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Rick Kelley

Another New Palm Garden in East Hawaii

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Rick Kelley

By way of introduction, I moved to East Hawaii in 2012 after twenty years of living in Houston. I suppose I am an early climate refugee. Texas is famous for hot summers, but in 2011 Texas suffered a heat wave and drought that shattered previous records. Every day in August of that year the temperature in Houston was over 100 degrees (39-43 C). In olden days, Houston rarely got over a very humid 93 degrees in the summer before an afternoon thunderstorm would cool the city off a bit. I decided in a world of global warming Houston was becoming unlivable. I visited the Big Island to look at real estate and was surprised at the very affordable prices in the Puna District. I looked at the lava eruption risk zones, the rainfall at different elevations, and decided Orchidland Estates 17 miles south of Hilo was the right place. I bought a 3-acre property at about 700 ft elevation with a small house. I moved here full time in October 2012, a week before my 56thbirthday.

Palms were not in my plans. I could tell the difference between a palm tree and an oak tree, but that was about it. My property was a 300-400 year old lava flow with no soil. It was covered with the native ohi`a trees and a thicket of invasive trash trees. I soon visited Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens (HTBG) and the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Botanical Garden where many amazing palms were growing. I assumed you needed special permits or licenses to acquire these rare, often endangered species. But no, anyone could buy them at local nurseries specializing in palms. My transformation into a palm nut began by joining the Hawaii Island Palm Society (HIPS). My first garden tour was Jerry Anderson’s beautiful garden in Leilani Estates. Shortly after that I visited Karolyn Lundkvist’s world famous garden and was blown away. There was no turning back. Then I visited Tim Brian and Bob Gibben’s spectacular palm garden in Hilo along with Karen and Dean Piercy’s jungle just north of Hilo. And of course, we are lucky to have amazing commercial nurserymen like Bill Austin and Jeff Marcus to supply an incredible selection of exotic species. Bo Lundkvist’s web site chronicling the birth of the Malama palm garden was quite an inspiration. Besides seeing what could be achieved in private gardens, I also discovered what a fun and friendly group of gardening enthusiasts was here.

Fast forward eight years. I’ve planted around 150 palms, some of which are starting to get some size. During the pandemic lockdown I thought I should organize the many photos I’ve taken during the construction & planting of the garden. I’m posting on PT in case any palm nuts on the mainland were contemplating retiring to Hawaii. Do it!

For my first post I’ll begin with some Metroxylons since they might not be widely grown outside the very wet tropicsHTBG has a trio of monster Metroxylon amicarums at the bottom of its entry boardwalk. If you visit the Big Island, you must see these trees. They are scary big and worth the price of admission. Everyone wants this species because it is the only member of the genus that doesn’t die after fruiting. I had to get one. Turns out they are hard to find. Below is a 5 gallon M. amicarum shortly after being planted in late 2013. The middle photo was taken a few weeks ago with me cowering below for scale. I anticipate it will gain about 2-3 ft of new trunk per year from now on. This is planted next to my front gate and gets a lot of attention from neighbors.

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The seeds are fairly plentiful on the island, but most people find them a challenge to germinate. I have probably tried 30 seeds over the years only to see them all rot. However, I did have success earlier in 2020 with one seed. I thank Mike from Dalbok Gardens for the germination tips. I recently planted it in a prominent location that should be eye-catching in another ten years (right photo).

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NOT A TA

Welcome Rick! Great introduction!

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PalmatierMeg

Welcome to PalmTalk, Rick. That Metroxylon is magnificent. Show us the rest of your garden.

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Bazza

Fantastic introductory post!

Welcome, Rick!

Look forward to more of your informative and interesting posts!

BTW....I checked out Orchidland Estates on Zillow and it was quite the eye opener regarding what I consider to be economical real estate. Not at all what I expected.....

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realarch

Aloha Rick, well,well, well, you finally made the jump.....welcome to Palmtalk! 

I’ve enjoyed seeing the progress of your garden over the last few years, particularly at the most recent masked, socially distanced HIPS garden tour. I was blown away at the growth and number of palm species, not to mention, spectacular orchids and impressive colorful plantings of coleus. Looking past the plantings, I always notice the infrastructure, wheel barrow by wheel barrow of gravel, construction of retaining walls, rock by rock, and you did it all yourself. Makes my joints ache. 

Good job Rick, looking forward to more photos and commentary. 

Tim

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mike in kurtistown

Wow, Rick, that's an impressive-looking Metroxylon. My warburgiis have been slower. Glad you are having fun and don't mind all the work too much. And thanks for helping Big Island palmers by leading the Hawaii Island Palm Society (HIPS).

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realarch

Oh, I forgot to mention that Rick is the current President of our local palm society, HIPS, and has stayed the course through an unpredictable, trying time by staying in touch with the membership virtually. Thanks Rick and look forward to future lectures, garden tours, and the annual banquet. 

Tim

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96720

Where are the photos?

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Rick Kelley

I screwed up the first time I tried to extend this thread. Hope I get it right on this attempt. Please be patient. I'm old and don't do any social media.

