November 18, 2021

Club tropicana: Plant some palms

Create your own slice of paradise by adding a few palms to your garden or home.

Palms conjure up mental images of tropical holidays, lazing in the pool as the fronds ripple in the breeze. Wouldn’t it be great to have that resort atmosphere at home?

Well, you can. It’s possible to have a version of your own tropical palm garden right here in South Australia. You just need to find the right palm for the right spot.

There are some luscious shiny tropical palms that thrive in South Australia’s tough climate, the best among them being cocos, bangalow and dwarf date palms.

Smaller-growing dwarf date palms are good for filler foliage between taller palms.

Cocos are tall, single trunk, palms that grow quickly and cope with strong wind and full sun. Be warned, they do grow very large and be careful not to place too close to buildings or fences.

They are ideally paired with much smaller-growing dwarf date palms which have fine leaflets and skinny trunks and are good for filler foliage down low between the statuesque cocos.

Both are great around pools, or in sheltered back yards because they don’t drop leaves – when you need to cut an old frond, it’s just one large frond at a time.

The same is true of bangalow palms, which again work well planted between cocos. However, the bangalows have an added advantage of dropping their old fronds and effectively self-cleaning. Again, it’s just one large leaf off to the bin, not thousands of tiny leaves clogging the filter if you have a pool.

Palms come in all shapes and sizes, it’s just a question of finding the right palm for the right spot.

These and other palms do require good soil and constant moisture to thrive as they would normally live in mild, humid places with regular rain. Adelaide summers don’t offer this, so it’s up to you. If you have some shade and shelter already, Chinese windmill palms are also happy to grow in our climate.

Other tough palms for more exposed situations on the Adelaide Plains are triangle palms, European fan palms and wine palms. The foliage is more grey-green and these palms are slower growing and more wind tolerant, so you can safely put them in the middle of a lawn, or in a hot spot (or even a cold spot, I’ve seen old wine palms growing in Hahndorf).

As always, it is worthwhile improving the soil with compost and fertiliser to give them the best chance at life, and keeping them damp in summer. All plants benefit from mulch in Adelaide too. A good layer of pea straw or sugar cane mulch will act like a blanket on the soil, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and also reducing the watering required.

A controlled-release fertiliser should be used when planting and an additional application two or three times during the warmer months will keep your palms growing strong and looking healthy.

The flowers and fruits of palms vary greatly. Some have branch-like stems bearing small cream, white, yellow, orange or pink sweet-smelling flowers, often with a conspicuous tough protective bract.

Fruits can be large or small and many, or large and few, and some are edible – we all know dates and coconuts.


When it comes to growing palms indoors there are even more options. Two of the best indoor or patio palms for South Australia are lady palms or kentias. They are slow-growing, elegant and add instant glamour.

Many varieties of palms grow happily indoors, such as the light-loving golden cane palms (above) and the slow-growing, glamorous kentia palm (below).

Kentias have big arching fronds good for filling an empty corner, while lady palms are more column-shaped and denser and will tolerate very low light. Others to consider include parlour palms which are smaller growing and prefer bright light, as do bamboo palms and golden canes.

Indoors, be careful not to over-water them and, like all indoor plants, they will benefit from a spell in a shady and sheltered spot outside from time to time.

So, it is possible to create your tropical oasis in your home garden, or bring the fresh feeling of palms indoors with the right choices.


This story was first published in the summer 2020 issue of SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine. 

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