Renovation of a Mediterranean Dwarf Palm (Chamaerops humilis) Part 2

Giving an overgrown dwarf palm time and space to grow back.

AAt the beginning of this week I described how you go about renovating a Mediterranean dwarf palm. Not only was the specimen heavily overgrown, it was (and probably still is) also severely infested by the Paysandisia archon palmmoth. Today I’ll show you how I attacked the rest of this renovation job. Due to the unusual rainy and cold weather we are currently experiencing on the French Riviera this February, I was not able to apply the nematode liquid yet, because it would be ineffective under these conditions, mostly due to the cold. In a week’s or two week’s time this should be possible to do.

Chamaerops humilis with overgrown base

This is the state after last week’s renovation; on the right hand side you can see one of the main stems already pruned. Today will be about cleaning out completely the palms interior, cutting of all remaining stubs on the main stems that are pointing towards the inside and clearing the base. I do this in order to see if I can discover a couple of younger stems that I’ll try to establish as the new growth. Naturally these should have a lot of light and air around them, to give them a better chance. Also, I have noticed in the past that the palm moth seldomly attacks the youngest stems towards the base of the palm tree, but instead tends to go for the growth points at the already well established stems. Nasty as this may be, it leaves a chance to save the plant as a whole, even if we may have to take off older established stems.

Seen from above, the left hand side shows the already pruned part from last week and a fairly well cleared center of the palm. On the right of the stump in the image’s center you can see the level to where the center of the palm was filled with debris, dead wood, cuttings and dead leaves from the overhanging Magnolia grandiflora. In fact when I cleared out the center last week, a lot of moldy and rotting material had clogged up the palms center for at least half a meter, which attracts even more deseases and possible infections. This should always be avoided. The stump in the center is what’s left of one of the main stems that must have been taken out years ago, leaving 40 to 50 cm of dead wood.

One may ask oneself why a gardener did take out the stem down to about 50 cm off from the ground, as this certainly is not very attractive. Maybe he thought, the palm would grow back on this stem, as trees do? Well, palms have only one growth point on the very top of a stem and cannot grow back once sawn off. That’s why it is allthemore important to care for your palm trees, by pruning them on a regular basis as by treating them against possible pests, like the palm moth.

By taking off the rest of the inward pointing leaf stubs with the sabre saw, I clear the way to clean out the center of the Chamaerops.

Roughly an hour later all the old stubs are taken off and all the debris and dead material is taken out of the palm. This can be quite a tiring thing to do as you’re reaching all the way into the center and it sometimes is quite hard to even find an angle from which to cut out leaves. Be couragous and cut out enough leaves. Cut them hard, all the way down to the basis of a stem and choose the growth points that have already developed some sort of a stem. You actually want to cut out quite a few leaves even if they are healthy, because it will let air and sunlight into the center and it will speed up the plant’s recovery a lot.

The nearer the new growth is to one of the larger stems, the higher the chances that we are actually saving the palm tree as a specimen, as this new growth is likely coming up from the plant’s base, thus also feeding the larger, older and infected parts of the plant. In this case it’s rather unlikely that they are entirely new plants from seeds that fell down from above; they usually germinate in the wider spots.

As you can hopefully see on the two photos above, pointing down toward the palm tree’s center, I have sorted out around 12 or 13 new stems with healthy growth points. To achieve this I also cut out quite a few younger growth points in the center of the palm tree, as I wanted to create light, air and space, not only for the plant’s health, but also for it’s beauty. These new growth points will continue to grow back toward this summer. They will not be pretty at first, as they have been cut off completely, but I’ll see how to deal with them as the palm tree recovers. Since the palmn tree is now much easier to access, it will be fairly easy to take out one or the other leafless shoot.

If the plant is treated on a regular basis in the future, it will survive even if some more of the older and infected parts will have to be taken out. What’s left to do it to saw off the two useless dead stems in the center and on the perimeter of the palm tree in order to let more light and air into the poor plant.

The two large dead stems are sawn off and the rest of the debris is gone. As we pack up to leave the palm tree after about 8 man hours of work, the clouds open up and the Mediterranean dwarf palm is bathed in the soft rays of the evening sunlight. As we turn our heads a last time, two little finches take off from the center of the palm.