I also collected several other monocarpic Metroxylon species. During my initial visit to Karolyn Lundkvist’s wonderful garden in December 2012, a Metroxylon warburgii was dropping hundreds of seeds. Many had sprouted on the ground. Karolyn very generously let me gather several germinated seeds. Once in pots, they took off. When I was able to find a place to plant them, they really went into high gear. Instant tree. Of course, the downside of such rapid growth is that they will soon bloom, fruit, and die. 

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Rick Kelley

Metroxylon upolense and M. vitiense both become quite large, but sadly, eventually send up a terminal inflorescence, bloom, and die. M. upolense does not appear on Palmpedia, but is listed as a valid species at Kew Gardens. So far I can’t tell much difference between them. I recently came upon a mature M. vitiense dropping hundreds of fruit. I gathered up about 50. When I got home and removed the snakeskin outer covering, I was disheartened to see that all the seeds were black and covered with fungus. I thought about ditching the whole lot, but instead tried soaking them in 10% bleach for an hour followed by several rinses of water. Then they went into a large plastic bag with some Sphagnum moss. When I checked a few months later I was amazed to see half of them had germinated. I now have 25 seedlings in 1 gallon pots. I have no idea what I'll do with them. I like to have some seedlings to give away to visitors, but most people don't want suicidal palms.

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In the photo below that is a Pigafetta eleata in the back and a small Licuala peltata var sumawongii (aka L. elegans) in the middle. The Pigafetta was started from seed. More on both in future posts.

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Kim

Hello again Rick, and again, welcome to PalmTalk! Looks like you are getting the hang of posting, that's good!

As a member of HIPS, I visited your garden during the morning shift of the "Masked Tour" with Bo. We really enjoyed seeing the amazing progress you have made in your garden in a relatively short time. Nice Tahinas in your garden! Among many other things. And you inspired me to buy some Coleus starts and other accent plants to sprinkle around my own garden.

Don't be shy posting lots of photos. You have quite the garden.

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msporty

Incredible photos!!!! I’m always blown away by palm growth rates in HI!!!

 

Thanks for sharing. I’m hoping to see more of your collection over time!

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Hilo Jason

Hey Rick!  Welcome to Palm Talk, it’s great to have you here.  Looking forward to following your posts. Your garden is amazing and will be enjoyed by all who see the pictures on here. 

Thank you for leading the local palm society here on the Big Island and for your generosity with your time and plants! 

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bgl

Hello Rick, and welcome to PalmTalk! Great to see you posting here. I may not be very active these days but I do check in every now and then, and I was thrilled to see this introductory post of yours. As Kim already mentioned, we truly enjoyed the garden tour some six months ago, and were most impressed by how much you've done in a relatively short time span. For everybody else: Rick has created an amazing garden, that is interesting not only because of all the unusual and beautiful palms, but also with plenty of other plants as well as a very well thought out and interesting landscape design with paths meandering between the ohi'a trees and palms. Very well done, Rick, and we're looking forward to the next HIPS garden tour at your place! :)

Aloha, :)

Bo-Göran

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Peter

Lovely photos-once you get into the swing of posting would also love to see some of your companion plantings.

 

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Rick Kelley

Continuing on with the theme of monocarpic species, this entry will cover my disappointment with the first Caryota obtusa I planted. These are widely grown on the Big Island and can reach monumental size. The tree was purchased labelled C. gigas, but apparently the powers in charge have combined the two groups. For the first four years, this was by far my favorite palm in the garden. It was growing like a rocket. The huge branched fronds were exceptionally beautiful. Watching the new frond open was like a gigantic origami demonstration.

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Then one morning in the summer of 2018 as Madame Pele was laying waste to Leilani Estates, I discovered what looked like a large elephant tusk laying under the tree. That's what I'm holding in the photo below. I looked up to discover a newly emerged inflorescence sticking out of the top of the tree. After only five years! Rats! It has sent out five more inflorescences in the past 2 and a half years, each one emerging from a lower frond. Below is the most recent, and probably last one. While I’m bummed the tree is on its way out, it has been interesting to watch the protracted bloom process. After the sheath falls off, the inflorescence expands enormously reaching over ten feet. There must be many tens of thousands of flowers. They all open in a span of a few days attracting every bee on the island. I can hear the buzzing over a hundred feet away in my house.

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I’m not sure exactly how I will remove it once it dies. In that respect I guess I’m lucky it never got very big. I’ve seen others just let the dead trees slowly fall apart over many years.

Before the first tree had started blooming, I was so impressed by this species that I planted two more from one-gallon pots. They were pretty sad little guys who had not been getting much love, but once in the ground they erupted. Three years later they are about 12-15 ft tall and doing great. I just hope I get more than five years-worth of growth out of them. It doesn’t seem fair that someone just starting to grow palms should be talking about removing a monocarpic species after it blooms.

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necturus

Great stuff. Once my career winds down (or I give up on academics) I will join you out there! Another Houston transplant.

It would be amazing to have a garden near Volcano and in your area. Seems like you could grow both the highland and lowland palms?

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John hovancsek

I’m so glad you are posting pics of your garden. I was there for the palm tour and thought that your garden was amazing. Keep the pics flowing and welcome to palm talk

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Rick Kelley

First, I'd like to thank all the readers who have commented. It's nice to know there is some interest out there.

