to distinguish it from the quarter I planted to its right along the back wall of the garden.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Livistona Chinensis (LC Right)

Planted September 16, 2006

To understand the history of this palm, please see the entry for Livistona Chinensis (LC Left) above. Whereas, "LC Left" initially looked to be only two, somewhat puny palms when planted, "LC Right" was more robust, and looked to be three palms, one of which was already showing some trunk. "LC Right" had a leaf sticking well over the wall when it was first planted, whereas "LC Left" was just barely peeking over the top at that point. Both are in the same planter along with washingtonia robusta (or filibusta), a frond of which is obscuring parts of "LC Right" in the very first picture I took of it. "LC Right" is in a slightly sunnier location than "LC Left." Both grew quickly immediately after planting. They seem quite happy.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Washingtonia Robusta (or filibusta)

Planted September 16, 2006

This palm was in a fifteen gallon pot at my favorite local nursery when I decided in July of 2006 to purchase my trachycarpus fortunei instead. I admit that I looked this palm over very carefully before I decided against buying it. My nurseryman said it was a washingtonia, but I couldn't tell if it was filifera or robusta, and for my first palm, I didn't want to take a risk on a tree that might not be cold-hardy.

Once I had trachycarpus fortunei in the ground, however, I couldn't resist the allure of a washingtonia with over two feet of clear trunk for only fifty dollars (a low price in Middle Georgia). Washingtonias, after all, are rather rare here, and I was willing to take a risk once I had at least one palm in the ground that I was pretty sure would survive. This washingtonia robusta (or filibusta) is in the wall planter with LC left and LC right (listed above). I call this planter my "risk box." Both species are marginal in zone 8a. Truth be told, livistona chinensis is, principally, untried here, and what washingtonias there are in this area tend to act like perennials. They sometimes lose foliage in the Winter, but they tend to roar back with a new crown the following Spring.

This palm has solid-green petioles, like a filifera, but in every other respect it resembles a robusta.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Butia Capitata (Sunny)

Planted September 25, 2006

Like Butia Capitata (Shady), above, this palm was rescued from a local orange box, and it was also in pretty bad shape when I purchased it. It was smaller than its cousin, with its tallest frond reaching only about three and a half feet above the soil. My oldest daughter chose this one, and she was adamant about it. Nothing I said about the virtues of any of the other available specimens had the slightest impact on her. In retrospect, I am glad she chose as she did because "Sunny" is somewhat bluer than its cousin, and its fronds are more naturally recurving.

Sunny got a prime location in the garden. Its planter is the deepest, giving it the best drainage, and its position gets almost continual, full sun for most of the year. I filled this planter with a combination of local sandy-clay soil, wood-chip mulch, and humus while also adding both lime and mycorrhizal fungi.

I realize that September 25th is far too late to be planting a palm since palms need some time for their roots to get established before the onset of cold weather, but it just couldn't be helped. This tree was, simply, too big to winter inside my house, and my wife and I didn't finish building this palm's planter until September 24. It then took over half a day to fill the planter and amend the soil. We got it in the ground as quickly as we could.


Potted Palms & Seedlings


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Sabal Palmetto (Poplar 1 & 2)

Potted August 2006

These straps were dug out from under one of the large Sabal Palmettos growing in front of the Old Masonic Lodge on Poplar Street in downtown Macon, Georgia.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Livistona Chinensis (Multiple, Potted)

Potted August 2006

This was the biggest and most robust quarter that resulted from the plant surgery described above under Livistona Chinensis (LC Left). There must be five or six separate plants living together in this pot, but they all seem very happy. Many of them are shooting out new leaves. Until these palms get planted, somewhere, this group will overwinter indoors. That little pot doesn't provide much protection from the cold.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Livistona Chinensis (Single, Potted)

Potted August 2006

This was the smallest quarter that resulted from the plant surgery described above. One of the two plants in this pot died and was removed, but the surviving palm is hanging tough. I will continue to baby this one for a while.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Butia Capitata (S. O'Hara)

Potted August 2006

This strap was dug out from under a very green, fruiting butia on South O'Hara Drive in Macon, Georgia. Butias seem to love the sandy soil of South Macon, but this plant doesn't seem to love me. It has remained dormant since I got it. It's not obviously dying, but it's not obviously growing, either.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Sabal Palmetto (Fort Valley, Georgia)

Potted September 2006

This baby palm had only two true leaves when I dug it out of the rocks that support the train tracks running through downtown Fort Valley, Georgia, where sabal palmetto is so plentiful that it's treated like a weed. This one had been run over with a lawnmower once or twice before I rescued it.

