There are many ways to use palm trees in your landscape design. They can provide screening, cast shade, cover ground or vine into tree canopies. They can serve as a small accent or be the dominating theme of the landscape.
With their wide range of sizes, you can find palms for any landscape situation. Palms can work as solitary specimens as well as in small groupings.
When combined with other plants, many palms become standouts. On the other hand, some palms are better suited as a backdrop for plants with unique color or form. Palms are adaptable to either formal or informal landscapes. Use them in the garden to create a unique theme.
Before purchasing palm trees, plan a landscape design to help you visualize the end result. Start by measuring existing features in your landscape and the spaces between them. Use paper to mark out those distances to scale them down.
Don’t forget to add any plants you already have in the ground. Next, research the palms you like and see if their size will work for the areas you are considering. Also, see if the palm species you picked fit with the style of your garden.
Finally, think about other plants that will compliment the palms trees in your design. A little bit of homework will go a long way.
How To Landscape With Palm Trees
With so many species, palms can be used in a many ways. They offer a canopy for shade, create a privacy screening, or serve as an accent or focal point. While some grow best in hot sun, others thrive in dark shady areas.
Some species can tolerate dry sandy and rocky conditions while wet conditions work better for others.
There are palms that grow well when exposed to the salt and the others that are intolerant of salt.
Creating Shade With Palm Trees
Some palms can make a wonderful shady canopy. We call them ‘canopy palms’. These palms are fast to moderate growers capable of creating shade across a diameter of 20 feet or more.
When planting multiple palms for shade, space them out about 12 to 15 feet apart. If they are too close together they will bend from each other as they grow creating a graceful arch.
After the canopy is formed, you can plant shade-tolerant plants underneath. Some palms species that are great for shade are kentia, king, queen, royal and Christmas palm.
To achieve a more naturalistic feeling, plant palms of different heights at random distances.
Creating Privacy Screening With Palm Trees
Palms rarely used for privacy screens or hedges, but some species are well suited for these uses. Areca palm and Lipstick palm has long been used as screen or hedge in South Florida.
Many other palms with multiple trunks work well too. Cat palm and Paurotis palm create excellent screening. Other popular palms that are used for screening are needle palm, lady palm, and seashore palm.
You don’t need to use them as a single species in a long row. Instead, mix species and leaf types for more casual appearance.
Palm Trees Perfect For Creating An Accent
If you want to create a focal point in your yard, consider large palms that have a dramatic effect, such as Bismarck or Bailey palms. For smaller space, try smaller species like bottle, blue latan, pindo or spindle palms.
You can also use these palms in groupings of three or more to enhance the dramatic effect, or spread them them throughout the yard tying the entire landscape together.
To focus more attention on the palms, you can plant them close together so they look as if they arise from one root zone. I recommend using an odd rather than even number of plants in a group.
Some palms that are great for clustering are carpentaria, foxtail, coconut, guadalupe, princess and royal palms.
Mixing Palm Trees With Different Leaf Types
To add flair to your landscape, mix fan-shaped palms with feather-shaped palms. A grouping of princess palm with several smaller ruffled fan palms underneath is a great combination.
Another mix that I like is Kentia palm with Chinese needle palm planted beneath. For more visual interest, you can plant large fan palms close to large feather palms.
Using Container Palm Trees
Some palms look attractive in containers on patios and porches or around pools. Don’t forget, the same soil, light, temperature and moisture requirements apply to potted palms as they do to inground palms.
Choose slow-growing palms, as fast growing palms will quickly outgrow containers. After two to four years (depending on the species), repot them into a larger container.
If the plant gets too big or if it’s too hard to find even bigger pot, plant it into the ground.
Creating Formal or Informal Landscape Design With Palm Trees
Palms are great for creating formal or informal gardens. In the formal garden, they add element of grace and elegance offering symmetry, squared-off hedges and straight lines.
Different palms with straight trunks and full crowns equally spaced, fit the formal garden extremely well. They can be used to soften the corners of buildings or emphasize entrances.
They are also perfect as framing elements on opposite sides of pools and patios. A driveway lined on both sides with royal palms looks especially magnificent.
Creating an informal tropical atmosphere in the garden couldn’t be any easier with the use of palms. A naturalistic landscape with blend of different plants and curving lines is the essence of an informal tropical garden.
Mixing Other Plants With Palm Trees
A garden consisting of only palms can be beautiful, but palms combine well with other tropical plants. Use needle and broadleaf trees, shrubs, and ground covers with palms to show off all the elements of the landscape.
A mixed canopy of palms with other woody plants creates a more natural display which resembles palm’s native habitat.
Herbaceous and woody plants can add texture and color to a garden. Use them as a focal point or a filler to enhance the palm they accompany.
Heliconias and gingers add unique flowers and foliage, creating a backdrop for and accent palm. Ferns of many shapes and sizes will add softness to a garden. Philodendron, elephant ear, and anthurium have unique leaf shapes and colors that complement palms very well.
Cycads, often confused with palms, are a great addition to the landscape. A mass planting of cardboard palms under a grouping of coconut palms or palmettoes makes a gorgeous display.
Don’t forget about ornamental grasses such as muhly or fakahatchee grass. They are perfect for mass planting under tall palms. Spathoglottis ground orchids make wonderful small accents or groundcover plants around palms.
Use colorful foliage and blooms as a strategically placed splash of color. Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia), golden trumpet (Allamanda), bougainvillea, gardenia, flame of the wood (Ixora), and Bangkok rose (Mussaenda) are among many flowering vines and shrubs that look great around or under palms.
Creating Theme Gardens With Palms
A theme garden uses a narrow list of plants from a certain region to create a unique garden. One of the benefits of theme gardens, is that plants natives to one region generally have similar water, soil, fertilizer and temperature requirements, which makes maintenance much easier.
To create a South Sea theme garden you can use princess, red feather, ruffled fan, coconut, and Fiji fan palms in combination with wood ferns (Dryoptetris), elephant ears, gingers and cordylines.
For Caribbean theme garden, use palms native to that area like Cuban wax, royal, thatch, cabbage and buccaneer palms. The associated plants can include bougainvillea, paradise tree (Simarouba), oak (Quercus), gumbo-limbo (Bursera), anthurium, and plumeria.
A rain forest-theme garden can be created by using plants that come from the same type of environment rather than a specific region. A less specific example would be a tropical garden which can be easily created with tropical looking plants that have similar growth environments.