This post will be the first of several focusing on the structural side of planting my garden. My property is mostly rough lava formations. On small scales there are depressions and mounds that fall or rise 3-10 ft. Some places have cracks in the lava a few feet wide and 5-15 ft deep. Rather than fighting this, I’ve tried to incorporate the topography into the garden design. One of the first places I started was a long crack along a drop-off between two lava masses. After chopping back all the trash vegetation covering the area, the left photo shows what I started with. The left side is about three feet higher than the right.

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In 2013 I hired two guys to build a reinforced concrete retaining wall faced with lava rock. There are steps at the far end. You might be able to make out a handrail. After backfilling with black cinder and mulch, I planted a pair of Iriartia deltoidea on top of the ledge. They were in 4” pots and only about 6” tall when I planted them. Palmpedia recommended providing canopy when they are little but full sun after they get taller. This location was in full sun all the time and the baby Iriartias really suffered with sunburned leaves for the first couple of years. But they didn’t die. The left photo below is after about 18 months in the ground. One green frond, one half burned, and the older ones fried. In the right photo below taken from the upper level, you can see Metroxylon warburgii and Caryota obtusa from earlier posts as well as a baby Marojejya in the distance at center.

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They are now about 15 ft tall and doing great. Even with only a few fronds in the crown, I think these are very striking. Sometimes there is a bit of color in the crownshaft after the old leaf falls.

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The smaller palm between the two Iriartias is an Itaya amicorum added a couple of years ago. The obligatory patch of pig damage is down front at about 7 o'clock.

After seven years, the wall itself is completely covered in moss and ferns. I preferred the appearance of clean lava rock, but I have long ago given up on trying to keep the wall free of vegetation in our wet climate. On a side note, I’m noticing that all of my pictures have washed out white skies. The reason is that I get a lot of cloud cover at my elevation even when it’s not raining. We do occasionally get crystal clear blue skies, but I guess those days I’m shoveling cinder rather than taking photos.

The recently fallen fronds revealed tiny inflorescence buds which presumably will take years to grow into the distinctive six foot long bloom sheaths resembling Texas Longhorns. Also, the trees are beginning to develop some stilt roots. Nothing like Verschaffeltia splendida, but a minor point of interest.

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Rick Kelley

Now for a heads-up on growing palms without soil in Hawaii. The Big Island can be separated into an older, norther half (= Mauna Kea), and a much newer, still growing southern half (=Mauna Loa & Kilauea). The northern half is old enough that erosion has produced deep soil. Former sugarcane plantations along the Hamakua coast are the sites of many spectacular palm gardens. But let me be clear, these people are cheating. They just grab a shovel, dig a hole in the deep dirt, and drop the palm in. Mission Accomplished in only ten minutes. Real estate prices are very high up there because there is essentially no risk of molten lava repaving your property.

South of Hilo gardening is much more challenging. We regularly get molten lava running down the side of the volcano or erupting out of cracks in the streets. Kilauea just rumbled back to life December 20, 2020. Plus, there are all the earthquakes that go with this rambunctious geological activity. This depresses real estate prices significantly making Puna the last affordable location in the state. As a consequent of living on steaming hot real estate fresh out of the oven, most of us down in Puna are trying to garden on solid lava with little or no soil. What to do?

Many lots are ‘ripped’ by a giant bulldozer and then leveled before a house is built. Generally, the rock is broken up to a depth of about two feet. After the dozer leaves, the treeless property looks like a parking lot covered with 6” rocks. Remarkably, this is often sufficient for palms to establish a reasonable root system. The big attraction of ripping a lot is that the resulting flat land is infinitely easier to maintain (mow) compared to its natural condition.

Only a small section of my property was bulldozed to make way for a small house and driveway. The remaining 90% of the land remains in its original state of rough, lumpy lava formations. To provide something for the palms to grow in, I have been bringing in many dump trucks full of black volcanic cinder. Think volcanic popcorn. Filling in low spots provides room for roots while also helping to level out the terrain. I also build terraces on the sides of slopes that can hold more palms. I spread the cinder by hand with a shovel and wheelbarrow. 60 truckloads (~2000 cubic yards) so far with maybe another ten needed to complete the job over the next year. This corresponds to covering the two-acre garden area to an average depth of around 8”, but of course some areas are left as raw lava and some low spots have 4 ft of cinder. The cinder comes from a quarry on the edge of Leilani Estates. Yes, THAT Leilani Estates that was partially buried under fresh lava in the summer of 2018 when the East Rift broke open. The cinder had been spit up at the end of an earlier eruption several decades ago. 

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.2d0d5b607bbc5358b2f35678289697d9.jpeg

There is an old saying in gardening that you get better results putting a $1 tree in a $10 hole than by putting a $10 tree in a $1 hole. Well, I have spent much more than 10X the price of palms to bring in all that cinder. So far, it seems to be worth the investment. The coarse nature of the cinder provides excellent drainage that palms appreciate, but the downside is that it does not hold moisture very long if we go a week or two without rain. To fortify the cinder and provide more moisture retention, I mix enormous amounts of mulch with the cinder. I’ve brought in close to a thousand cubic yards of mulch over the years. Of course, this is almost all air, and the solids decay fairly quickly. Mulch is free from the Hilo landfill, but goes quickly. They produce mulch from shredded green waste (rapid decay) and from shipping pallets (longer lasting). After a while I have rich organic ‘soil’ full of fat worms. Pigs soon follow.