Here's a bit of local palm lore passed on to me by Tom McClendon of St. Mary's, Georgia, regarding the Sabals growing in Fort Valley. Tom posted the following on the Hardy Palm & Subtropical Board:

If you ever get a chance, shoot on down to Fort Valley and take a few photos of the old Sabals there downtown near the old railroad depot. Although there have been a number of new palms planted recently, Bill Manley told me years ago that nearly all of the older palms have their origin in one palm that was transplanted from Tybee Island by a railroad conductor back in the early '20s. That palm, and many of its offspring, are still there.

As soon as I could manage it, I took a trip down to Fort Valley to see the palms. There's no way to be sure, of course, but it is possible, if not likely, that the little palm pictured here is a direct descendant of the historic palm described by Tom, above. I'm happy to have it, and I hope I can find it a nice place to thrive.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Latisectus (Yellow)

Potted September 2006

I bought this seedling from Jim Rodgers at Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia. Jim said he got the seed from Rare Palm Seeds. It germinated in July of 2006. I hope I don't manage to kill it. I'm looking forward to seeing a trachy with a bare trunk.

This palm is named "Yellow" only because I put a yellow sticker on it to distinguish it from the other T. Latisectus seedling I purchased at the same time. That one is named "Blue" (shown below).


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Latisectus (Blue)

Potted September 2006

As with Trachycarpus Latisectus (Yellow), above, this seedling was purchased from Jim Rodgers at Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia, and it germinated in July of 2006.

This palm is named "Blue" for the blue sticker that distinguishes it from T. Latisectus (Yellow).


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Oreophilus (Yellow)

Potted September 2006

As with both trachycarpus latisectus above, this seedling was purchased from Jim Rodgers at Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia, and it germinated in July of 2006. Jim said he purchased the seed from Rare Palm Seeds.

This palm is named "Yellow" only because I put a yellow sticker on it to distinguish it from the other T. Oreophilus seedling I purchased at the same time. That one is named "Blue" (shown below).


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Oreophilus (Blue)

Potted September 2006

As with Trachycarpus Oreophilus (Yellow), above, this seedling was purchased from Jim Rodgers at Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia, and it germinated in July of 2006.

This palm is named "Blue" for the blue sticker that distinguishes it from T. Oreophilus (Yellow).


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Latisectus (Green)

Potted October 2006

Another seedling from Nearly Native Nursery, I bought this one (and the three that follow) just in case these species are dioecious. I may need several of these species planted nearby in order to get viable seed.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Latisectus (Red)

Potted October 2006

The seed fell off of this one before I potted it. Its chances of survival are probably not good.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Oreophilus (Green)

Potted October 2006

Another seedling from NNN.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Trachycarpus Oreophilus (Red)

Potted October 2006

Yet another from NNN.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Sabal Minor var. Louisianna

Potted October 2006

Let's see how many years it takes a Sabal Minor to form an above-ground trunk.


Click on the image to see the growth progression of this palm.
Mystery Palm

Potted October 2006

Jim Rodgers at Nearly Native Nursery gave me this palm when I visited in early October, 2006. He is not sure which seed ended up in this pot. The following are possible: T. Latisectus, T. Martianus (Khasia Hills), T. Martianus (Nepal form), T. Oreophilus, T. Fortunei (Naga Hills), T. Wagnerianus, Trithrinax Brasiliensis, Trithrinax Campestris, any of several Coccothrinax, Sabal Bermudiana, Sabal Causiarum, Sabal Mauritiiformis, or Sabal Texana (Mexicana). It shold be fun to grow it and see what I've got. A "Waggie" would be nice.


My Case of Palm Fever: A Journey of Rediscovery

Bear with me, palm enthusiasts. It takes a while to get to the palms in this story, but I hope you will find your patience rewarded in due course.

