Opinions on what to plant in a palm garden?

vp_78March 24, 2013

Hello community! We inherited a little palm "grove" on the side of our driveway. Contained in this grove is a Mexican fan palm, a banana, a foxtail (maybe?), and a sago, among others. We also had some green fountaingrass. Among all of the palms, are many ferns and some alliums. Today, we removed some of the overgrown fronds from the fan palm and the foxtail, plus we removed all of the fountaingrass since it's considered an invasive plant here apparently. So now we have a couple of issues:

1) The grove gets full sun. Now that we cut back the palms, all of the ferns are in full sun, and I'm guessing they probably won't do too well in our hot sun.

2) With the removal of the fountaingrass, we now have a 5 ft. x 4 ft. triangle of empty space.

I was thinking about planting some type of citrus (lemon?) since we get very nice sun and I've always wanted a lemon tree, but we're not sure how it would work with the palms. Anyone have any thoughts as to how, if at all, I can make it work? I currently have a semi-dwarf meyer lemon in a container sitting there simply because it gets the best sun on our property.

Also, should we remove the ferns, or just wait and see how they do? I don't want to waste the water on them if they're just going to die this summer.

Finally, any thoughts as to whether some color might look good here? I like all of the green, but maybe some sort of flowering plant might work here too?

I posted a pic so that anyone interested can see the empty space in the foreground (it's right next to our curb -- it's a pretty small space....) You can also see the ferns and the allium. BTW the distance from the sprinkler head in the foreground back to the start of the ferns is about 4 feet, and it's a triangular space.

And I apologize that the pic is sideways!

I'll take any and all advice!

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The picture is not showing up. Please fix the picture to right side up before posting it.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 11:03PM
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Well I can't seem to rotate the photo, but here's a link to flickr where the photos are located...


    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 11:09AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Hi there. Do you live inland? Do you know your approximate elevation? I see big pine trees...

The large-leaved plant is not a banana, but a giant bird of paradise. It appears you are correct about the Mexican fan palm, and I'm guessing the other is a king palm (definitely not a foxtail), and the small one looks like pygmy date palm. Your lemon tree is a dwarf? What variety? -- eventual size will be important.

How do you feel about the palm area? Do you like it? Do you know your winter low temperatures? Summer high temperatures? These will be important when it comes to the appearance of your palm grove.

The Washingtonia (fan palm) is a fast grower and older palms tower to 40 feet or more with a large base, perhaps 2 ft. in diameter. While they are very common, they are also the iconic southern California palm. The giant bird of paradise will send up basal shoots and become very, very large. The king palms is also rather fast, should get to 20 ft. within perhaps five years, depending on your conditions, but not so large a base as the fan palm. Given regular water and avoiding severe cold, this is a very elegant palm. The pygmy date is armed with long spines; cute, but can be dangerous if in the wrong location.

If you tell me more, I can give you some recommendations.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 8:19PM
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Hi Catkim! Yes, those are pine trees you see, but we are coastal. We're in Southern CA, about 8 miles inland as the crow flies, not in a valley so we don't usually hard freeze. Our elevation is about 500 feet, give or take. Our lowest temps don't go below 34, and our highest temps soar to 110.

Specifically, it's usually in the mid 60s to mid 70s during the day in the winter and spring. Night time lows range from mid 30s to mid 50s. Summer time highs are in the 90s (July-September). And then we cycle through high and low pressure systems in September and October. The high pressure systems during this time are accompanied by dry desert winds. Humidity drops below 25% and the temps can soar up to 110 degrees, and the wind can gust upwards of 20-30 mph. These "Santa Ana" wind days last from 3-5 days. Then the wind shifts back to our prevailing westerlies and the temps drop into the 70s and 80s and the humidity goes back up to around 50%.

I like the palm area, but I'm craving a little color in there. I feel like it's a little too crowded right now, especially with the dense thicket of ferns below. Plus the pygmy date palm seems to be sending out pups (I looked them all up and you're correct on all of your guesses, btw... thanks so much for that!)

We have a relatively modest cottage-style house, and the plot isn't very big. I don't think I want anything too big, because I would worry about roots messing with the foundation, plus, as I mentioned, it's just not a huge space. I think the Washingtonia would be way too big for our modest little space. We talked about it, and I think we're going to clear out the ferns since they most likely will fry in the hot summer sun.

Thanks for your interest here -- we really appreciate it!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 6:41PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Very helpful detailed information. You are in a great spot for growing palms, if that's what you want to do. But it's pretty clear you really want to grow a lemon tree, and this is the only sunny spot. So you will hve to make choices.

I think you are wise to remove the fan palm. If it were my garden, i would keep the king palm, and remove the giant bird of paradise, the fan palm, and the pygmy date. I would plant the lemon tree, and if there is room behind it, I would plant a red ornamental banana for color (ensete ventricosum). This combination gives you color, a subtropical look with the palm and banana, and lemons. Put mulch under the lemon tree -- no underplantings. At the outskirts of the bed, you could plant some mounding mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) to pull it all together.

Bear in mind, I am not a professional designer; if you are using a pro, cross-check the concept with them.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Those are some great ideas -- thanks so much! We'll definitely remove the fan palm. We didn't realize it would grow so big -- and we're fairly certain the previous owner of our house (the one who planted it) didn't realize it either. We know someone in Fallbrook who told us that during the last really big wildfire, the fan palms would go up in flames and then go flying -- so much so that they started being referred to as "flaming kites." No thank you...!

I'm going to look up mounding mondo grass as soon as I'm done posting this!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 12:18AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

On reflection, your hot summers may be too much for mondo grass. Perhaps some hens-and-chicks succulents instead? Something very low-growing and slow will work best.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 12:41AM
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I like having more succulents to limit the water consumption... I'm going to post another pic of the same area once we clear out the fan palm, the ferns, and possibly the bird of paradise. Although we might have to keep the BOP since I think it would be a nightmare to remove it. Isn't it close to impossible to pull up a BOP?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 12:44PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

The BOP won't get any easier to remove, that's for sure. It will eventually fill the entire space if left to grow.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 10:36PM
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