I have a ‘spaghetti’ lot that is 125 ft along the road and 1000 ft deep. The original driveway was about 300 ft long, but the rear two acres was inaccessible when I arrived. I had only been here two years when in late 2014 a narrow 15 mile long river of molten lava began flowing towards the small village of Pahoa about seven miles from my house. This caused considerable second guessing whether the move to Hawaii had been such a good idea. In the end I decided that life is always uncertain. My property will definitely be destroyed by lava someday, perhaps buried under thousands of feet of lava from hundreds of separate eruptions. It could begin next week, or it might be 200 years from now. I decided that the chances the lava would reach my place in the next 25 years were low. I was staying put. Soon thereafter, the eruption stopped at the outer edge of Pahoa.  In early 2015 I hired a huge D9 bulldozer to extend my driveway another 700 ft to the back property line so I could reach all three acres with large dump trucks full of cinder or mulch . 

I did not understand how bulldozers operate. I thought the front blade scraped a path. No, it is the giant claw in the rear that does most of the work. It is plunged deep into the rock. Then the 100,000 pound dozer takes off plowing up huge boulders. These are pushed into piles and crushed into smaller rocks as the dozer driving over them. Over and over. Finally, the front blade is used to grade the broken rock.

Slide2.thumb.jpeg.f4febe8d2c66d7f7904c3c74bc10b335.jpeg

The dozer operator did a great job, but an unanticipated side effect was large berms of leftover rock heaped on either side of the extended driveway. For 700 feet! What was I gonna do with all that rock? Well, I’ve spent the past five years building low terrace walls on the sides of slopes. I then backfill with cinder and mulch until it is ready for baby palms. Rocks too small for walls are used as fill material to level large depressions. I used up all my rock from the dozer before I had completed all the walls I needed, but luckily a neighbor’s excavation job recently provided a fresh supply of rock to finish my various landscaping projects. I estimate I’ve moved several hundred tons of rock, by hand. Remarkably, I have had no back problems. So far.

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Rick Kelley

Here is one example of the kind of terrace walls I’ve been building. 

1934697370_NeoveitchiawallJan2021B-1.thumb.jpeg.a35bf8854f5d14c61ad0a64ced1a8571.jpeg

Here are some photos showing the construction. It is a bit hard to orient the before and after photos, so the asterisk on the left photo shows the future location of the Neoveitchia storckii.  It was planted as a 1 gallon in 2017. The background trees are the native ohi`a that colonize fresh lava flows. These will probably all be dead in another year or two due to a fungal disease that was introduced to the island about seven years ago. They look ok in this photo, but I notice a new dead one every week.

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First, I have to pull all the rock away from the side of the driveway to clear the construction site. I usually have to haul lots of extra rock to the worksite so I have plenty of rocks to find ones that fit together. These are all dry stack walls built without mortar. I gradually backfill with cinder and mulch as the wall gets higher. Once the wall is complete, I have to haul all the leftover rock away to the next site. So, after many days of heavy lifting, I finally get to plant a one-gallon baby palm. This last part usually takes about two minutes. Later I added a couple more Neoveitchias since I liked the first one so much. The finished wall ended up being about 100 ft long with steps at either end climbing up to higher elevations off to the left. You might be able to see a baby Phoenix roebelenii hiding in the coleus at left just above the steps. 

I have been experimenting with coleus as a groundcover to supply some color and compete with the blizzard of airborne weed seeds that quickly choke every new area of cinder I spread. There is no way I could mow so much rough terrain. Also, there is an irresistible temptation to plant baby palms far too closely. They seem so lonely when they are little. Filling the blank space with coleus until the palms get some size is my solution. Back in Texas coleus were delicate bedding plants set out in late March. Once temperatures went over 95 in June, they generally succumbed unless heavily watered and kept in shade. If they somehow limped along to Halloween, frost finished them off. Here they grow profusely year-round and get over six feet high. They seed like crazy, so there is always a large selection of new seedlings with wild colors and patterns to try next year. Meanwhile, after six years the new driveway has been completely covered with weeds. When mowed, it resembles a very long, narrow lawn that goes down the middle of my property.

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John hovancsek
11 hours ago, Rick Kelley said:

Now for a heads-up on growing palms without soil in Hawaii. The Big Island can be separated into an older, norther half (= Mauna Kea), and a much newer, still growing southern half (=Mauna Loa & Kilauea). The northern half is old enough that erosion has produced deep soil. Former sugarcane plantations along the Hamakua coast are the sites of many spectacular palm gardens. But let me be clear, these people are cheating. They just grab a shovel, dig a hole in the deep dirt, and drop the palm in. Mission Accomplished in only ten minutes. Real estate prices are very high up there because there is essentially no risk of molten lava repaving your property.

South of Hilo gardening is much more challenging. We regularly get molten lava running down the side of the volcano or erupting out of cracks in the streets. Kilauea just rumbled back to life December 20, 2020. Plus, there are all the earthquakes that go with this rambunctious geological activity. This depresses real estate prices significantly making Puna the last affordable location in the state. As a consequent of living on steaming hot real estate fresh out of the oven, most of us down in Puna are trying to garden on solid lava with little or no soil. What to do?

