Sabal palmetto, is a tall but slow-growing palm from the Southeastern states of the US where its natural range extends from Florida through Georgia and South Carolina into North Carolina, where they grow as far north as Bald Head Island at Cape Fear. A sub-tropical or warm temperate palm, they require a hot humid climate in the summer to grow well but they are nontheless very hardy and in the winter are capable of surviving temperatures down to at least -14 C and - depending on your local conditions - probably lower. It is a very tough palm in other respects being salt tolerant and drought tolerant as well as being very tolerant of poor drainage and extremely wind resistant.
Growing Sabal palmetto successfully in the UK requires, in my opinion, four things; the first of which is a warm suntrap or hotspot. Growing it in a humid glasshouse for its first few years will keep it moving until that day when, having reached a decent size it is bursting from its large pot and you plant it out. Giving it your sunniest warmest spot - preferably in a large corner with plenty of space - will help it on its way. The second prerequisite is one that can be applied to all palms: copious quantities of nitrogen-rich fertiliser in the growing season. The third requirement is limestone. Sabal palmetto prefers an alkaline soil and the addition of rough limestone to the mix will ensure its uptake of calcium. The last requirement is one that is perhaps the hardest to find in gardening today and that is patience.
We live in an age when people expect things to be instant and over the years this unfortunate modern malaise has increasingly infected gardening and horticultural practice. Even in the US, where Sabal palmetto comes from, it is rarely commercially grown from seed and vast numbers of mature palms are dug from the ground with shallow rootballs, decimating the local populations and leaving fewer and fewer natural stands in the wild. The large palms - some of them over a hundred years old and many of which never re-root and subsequently die - are then sold on to nurseries, landscapers and the public. To my mind, this is not only ecologically and environmetally wrong it is the very antithesis of gardening: a process of seasonal cultivation over many years and a lifetime of learning. One only has to look at the intense attention to detail with which horticulture is practised in countries like Japan, Thailand and Bali to realise that here in the UK we need to reconnect to something similar - an ethos of dedicated and patient cultivation where the time and care taken to foster even one special plant can bring a whole universe of joy. Sabal palmetto is a very special plant and deserves to be more widely grown in this country. It may be slow, it may take a little more effort but think of the sense of personal satisfaction you will experience when it starts to get big.
|Geographical Origin||Southeastern states of the USA: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina. Also Cuba and The Bahamas|
|Cultivation||Full sun. Moist but alkaline soil. Water and feed well during summer|
|Eventual Height||10-15 m|
|Eventual Spread||4 m|
|Hardiness||At least -14C. Protect with fleece when young|
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