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radicalis

Drought-tolerant palms for coastal Mediterranean climate?

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radicalis

Hello all. I’m a longtime lurker but first time poster. This forum is a great resource, and I’m hoping the SoCal folks here can help me select some palms for their climate.

My brother is purchasing a house in coastal San Diego (Sunset zone 24, USDA zone 10a-10b), and has recruited me to help him install a tropical-looking landscape. I’m very excited to get to grow palms, at least vicariously, in California. Here’s the thing: for a number of reasons, we don’t want to be using a ton of water for irrigation. Also, my brother is planning to move away after a few years and rent the property out. We are looking for palms that, once established, will grow reasonably well (not necessarily fast) without a ton of water, and which could potentially tolerate an accidental dry period if something happens to the irrigation system when he’s not around to supervise the property. I don't know anything about the soil yet, but we're expecting to have to amend it pretty well.

I was thinking that palms originating from Mediterranean climates (e.g. Brahea edulis, Chamaerops humilis, Jubaea chilensis, and Phoenix canariensis) might be more tolerant of summer drought, even if many of these get by in the wild by tapping into subterranean water sources. Washingtonias also seem to do well out there. But what are some more obscure, more tropical-looking palms that could do well for us? Slow-growing species are just fine.

We’d also appreciate recommendations for other drought-tolerant tropical-looking plants (Strelitzia? Wigandia? Ficus petiolaris?), but I know that’s off-topic so I’ll make another post in the ‘tropical-looking plants’ forum.

Thanks!

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Stevetoad

Welcome to the forum. Brahea anything should do well. I believe bizzys will do well with less water. Syagrus coronata . Livistonas. nannorrhops ritchiana. There's a bunch more

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MattyB

Yeah, what Steve said. Add Sabal to that list. Dypsis decaryi, the triangle palm, will do great with little to no irrigation. Ravenea xerophila for something really slow. Parajubaea will do great if it gets dry too. I've found Trachycarpus pretty drought tolerant too. Oh, almost forgot Coccothrinax.

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Brahea Axel

Yeah, ditto on all the palms mentioned above. Parajubaea, once established will just stop growing if there's no water, and resume when the water kicks back in. I'd take a good look at the brahea genus as well, brahea aculeata is the most drought tolerant of them all, it's capable of driving roots deep, deep down to find water. And there are many different looking brahea, the genus really provides a lot of variety. All the phoenix are quite drought tolerant as well. Stay away from queen palms, though, they look terrible when there's not enough water.

Sabals are fine, but stay away from sabal minor, it is the only sabal that is not drought tolerant.

Ravena glauca is great, super drought tolerant as well.

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Rafael

Dypsis decipiens, jubaea chilensis, acoelorraphe wrighti, t. Campestris...

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radicalis

Thanks guys, please keep ‘em coming! It is interesting that palms like Bismarckia and Livistona are drought-tolerant in CA; coming from hot-summer TX I think of them as thirsty. This has me thinking about the different ways that palms might survive summer drought in a Mediterranean climate, for example:

  • Actively grows in winter/spring when moisture is more available, stops growing in summer (e.g. Parajubaea spp.)
  • Stores water in swollen roots or trunk (e.g. Ravenea xerophila)
  • Eventually taps into groundwater, would need periodic deep watering until then (e.g. Brahea spp., Chamaerops?, Phoenix spp., some Sabal spp., Washingtonia spp.)
  • Used to mesic soil in the wild, and would need to be irrigated in CA, but happens to tolerate occasional drought (e.g. Trachycarpus fortunei, other Sabal spp.)

How do some of these other palms fit in? I am very interested in Dypsis decaryi, D. decipiens, Jubaea, Parajubaea sunkha and torallyi, Ravenea glauca, Sabal ‘Riverside’, S. uresana (green), Syagrus coronata, and Trachycarpus martianus/latisectus-group. Also, what Coccothrinax and Livistona spp. would do best without much irrigation? With the drought this winter we are looking for plants that will be resilient under future water rationing. Thank you!