You see, my paternal grandmother was a bit of a gardener. A proud member of the Federated Garden Clubs of Macon, she grew a vast array of beautiful plants at her home on Forest Hill Road. Some time in the 1950s, after her son married my mother, this green-thumbed lady grafted a camellia onto some rootstock at the home of my maternal grandparents to symbolize, I presume, the union of the two families. The camellia that then grew and lived in that spot for over fifty years was named “Beth” in honor of my parents’ first child.

“Beth,” the camellia, was already a big shrub when I was born. It was always a part of my life, and I have very fond memories of the beautiful, fragrant bush that greeted me every time I visited my maternal grandparents (who never moved from that house). I left Macon to go to college. I moved to Atlanta to get my undergraduate degree; then I moved to Ohio and Texas pursuing an advanced degree and professional employment, but I always felt that, for better or for worse, Macon was my home. Around the year 2000, I began feeling the urge to return to Macon, and in 2003 I managed to do it. I abandoned my academic career and enrolled at the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University, from which my maternal grandfather, two uncles, and a cousin had graduated. I bought a house near the school in downtown Macon, and I began studying law … a lot.

Meanwhile, my maternal grandmother was not doing well. She passed away during the first semester of my first year of law school. I knew that it would not be long thereafter before the old, family house would be sold, and then “Beth” would belong to complete strangers. I was determined to ensure that “Beth” would remain in the family, but not being a gardener at all, I had no clue how to transplant or clone a camellia. I decided to try to grow "Beth" from a cutting. At this I failed miserably. My first cutting died. So did my second, my third, my fourth, my fifth, and my sixth. Frustrated by my continual failure, I decided to get aggressive. I dug up a shoot that was growing off of a subterranean root. I made sure to get a good bit of the root and a good bit of the native soil around it. This strategy worked. “Baby Beth” survived in a pot on the patio. I intended to plant her, of course, but I couldn’t find a good place in the yard. Plus, the yard needed a lot of work before I could even begin to think about an appropriate place to plant this historic, family shrub. Our house was a new construction, and our back yard had received no landscaping attention whatsoever. It was a thicket of weeds and unwanted shrubs that had grown up in the many years since people had actually lived on the property. Needless to say, much had to be done before we could begin plotting our garden paradise.

It wasn’t until the Winter of 2005 that my wife and I were in a position to make a decision about where to put Baby Beth, and knowing that camellias are shade-loving shrubs, we decided to construct a planter for her in a shady area of the back yard on the north side of our house. Having finally made this momentous decision, we began constructing a circular, brick planter in the Spring of 2006. (For more on our construction projects see The Garden.) Between school, working for a local law firm, and studying for the bar exam, work on the planter was slow. In fact, we only managed to pour the planter’s concrete foundation and lay a couple courses of bricks before I began devoting all my energy to studying for the bar. The planter was put on hold.

Only after I took the bar exam in July of 2006 were we actually able to complete the project. By this time we could see that we had a serious problem. We had decided on the location of Baby Beth’s planter, you will recall, in the winter when the sun was relatively low in the southern sky. In the winter, the planter is in a shady spot. In the summer, we discovered, the location we had chosen was not so shady after all. In fact, the planter gets full sun for most of the day during the summer. It was clear that Baby Beth could not be planted where we had originally intended.

We began considering other places in the yard for Baby Beth, but now we had another problem. We had a perfectly good brick planter and nothing to grow in it. I did a fair amount of research on various plants, but my wife and I could not settle on something we really wanted. We went back and forth considering our options. Nothing, it seemed, was quite good enough for our planter.

Then it hit me. The perfect plant for a full-sun planter is a palm tree. Generally speaking, palm trees like full sun and good drainage, both of which our planter provides. Besides which, my wife and I thought, palm trees are chic and slightly unusual in a town full of cherry blossoms and magnolias. We were quickly sold on the idea.

