Metro-East Living

Here’s how to protect palm trees when the weather turns colder

Windmill palm
Windmill palm Provided

Q: In 2009 I planted a small windmill palm on the east side of my house. During the first four years I winter protected by using a wire cage covered in white plastic sheet material, filled with dry leaves for insulation. When the palm outgrew the cage, I used a seven-foot high portable pop-up greenhouse with a space heater for the cold winter nights. After seven years it outgrew the pop-up. Last winter I replaced the pop-up with a 10-foot portable greenhouse. Last year the palm had grown to a height of 10 feet with a trunk five and half feet tall. It is now 11 feet high with a trunk over six feet, thereby outgrowing the 10-foot greenhouse.

I do not know what to do this fall for winter protection. A larger greenhouse is going to look like a barn in the yard plus they are expensive. It appears to be growing more rapidly than during the early years. I also planted one on the south side of the house in 2009, but this one did not grow. Last winter I tried not using any protection but unfortunately it died. Is the larger one going to suffer the same fate if left unprotected? Do you have any ideas for winter protection of larger palms?

K. M. of Shiloh

A: Windmill palm (Chamaerops humilis or Thrachycarpus fortunei — two scientific names are given as they are similar in appearance and both have the same characteristics) is not hardy in plant zone 6 except by giving this plant winter protection as you have been doing.

I understand your problem with the plant’s height as I have also raised banana plants which are also tropical and usually hardy to just plant zone 9. You already know that this plant prefers an eastern exposure and a southern exposure places an extreme heat on the palm’s leaves which will dry them out.

You have reached a height barrier, but there is a different way to approach this problem by slowing the palm’s growth as the palm gets older. In your question you mention the trunk of your palm is now six feet in height.

A palm in its natural setting can lose some of its fan leaves in storms. So you can cut some of the taller leaves off especially in the winter, but do not overdo it and cut a large number off at one time. Start by cutting three or four off, but be careful not to injure the top of the trunk where the leaves originate. If you damage this area you can kill your palm as this is the growing point or meristem for the leaf production.

Save the cut palm leaves to remember how much of the leaves you have pruned off. Overall do not cut off more than 50 percent of these leaves. Keep some notes of how much percentage of the leaves that you have removed so that you can refer to this for the pruning of the roots later in spring.

During the late spring you can remove your palm from its container and prune off about one-fourth of its fibrous roots. Begin by removing the roots that look discolored or injured first. Then prune some of the longer roots into half. This will also help slow the growth down.

Since you love windmill palms you may want to try growing another one and start this training on the new one and then you will have this palm for a longer period of time without all the trouble.

Q: I have just read an article that 55 percent of lettuce sold in grocery stores, 75 percent of tomatoes, and 85 percent of peppers are genetically modified. I do not see this labeled indicating this. What can we do?

C. W. of Belleville

A: First of all, grow your own food starting from seed. Buy your vegetable seed from a seed producer which states they have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and have their seed tested for GMO’s on a regular basis.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to lifestyle@bnd.com.

Things to do this week

  • Be on the lookout for poison ivy as we had a very wet spring and it is beginning to sprout up in a lot of places; control it while the plant is still small.
  • Start looking for cucumber beetles as not only do they eat vegetable vines but can also be found on melons and this is important as they can carry bacteria wilt diseases from plant to plant as well.
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