Many lots are ‘ripped’ by a giant bulldozer and then leveled before a house is built. Generally, the rock is broken up to a depth of about two feet. After the dozer leaves, the treeless property looks like a parking lot covered with 6” rocks. Remarkably, this is often sufficient for palms to establish a reasonable root system. The big attraction of ripping a lot is that the resulting flat land is infinitely easier to maintain (mow) compared to its natural condition.

Only a small section of my property was bulldozed to make way for a small house and driveway. The remaining 90% of the land remains in its original state of rough, lumpy lava formations. To provide something for the palms to grow in, I have been bringing in many dump trucks full of black volcanic cinder. Think volcanic popcorn. Filling in low spots provides room for roots while also helping to level out the terrain. I also build terraces on the sides of slopes that can hold more palms. I spread the cinder by hand with a shovel and wheelbarrow. 60 truckloads (~2000 cubic yards) so far with maybe another ten needed to complete the job over the next year. This corresponds to covering the two-acre garden area to an average depth of around 8”, but of course some areas are left as raw lava and some low spots have 4 ft of cinder. The cinder comes from a quarry on the edge of Leilani Estates. Yes, THAT Leilani Estates that was partially buried under fresh lava in the summer of 2018 when the East Rift broke open. The cinder had been spit up at the end of an earlier eruption several decades ago. 

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.2d0d5b607bbc5358b2f35678289697d9.jpeg

There is an old saying in gardening that you get better results putting a $1 tree in a $10 hole than by putting a $10 tree in a $1 hole. Well, I have spent much more than 10X the price of palms to bring in all that cinder. So far, it seems to be worth the investment. The coarse nature of the cinder provides excellent drainage that palms appreciate, but the downside is that it does not hold moisture very long if we go a week or two without rain. To fortify the cinder and provide more moisture retention, I mix enormous amounts of mulch with the cinder. I’ve brought in close to a thousand cubic yards of mulch over the years. Of course, this is almost all air, and the solids decay fairly quickly. Mulch is free from the Hilo landfill, but goes quickly. They produce mulch from shredded green waste (rapid decay) and from shipping pallets (longer lasting). After a while I have rich organic ‘soil’ full of fat worms. Pigs soon follow.

I have a ‘spaghetti’ lot that is 125 ft along the road and 1000 ft deep. The original driveway was about 300 ft long, but the rear two acres was inaccessible when I arrived. I had only been here two years when in late 2014 a narrow 15 mile long river of molten lava began flowing towards the small village of Pahoa about seven miles from my house. This caused considerable second guessing whether the move to Hawaii had been such a good idea. In the end I decided that life is always uncertain. My property will definitely be destroyed by lava someday, perhaps buried under thousands of feet of lava from hundreds of separate eruptions. It could begin next week, or it might be 200 years from now. I decided that the chances the lava would reach my place in the next 25 years were low. I was staying put. Soon thereafter, the eruption stopped at the outer edge of Pahoa.  In early 2015 I hired a huge D9 bulldozer to extend my driveway another 700 ft to the back property line so I could reach all three acres with large dump trucks full of cinder or mulch . 

I did not understand how bulldozers operate. I thought the front blade scraped a path. No, it is the giant claw in the rear that does most of the work. It is plunged deep into the rock. Then the 100,000 pound dozer takes off plowing up huge boulders. These are pushed into piles and crushed into smaller rocks as the dozer driving over them. Over and over. Finally, the front blade is used to grade the broken rock.

Slide2.thumb.jpeg.f4febe8d2c66d7f7904c3c74bc10b335.jpeg

The dozer operator did a great job, but an unanticipated side effect was large berms of leftover rock heaped on either side of the extended driveway. For 700 feet! What was I gonna do with all that rock? Well, I’ve spent the past five years building low terrace walls on the sides of slopes. I then backfill with cinder and mulch until it is ready for baby palms. Rocks too small for walls are used as fill material to level large depressions. I used up all my rock from the dozer before I had completed all the walls I needed, but luckily a neighbor’s excavation job recently provided a fresh supply of rock to finish my various landscaping projects. I estimate I’ve moved several hundred tons of rock, by hand. Remarkably, I have had no back problems. So far.

Ugh, the struggle is real. My neighbors have one of those parked in there yard and I keep badgering them to rip the rest of my property. The pics of how your garden came to be are amazing 

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Kim

Rick, do you know when lava last flowed across your land? I estimate at my place in Leilani, it was about 300 years ago, based on USGS maps. (Pele missed my place in 2018.)  So there is a little soil among the rocks. My planting is done by using a pick to move some rock, tossing in some cinder soil, popping in the root ball, and finishing with more soil. Sometimes I hit blue rock, and if the o'o bar can't break through, I have to try a short distance away. Admittedly, the palms don't get as fat as they do in places with more soil, but otherwise they grow very well, especially compared to my experience in California. 

What really puzzles me is in areas that appear to be nearly all rock and no soil, once the pigs settle in to dig and wallow, it becomes a mud pit. How is this possible? Have you had that experience?

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Brad52

Rick, greetings, I've yet to take you up on your offer to visit but I must get around to it!  Was your land all uluhe before the dozing?  If so, did you end up with mounds of root mass?  