Edited by radicalis

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mnorell

Aside from the obvious historical performers (Washingtonia robusta, Phoenix canariensis), look at palms native to consistently cool fog-desert regions similar to San Diego. Brahea edulis on Guadeloupe Island and Jubaea chilensis from the fog-deserts of Chile would be two perfect candidates. Some of the other palms mentioned by others above (e.g., Livistona chinensis, Coccothrinax spp.) may be able to tolerate some drought, but those two in particular are used to climates with cool-to-warm, dry winters and warm, humid, wet summers. They may very well survive in your environment, but their slow growth and general unhappiness would probably make them a disappointment for you compared to others that are truly suited to the climate. Remember that even Phoenix dactylifera, the famed date palm of the desert, requires "feet in water, head in fire" for good growth, so you will need to determine your ground-water availability and summer heat requirements in seeing what will work best. Most inland desert palms get plenty of water from underground rivers or aquifers, or in washes where they get nourishment from occasional summer thunderstorms, and require summer heat to look their best long-term.

There are many wonderful plants from succulents to orchids that inhabit the cool maritime fog-deserts of the world, and coastal San Diego is for obvious reasons an excellent home for them in these irrigation-restricted times. Also just walk around and check out unmaintained, older houses in the vicinity. You may see some neat plants that thrive but you hadn't thought about. There are lots of Euphorbias, Pachypodia, cacti and other plants that have a beautiful effect for us palmy types but require very little attention. If you don't like a cactus look, you may also be able to grow some Pereskia (a beautiful and deceptively shrub-like tropical cactus) if you can find some cool-tolerant species. Dracena draco is another example of a magnificent and exotic palm-like plant you can grow in that climate. Also many aloes. Go to the plantzafrica website and you will find lots of pertinent info there. Visit old San Diego nurseries (e.g., Walter Anderson) and find an old timer who knows their stuff, that may also help you a lot.

Check out histories of 19th century plant pioneers such as Francesco Franceschi in Santa Barbara. (His manuscripts and papers are all housed at Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley...what a treasure-trove that must be!) Also catalogues of the time. They had few easy water supplies in those days so that line of research would be a good start if you really want a self-sufficient landscape. Just search around on books.google.com and you should get some good ideas. For example, Franceschi's Southern California Acclimatizing Association catalogue from 1900, which has lots of wonderful tidbits, both real and hypothetical, from that pioneering era. Also look at Desmond Muirhead's 1961 book, Palms, which I think took a very realistic view of palm cultivation in the southwest's various climates, both in respect to drought-tolerance and cold-tolerance.

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JasonD

Trachycarpus latisectus and martianus like more water than T. fortunei & wagnerianus - I would not call them drought-tolerant. Not sure how much drought T. oreophilus, T. princeps, T. nanus, or T. takil might take but probably more than T. latisectus and T. martianus.

Trithrinax acanthocoma puts up with drought, as does Butia.

Livistona nitida is reputed to tolerate less water than L. australis or L. decora. I don't know from experience, though.

Chamaedorea radicalis & C. microspadix aren't bad candidates, and I suspect C. plumosa to tolerate drier spells as well, given its seasonally dry limestone habitat.

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Brahea Axel

Trachycarpus latisectus and martianus like more water than T. fortunei & wagnerianus - I would not call them drought-tolerant. Not sure how much drought T. oreophilus, T. princeps, T. nanus, or T. takil might take but probably more than T. latisectus and T. martianus.

Trithrinax acanthocoma puts up with drought, as does Butia.

Livistona nitida is reputed to tolerate less water than L. australis or L. decora. I don't know from experience, though.

Chamaedorea radicalis & C. microspadix aren't bad candidates, and I suspect C. plumosa to tolerate drier spells as well, given its seasonally dry limestone habitat.

T martianus is definitely drought tolerant once established. I have a big specimen that has been on its own without irrigation for years. It's quite happy.

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J. australis

The Brahea edulis at my place gets by on natural rainfall, but always looks really lush (if you're around, Chris King, this is one you gave me as a little guy :)

post-534-0-79657400-1412547698_thumb.jpg

post-534-0-36929400-1412547794_thumb.jpg

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KennyRE317

my brahea super silver (still super green) and my pseudophoenix sargentii both get very little water as it's in a bed that gets drip once a week at most regardless of how hot it gets and they're both chuggling along and look real nice

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