We then researched and debated the kind of palm we wanted to plant, and through this process we learned a lot about the palm family, arecaceae. We considered Rhapidophyllum Hystrix, Butia Capitata, and Washingtonia Robusta, mainly because these species were available at our favorite nursery, but we finally decided on Trachycarpus Fortunei because we wanted a palm with a trunk (so that our planter could also serve as a circular bench), and because we were worried about the long-term survivability of any cold-sensitive plant in our planter. Trachycarpus Fortunei, we discovered, was the most cold-hardy trunking palm that we could readily purchase, so that’s what we got. We planted it, and we fell completely in love with it.

That, however, is not the end of the story. We still needed a place to put Baby Beth. We began drafting the plans (in the summer this time) for another planter in a place we were certain would be shady year-round, but, while we were at it, we also decided to construct a brick wall along the back of our property. We had always intended to enclose the back yard with a latticed, brick wall in the traditional, Macon style, but that project was simply too colossal to tackle immediately upon moving into the new house back in 2003. Besides which, we knew nothing about laying brick at that time. Over the course of my three years of law school, we learned how to lay brick the hard way--by first constructing a brick patio, and then a brick parking pad, followed by a brick retaining wall, a brick storage box and table, and, most recently, a brick planter. By the Summer of 2006, I was confident that we could build a brick wall. I do not blame my wife for her reservations about our abilities, for it was, indeed, a mammoth undertaking I had proposed.

Despite her reservations, we began construction on the Baby Beth planter and the wall in August of 2006, but our new plan called for more than just one planter. In fact, we plotted out four planters to be attached to our wall--one for Baby Beth and three more for various palm trees. By this time I had contracted a full-blown case of palm fever. Our palm looked so good in its planter that I simply had to have another, and another, and another. The patio quickly became crowded with palms I intended to plant.

Moreover, it became clear to me that palms are and always have been an integral part of my home town of Macon, much more so than the Yoshino Cherry Blossom trees we Maconites now celebrate on a yearly basis. It was at this time in my life that I rediscovered my home through its palms. I rediscovered the Sabal Palmetto planted on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church, the same beautiful, gothic church I attended regularly in my youth and of which I remain a member. I rediscovered the Butia Capitatas planted on Brittany Drive, the street on which my maternal grandparents lived for so many years and that was home to the original “Beth” camellia. I rediscovered the old Sabal Palmettos on Poplar Street across from City Hall. I rediscovered the Butia Capitatas on South O’Hara Drive that are within a couple of blocks of my childhood home. I remembered living around these palms and playing in the Rocky Creek Swamp where I also rediscovered Sabal Minor.

Macon, I learned, is a city that is chock full of palms. (For more on that subject see my Palms of Macon page.) Macon's serious gardeners know that palms will grow here. What many of them seem not to know, however, is that palms are actually native to this area, whereas camellias, boxwoods, cherry blossoms, and kudzu are not. Some otherwise knowledgeable people act like it's somehow unnatural to grow palms in Middle Georgia. These skeptics could not be more wrong. In fact, Sabal Minor and Rhapidophyllum Hystrix both grow wild within the city limits of Macon, and there are at least three other species of palm that are completely hardy here: Sabal Palmetto, Butia Capitata, and, of course, Trachycarpus Fortunei. Other palm species might also prove to be safe bets in this area if only they were given a chance.

After having lived in other parts the country, I am noticing, as if for the first time, that Macon actually has palms. What's more, these trees are beautiful. I find Sabal Minor a particularly endearing palm because, like me, it is a Macon native, for better or for worse. It is a tough, short survivor that hides its trunk underground but that grows, slowly and surely, making the world a more beautiful place in the process. Sabal Minor seems to me a more fitting symbol of the City of Macon than some Japanese Prunus (I refer to Prunus x Yedoensis, specifically). Needless to say, I am seriously considering ripping out the Cherry Blossom Trees in my front yard and planting palms there, instead.

Finally, there is one more item I should mention before concluding my palm story. I recently noticed that the new owners of my maternal grandparents' homestead have uprooted and, presumably, destroyed the original "Beth" camellia. I am now very glad that I went to such lengths to preserve her. This has been an amazing journey of rediscovery for me. I am reminded of how shadows of the past shape the present and how much I am a product of seemingly inconsequential events that transpired long ago.

Alan Taylor
October 1, 2006


       

Copyright 2006 - Alan Taylor - All rights reserved.