How to - Gardening with Kids

Kids and palm trees

Don't let winter stop you and your kids from gardening indoors!

During spring and summer, fertilize once a month with water-soluble 20-20-20, following the instructions for houseplants on the label. Feed lightly in fall and winter. Palms grow slowly. Repot them only when the roots begin to push the plant out of its pot; palms like to be pot bound. It's natural for the lowest leaves on mature plants to brown and droop. Remove them by cutting, not pulling. Control spider mites with a mild solution of insecticidal soap and water.

Neanthe Bella, parlor palm, good luck palm and table palm are common names for Chamaedorea elegans 'Bella', a small, graceful, easy-to-care plant that boasts handsome light green fronds. A native of Central American mountain forests, Neanthe Bella grows well in low light. Morning sun or bright filtered light is fine; afternoon sun bleaches the foliage.

When small, Neanthe Bella looks great on tables, and in dish gardens and terrariums. Mature plants are attractive in tubs. In bright, filtered light, female plants bear yellowish flowers near the base of the trunk, which mature throughout the year into bunches of black fruit. Male flowers are borne on separate plants. Neanthe Bella grows 43 to 46 centimetres in six to 12 months and 60 to 91 centimetres in two years. As a houseplant, its mature height is one to 1.5 metres.

The pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) is a miniature palm native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. It has a slim trunk beautifully topped with a delicate-looking, symmetrical crown of green, feathery leaves. At maturity it reaches three metres indoors. Although this palm has a single trunk, it's commonly raised by nurseries in a clump of three to five specimens, each one curving gracefully out from the centre. One caution: the lower leaflets are modified into sharp spines. Cream-colored flowers are followed by small black dates on the female plants. The fruit are about one centimetre long and range from dark purple to brown when fully ripe.

Pygmy date palms are tolerant of both over- and under-watering, low light and some abuse. When mature, they even survive a few degrees of frost. Grown in shade to full sun, they make wonderful planter palms for indoors year-round or outdoors during the warmer months.

The edible date palm (phoenix dactylifera) is grown commercially for its delicious, abundant fruit. This native of the Middle East is also good looking with attractive diamond-shaped leaf scars covering its trunk, and grey-green leaves forming a feathery canopy. Clusters of small, fragrant flowers (white on females, creamy and waxy on males) cascade from just below the fronds in spring. Tasty, reddish-brown dates ripen on female trees in fall, but both male and female flowers are needed for the female to bear fruit.

Outdoors, an edible date palm grows to 20 metres in a century. Indoors, it takes a lifetime to reach the ceiling. The bigger the pot you provide, the larger the plant eventually becomes. Transplant when a net of roots grows across the top of the soil. If you decide not to repot it, top dress with houseplant soil twice a year.

Edible date palms prefer full sun. During the winter months they like a bright but cool (15 C to 17 C) location. These plants are hardy to -10 C, but at below freezing temperatures some fronds may drop off.

Palms of the World
Photos and palm links

Digital Raingardens Palm Seeds
Source for pygmy date palm. Edible date palm and Neanthe Bella seeds

Palm Varieties
Click the plant name to see the photo

Virtual Palm Encyclopedia

WorldWide Exotic Seed
Source for pygmy date palm. Edible date palm and Neanthe Bella seeds

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