In a tiny garden, you might find room for a small palm – some of the bigger ones might overwhelm your space, and you would need to get the experts in to prune them, or shimmy up the trunk to do it yourself! There are quite a few under the heading of Dwarf Palms, which are an excellent and a versatile addition to a small yard or garden, but beware, some have a wide spread, which in itself may cause different problems.
Miniatures or dwarf palm trees are generally defined as being under 6m tall, which in terms of palms is really quite short. These are two types of palm tree in this category: small tree and bushy, with some growing up from a single trunk. They are excellent for small gardens because they have such small root balls, and these can be planted fairly close to your house without causing any damage to the walls or foundations.
Pygmy Date Palm - Growing these is relatively simple given suitable conditions - they are slow growing but still eventually reach a height of 3m – 3.5m. In its natural environment it has a single trunk, but in cultivation, it is usually planted with 3-5 specimens, which creates an especially attractive arrangement if you have the space. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants, and in the autumn, flowers are followed by small dates, which are mostly seeds with only a thin layer of fruit. The ‘trunk’ is covered with old leaf scars and topped with feather-like leaves that grow to about 1.2m in length. Leaves are bright green and droopy, covered with 10cm – 12cm leaflets that are modified into 5cm – 7cm sharp spines at the base. Be careful while pruning it and keep kids away.
Bottle palm - Planting a bottle palm in northern climates is not recommended, as they are not frost hardy. Southern gardeners, however, should know about bottle palm trees and make use of this unique and stunning tropical plant. They have evolved with thickened trunks - that to my mind, look like a wine bottle - topped with scaly crowns. The purpose is unclear but might have been a water storage device. Whatever the reason, the trunk makes for a standout silhouette in the garden or even as a potted plant. Caring for a bottle palm tree is low maintenance due to its slow growth and drought tolerance once established.
Sago palm – This hardy plant is actually considered a cycad, and is easy to care for, but does require bright light, although they will tolerate low-light conditions. What they will not tolerate, however, is too much moisture. Sago palms do well in well-drained soil, and it’s recommended to allow the plant to dry out some between waterings. It has a very slow growth rate, with mature specimens growing to a height of 2m, with a spread of 1.5m.
Spindle palm – An elegant- looking palm perfect for a small landscape. Spindle palms are about as tropical looking as you can have. It is an endangered plant in its natural range, but is widely cultivated and performs well in an assortment of areas, provided enough light and space are available and freezing temperatures are not an issue. Slow growing, they are equally at home in containers or in-ground. Spindle palm plants are so called because of the ridges on the trunk that resemble a spindle and the shape, which is narrow at the base, widens and then constricts where fronds begin to grow.
Mazari Palm - This palm is more of a bush, having no trunk. The Mazari palm has branches above ground and slowly develops a bushy shrublike appearance. Each stem or branch is monocarpic, meaning that it flowers only once, then dies back and produces an offshoot. The white flowers are held out and above the foliage on 1.2-1.8 m long branching clusters.
The palm tree has a special place in Mediterranean areas, with palm branches being a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life, and are used symbolically on Palm Sunday in many churches around the world.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.
Small palms for small gardens
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