My property is much closer to the ocean than yours, I'm on 8th in HPP so hotter and a bit drier where I am.  I essentially have a driveway, house area that was cleared for the house that was built and the rest of the land was left 'natural' - natural being defined as lumpy lava flows covered with uluhe, glory bush and sick ohia.  I've been clearing it all by hand, just me, pruners/loppers, chainsaw and a battery powered hedge trimmer I use to first slowly shred the 6' uluhe into a coarse mulch (back breaking), then I lopper or chainsaw as appropriate - I've probably hand cleared 1/4 - 1/3 acre so far.  

I now have cleared areas with lots of tiny wicked uluhe stumps that slice my toes open when I walk around in slippahs so I need to mow them as best can, and I have glory bush stumps that regenerate unless I chop/pry them out, and large piles of glory bush 'trees' that I guess I'll burn.  In a couple of areas where there might be interesting lava formations I've taken my shovel and scraped, pried, and dragged mats of uluhe roots and a fingernail destroying fine black mat of organic matter that is just teeming with worms.  Needless to say I'm less inclined to clear an area in hope of an interesting lava formation, a couple I've done might have to be enough. But now I also have these mats of glory bush stumps/roots and organic matter bound by uluhe roots to deal with.

We have perhaps 1/8 acre between the house and the road and perhaps 3/8 acre behind the house still left 'natural.  We're pondering having a dozer come attack but as you know that is creating a cash drain - the dozing alone with a D9 was estimated at $6,000 for about a half acre and then I'll have the ongoing cost of cinders, mulch to bring in to plant, plus I assume I'll have huge piles of organic debris to deal with.  

In the areas that I've hand cleared, thus far it seems that the uluhe does not resprout leaving large brown areas with glory bush suckers popping up but those areas do have the 3" or so of the wormy organic mass and I wondering if I can get ground cover to sprout in there if I can get the birds to leave it alone.  So far no signs of pigs but the dozer dude says he sees them in my area and part of his quote was to prepare the ground for fencing the whole thing in - more $$ I hadn't intended on spending if we doze and I was hoping to leave a narrow perimeter of the uluhe to keep my dog from getting through and maybe encourage the pigs to visit neighboring lots instead but probably is a pipe dream, that.

So my questions are did you have any areas where you culled uluhe but did not scrape?  If so, what you done with those areas?  

The huge D9 dozer can not easily access my back yard and to do so would require pulling most of what I've already planted, but if I hire a smaller dozer for more surgical work it sounds like I'll end up with bigger rocks everywhere as the lighter dozer might not break them up so then I'd have an unwalkable yard of rock hunks to drown in cinders and would that likely require even more cinders to get a more friendly surface?  Or I might consider just having someone besides me and my hand tools mow the uluhe, cull the glory bush and leave me with more large brown areas that I can plant the low spots, build some mounds to plant and figure out the ground cover.  

I'm leaning toward just have the remaining 2 areas mowed option but I'd sure appreciate any insight from forum members who might have dealt with this already.

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Rick Kelley
2 hours ago, Kim said:

Rick, do you know when lava last flowed across your land? I estimate at my place in Leilani, it was about 300 years ago, based on USGS maps. (Pele missed my place in 2018.)  So there is a little soil among the rocks. My planting is done by using a pick to move some rock, tossing in some cinder soil, popping in the root ball, and finishing with more soil. Sometimes I hit blue rock, and if the o'o bar can't break through, I have to try a short distance away. Admittedly, the palms don't get as fat as they do in places with more soil, but otherwise they grow very well, especially compared to my experience in California. 

What really puzzles me is in areas that appear to be nearly all rock and no soil, once the pigs settle in to dig and wallow, it becomes a mud pit. How is this possible? Have you had that experience?

Kim,

I have not carefully researched the age of my lava, but I'm guessing around 300 years based on the USGS lava maps I looked at back in 2018. Yes, I do have very small puddles of mud here and there, but not nearly enough to use for planting. My bedrock seems quite solid. No way I could bust a hole with an o`o bar, and even if I could, I don't think the roots could penetrate far. I have tried sticking palms in large cracks in the lava with mixed results. Pigs are very well adapted to find anything to dig in. Sometimes I go a year or two without a pig attack, but usually I get hit every six months or so. Luckily I have neighbors with guns. After a while the pigs disappear. Fencing the entire property is not practical or economically feasible at the moment.

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Rick Kelley
1 hour ago, Brad52 said:

Rick, greetings, I've yet to take you up on your offer to visit but I must get around to it!  Was your land all uluhe before the dozing?  If so, did you end up with mounds of root mass?  

My property is much closer to the ocean than yours, I'm on 8th in HPP so hotter and a bit drier where I am.  I essentially have a driveway, house area that was cleared for the house that was built and the rest of the land was left 'natural' - natural being defined as lumpy lava flows covered with uluhe, glory bush and sick ohia.  I've been clearing it all by hand, just me, pruners/loppers, chainsaw and a battery powered hedge trimmer I use to first slowly shred the 6' uluhe into a coarse mulch (back breaking), then I lopper or chainsaw as appropriate - I've probably hand cleared 1/4 - 1/3 acre so far.  

I now have cleared areas with lots of tiny wicked uluhe stumps that slice my toes open when I walk around in slippahs so I need to mow them as best can, and I have glory bush stumps that regenerate unless I chop/pry them out, and large piles of glory bush 'trees' that I guess I'll burn.

