A palm’s grassy green fronds swaying in the breeze, swishing to and fro as the trunk creaks in harmony, evokes memories of a tropical holiday or faraway sand-washed island. Who wouldn’t want to recreate this dreamy summer scene at home?
A densely planted palm arrangement intertwined with vibrant flowers – bird of paradise, hibiscus and bromeliads are particularly striking – against bold evergreen leaflets will create a lush canopy reminiscent of a rainforest. Large glossy leaves will provide plenty of shade, ideal to grow bulbs and air plants underneath for a truly impenetrable landscape.
From the evocative coconut palm to the majestic fan palm with its geometric fronds, palm trees exude character and come in many shapes, sizes and colours, with some endemic to certain regions and states of Australia. Their shallow root systems and relatively compact size, at least in width, allows palms to be grown in containers, small spaces and close to buildings. To help you pick the right palm for your climate we’ve broken up these long-lived plants by state and territory.
Australian fan palm
This beautiful fan palm is endemic to North East Queensland, in the wet tropics region, and bears tiny white flowers then small red fruits in late spring and summer. Thriving in humid, deeply shady spots, in moist, fertile soil with plenty of mulch, fan palms can eventually grow up to 15m in height, so are better suited to large yards though can also be contained in pots for a smaller size plant. Its huge pleated leaves are like vibrant green pinwheels and will add interest to your backyard, able to tolerate shade and cold, though not frost. This plant likes to be well-watered, particularly at the roots, so try Hoselink’s Root Waterer & Soil Breaker to saturate at the source. Nutrient-rich soil and a regular application of fertiliser will also promote good foliage growth, though be patient as the fan palm is a notorious slow-grower.
New South Wales
An iconic palm native to Queensland and New South Wales, this hardy species is a fast-grower, growing 1m on average per year, perfect for those wanting to create a tropical oasis in a hurry. The Alexander palm is very happy growing in full sun, partial shade or in a pot in moist, well-drained soil enriched with organic matter such as manure or natural mulch. The tall palm is known as a ‘self-cleaning’ species as it automatically sheds its fronds as it matures, leaving very little work for you, though it does like moisture, so you’ll need to keep a regular watering routine. In autumn, large creamy-white flowers come into bloom alongside small red berries that provide a rich source of food for birds.
A tall, slender, single-stemmed species, this graceful palm is native to the tropical coastal regions of the Northern Territory where it thrives close to water. Boasting long, deep green pinnate leaves that clump to form a dense crown, and a slender grey trunk that reaches up to 20 metres in height, this solitary palm produces an abundance of red ornamental fruits once mature. Known fondly as ‘carpies’ in the NT, the species requires plenty of water, best suited to growing in warm tropical areas, in full sunshine.
Golden Cane Palm
This medium-sized clumping palm native to Madagascar grows especially well in Perth and is one of few palm species to tolerate full sun, with a non-invasive root system, making it ideal for planting poolside, in sunny beds or in pots on a bright veranda. The West Australian climate is not ideal for most tropical plants but this palm, along with the likes of cordylines and cycads, works well to create a feeling of the tropics. If planting your palm in a pot, it’s important to use quality potting mix and choose a container with a large drainage hole. Its dense yellow-tinged foliage will add a verdant accent to your landscape, best planted between taller palms to offer it some protection. Weekly watering, a rich, well-drained soil and frequent mulching are essential for these palms to thrive.
Australian Capital Territory
Chinese windmill palm
With warm summers and cold winters, ACT’s variable climate and sometimes plummeting temperatures make it slightly unfavourable for tropic-loving plants to grow. However, the hardy Chinese windmill palm, named for its attractive ‘windmill-shaped’ leaves, is very cold-tolerant and is one of few palms that can survive freezing temperatures. Preferring partial or full shade and fertile, well-drained soil, the palm is drought-tolerant however does like a routine watering schedule. Recognisable for its fibrous brown matted trunk and green fanned fronds, the Chinese windmill palm is very easy to grow and will make an attractive addition to any backyard.
Also known as the jelly palm, this striking species has a thick trunk, beautiful blue-green foliage and once a year bears sweet golden fruits (hence its name) that taste like pineapple. Unlike the majority of palm species, this hardy feather leaf palm can handle cold temperatures and frost, ideally suited to the cooler climes of South Australia. Originating from South America, the wine palm is a slow-grower in colder weather, tolerating temperatures as low as -10°C and is fairly drought-resistant. Choose a sunny or partly shaded spot with moist, well-drained soil. If planting in a cold climate, the wine palm prefers its surroundings to be dry.
Dwarf sugar palm
The weather in Victoria can be a little unpredictable with extreme and varying temperatures occurring right across the southern state at different times of the year. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow a beautiful tropical palm. The dwarf sugar palm boasts olive green pinnate leaves and a distinctly ringed trunk that reaches around 3m tall. Growing in cluster form, this palm is ideal for creating a natural screen in the garden. Simply choose a sunny or shady spot with well-drained soil and ensure you water the plant regularly to keep the soil moist, though be careful not to overwater. In summer the palm will come into bloom with fragrant yellow-gold blossoms attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.
European fan palm
This palm is a bit of an optical illusion. It looks tropical but in fact originates from southern Europe, so is not tropical at all, one of many reasons it grows quite happily in the open Tassie countryside. Able to take both cold and sun, the fan palm is built tough and demands very little. This species is what’s known as a ‘clumping palm’, which means it has multiple thick, furry brown trunks bearing upward sprouting, fan-shaped fronds, giving the appearance of a shrub. This palm likes both sun and shade, best planted in well-drained soil. It is not self-cleaning, so dead fronds will need to be manually removed, but otherwise, the tree is very easy to care for. As a slightly wider spreading palm, you will need to allow adequate space for it in your garden, however, it only shoots up to around four metres in height, so is a relatively low-growing plant.