How to turn an overgrown dwarf palm into a garden highlight.
CChamaerops humilis is one of the most popular palms used as an ornamental feature in Mediterranean gardens. While it has decorative (and practical) advantages for a use in classic Mediterranean garden designs, it is also highly susceptible to both, neglect and an infestation by the larvae of Paysandisia archon, the now notorious palm moth. (I have previously published posts in this French Riviera Garden blog and elsewhere, that describe how to try dealing with a paysandisia infection.)
Today I am hoping to help readers with a practical description of how to renovate an overgrown Chamaerops, as it often seems to be a daunting thing to do, once it has turned itself into a bush that’s closed off from the world. Part one – today – will deal with some general tips, possible problems and a description how to attack the beast. Part two will show the finished work and how to apply a treatment against the larvae of Paysandisia archon, the palm moth.
As a preparation you will need:
- freshly sharpened and cleaned secateurs, to avoid infections from other plants,
- a pair of cleaned and sharpened loppers, ideally with short handles,
- sturdy sacs to store the fronds in,
- if you have it at hand, an electric saber saw is a great helper,
- some cushions to kneel on, I usually put them inside of one of the thick plastic sacs
- safety goggles, if you do it the first time
- a baseball / golf cap to protect your head against thorns, when kneeling
- high-quality leather gloves that cover the wrists (!)
- quality gardening shoes
At this stage you will see a lot of 10-20 cm long leaf stubs that have been left from previous cuts. Careful, these stubs are completely dry and extremely hard. They can hurt you in many ways, and quite dangerously so. After most of the old, damaged and dead fronds are off, now comes the time to get down on our knees and cut our way bottom up, by taking off all stubs that are left on the stem; all around the stem please, not only on the visible side, but also toward the plant’s center. For this, I take the electric saber saw and move its blade’s tip leaf base by leaf base in a slight angle (about 45° I guess) toward the main stem. I try to cut close to the stem so only some neat and tidy triangles are left, which give the stem a nice ornamental appearance in the end. Sometimes the saw just rips off the complete base of an old leaf, including some of the bast fibre, but that’s ok. If you don’t have a sabre saw use the secateurs. In this case you need a steeper angle (more towards the stem) to apply enough power to cut off the stubs. This can be a rather lengthy process, but it pays off.
At the top of the stem you can see the results of palm moth infestations over many seasons. The resin and moth-munched palm matter form these clumps of hardened brown material. They are the sure sign of an infestation which you often can spot already from the outside without cutting the fronds of.