DON'T burn the cut vegetation! That's all future soil. I used a gas powered weed whacker to clear as much of the uluhe fern as possible, then used loppers to cut the bigger stuff, or a chainsaw if needed. I left everything to rot in place when I moved onto the next area. The uluhe never grew back. The tibouchina bushes would try to grow back after cutting, but usually I could grub out the stump & roots fairly easily. Otherwise I just covered everything with a tarp or sheet of weed cloth to prevent them from regrowing. All the green waste eventually got buried under cinder. 

 In a couple of areas where there might be interesting lava formations I've taken my shovel and scraped, pried, and dragged mats of uluhe roots and a fingernail destroying fine black mat of organic matter that is just teeming with worms.  Needless to say I'm less inclined to clear an area in hope of an interesting lava formation, a couple I've done might have to be enough. But now I also have these mats of glory bush stumps/roots and organic matter bound by uluhe roots to deal with.

We have perhaps 1/8 acre between the house and the road and perhaps 3/8 acre behind the house still left 'natural.  We're pondering having a dozer come attack but as you know that is creating a cash drain - the dozing alone with a D9 was estimated at $6,000 for about a half acre and then I'll have the ongoing cost of cinders, mulch to bring in to plant, plus I assume I'll have huge piles of organic debris to deal with.  

Again, the huge piles of organic debris are not a problem, just a temporary eyesore. Dozers are not cheap, but the guy I hired repeated over and over again during the initial conversation about doing the job, "Don't hire me unless you are willing to pay for quality work." Be suspicious about anyone quoting an attractive price for the entire job. Reputable operators will only quote a hourly price because they have no idea how difficult the job will be until they start digging. If they hit much blue rock, the job becomes dramatically more difficult and expensive. Smaller dozers may seem like an affordable option, but if they get stuck and can't complete the job, you are left with an expensive mess that only a larger dozer can fix.

In the areas that I've hand cleared, thus far it seems that the uluhe does not resprout leaving large brown areas with glory bush suckers popping up but those areas do have the 3" or so of the wormy organic mass and I wondering if I can get ground cover to sprout in there if I can get the birds to leave it alone.  So far no signs of pigs but the dozer dude says he sees them in my area and part of his quote was to prepare the ground for fencing the whole thing in - more $$ I hadn't intended on spending if we doze and I was hoping to leave a narrow perimeter of the uluhe to keep my dog from getting through and maybe encourage the pigs to visit neighboring lots instead but probably is a pipe dream, that.

I can't imagine a perimeter of uluhe fern would provide any barrier against pigs. They easily navigate the entire island regardless of vegetation. If you haven't been hit yet, it is because the pigs are busy destroying your neighbors' places. They will get to you in the fullness of time, once you have done more planting.

So my questions are did you have any areas where you culled uluhe but did not scrape?  If so, what you done with those areas?  

Yes, essentially all of my property was cleared of uluhe fern (and other trash vegetation), but the dozer only cut a 20 ft wide path down the center of my lot. Everything else was left as is. That remaining 90% is what I have been covering with cinder,  mulch, terrace walls, and gravel paths for the past six years.

The huge D9 dozer can not easily access my back yard and to do so would require pulling most of what I've already planted, but if I hire a smaller dozer for more surgical work it sounds like I'll end up with bigger rocks everywhere as the lighter dozer might not break them up so then I'd have an unwalkable yard of rock hunks to drown in cinders and would that likely require even more cinders to get a more friendly surface?  Or I might consider just having someone besides me and my hand tools mow the uluhe, cull the glory bush and leave me with more large brown areas that I can plant the low spots, build some mounds to plant and figure out the ground cover.  

In my original posts I skipped over some of the details. The dozer left behind rocks ranging from softball size to over a ton. Much of it was far too heavy to move. A month after the dozer finished, the company sent a second guy with a smaller excavator that used a jack-hammer tool to bust up the big rocks into manageable sizes, for another $2K.

I'm leaning toward just have the remaining 2 areas mowed option but I'd sure appreciate any insight from forum members who might have dealt with this already.

 

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Brad52

Thanks for the advice, I've been doing stick mulching in areas, in other spots I have huge piles that I need to deal with.  Sounds like my strategy should be to mow the fern and forget about any dozing.  Plant the low spots and make some mounds.  I visited Bill Austin's nursery and he has mainly done that and has the cleared/exposed lava in other places and his garden is amazing so it can work.  I am a bit luck in that I have some fairly large areas that are somewhat level, a few of those lava mounds in other spots...

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mike in kurtistown

These are very interesting stories, and I am greatly impressed by the problems faced by posters and the work they have done to address the problems. My problems were not nearly so difficult, so I would like to describe my situation and solutions arrived at for contrast/interest of the forum.

I have 8 acres of land near Kurtistown 3/4 mile from Hwy 11. The lava flows were 5K to 10K years ago, from Mauna Loa, not Kilauea. I told my real estate agent that I wanted a property with acreage and soils in my price range, which ruled out the Hamakua Coast, Kona, and even Leilani Estates. Here, the property was used for sugar cane growing, starting probably in the late 1800's. In the 1980's, the last sugar cane growing owner, Puna Sugar, gave up and had a larger area including my 8 acres rezoned a couple of times, the last one being for parceling into large lots for sale to the public (20-acre ag zoning). In 2005, I bought the last available lot, which was a hillside lot with several unusual features, including two large hills and several deep gorges. Other buyers were looking for flat land, but I was pleased to have a hillside lot. It was covered with forests of "trash trees": "albizia", "gunpower trees" (Trema orientalis), Melochia umbellata, Cecropia, and waiawi (Strawberry guava), the latter in tight clumps of very mature trees. There were stands of remnant sugar cane. In the rear behind the two hills, there were smaller hills and large pits.

Using monies from my father's estate when he passed in 2010, I hired people to clear the land in successive stages, using mainly a D-4 and a backhoe, but also using a D-9 for part of the job. Removing the waiawi clumps required an excavator. The hills turned out to be piles of rocks, many large boulders. Apparently, the sugar cane growers cleared large rocks from the larger property and pushed them into the two large hills. The gorges, some with vertical sides 15 feet deep, were quarries, used by the sugar people to prepare the "cane road" that property owners along the road still use today for access. All the old waiawi stands turned out to be on hillsides, and were probably planted deliberately to stabilize those hillsides. The equipment operators used the quarry and other pits to dispose of the trash trees, creating some very fertile growing areas. After a couple years of planting palms, about half were destroyed by bands of feral pigs. They seemed to especially like the ones with long thin stems (Socrateas), perhaps mistaking them for sugar cane. I hired a fencing contractor to fence the entire property. This required filling in part of the quarry gorge that extended across the property boundary. Also required was the removal of an ENORMOUS albizia that I avoided getting removed earlier because of its size. As far as I can tell, the pigs have never been on my property since then.

The soil depth varies, with blue rock on the surface in a couple of spots and inches below the soil surface in a few spots. Mostly, it is deep enough to make room for roots of palm trees. While clayey near the surface, it grades to a crumbly material below. Everywhere, there are plenty of rocks in the soil ranging in size from very small to large enough that I cannot turn over by hand. I use the loader of my tractor to remove these.  The presence of all this broken rock in my soil suggest the possibility that the sugar planters broke up rock when they began operations. Did they have equipment to do this at the turn of the 20th century? in spots where I have planted several of the same species of palm, there has been considerable difference in the rate of growth and the health of the trees. I wonder if this could be the result of different depths of soil that I could not detect in digging with my backhoe or in probing the bottom of the planting hoe with my pike.

So that's the story. If you migrate to Hawaii, be aware of our experiences to determine if you are ready to deal with similar problems. I haven't even mentioned the monster grasses (California grass), fast-spreading vines (maile pilau), and shrubs with woody stems (clidemia or "Koster's curse). But the reward is a palm garden, and I don't regret my choice.

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tinman10101

Belated welcome Rick. Very interesting narrative with even more compelling illustrations.  :D. Thank you for the continuing great read. 

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Darold Petty
On 1/9/2021 at 9:00 PM, Rick Kelley said:

 I estimate I’ve moved several hundred tons of rock, by hand. Remarkably, I have had no back problems. So far.

Rick, I salute you.  I wanta to know what you eat for breakfast !  :mrlooney:

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realarch

I believe Rick alternates between gun powder and bullets for breakfast. After seeing first hand Rick’s physical labor and sweat equity, it’s enough to give me back problems. 

I’m a bit more fortunate, living on an old Mauna Loa flow, with mostly fractured substrate in between exposed blue rock islands. My biggest challenge planting palms has been digging holes and what seems like, every time, finding the largest rock in the world. After wrestling the boulder out of the hole, then the perfect home for a palm appears. A shovel is worthless digging holes in my garden and the O’o bar is the only tool, excluding dynamite, that works beautifully. There are still risks. I have a friend, while using an O’o bar, lost control prying out a large rock and the end of the bar hit him in the face and knocked out his front teeth. Ouch. 

Tim

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Brad52

What are people using as an O'o bar?

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Kim

This is what an o'o bar looks like, weighs 16 lbs.:

1300877298_ScreenShot2021-01-11at3_32_36PM.thumb.png.902db6e9883d1ba5c37b8cc4a4c17fce.png

 

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Brad52

OK, I have one of those that just bounces off my lava so it has not helped saved for some root mass prying, I was hoping there was something even more substantial! 

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Rick Kelley

This installment will focus on palms with entire leaves.  Phoenicophorium borsigianum is absolutely spectacular. We are fortunate in Hawaii to be able to grow this in the ground where it can reach its full glory. Apparently even South Florida’s rare cold snaps restrict the species to containers there. Mine started from a five gallon pot and has just recently begun to bloom. Unfortunately, the first three inflorescences have failed to produce any seed.

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.6faa64605f4ebcc68b608c5a2d340138.jpeg

Licualas are very popular in Hawaii, but my favorite species by far is the amazing Licuala peltate var. ‘sumawongii’. In the local nursery trade, it goes by the name L. elegans. Besides the impressively huge pleated leaves, this turns out to be one of the faster (or less slow) growers in the genus. Many decades ago, Donn Carlsmith planted a grove of these at his famous palm estate just north of Hilo. HIPS was lucky enough to tour this amazing garden a few years ago. These Licualas had grown to a mind-blowing size. Very Jurassic Park. The host generously gave away seedlings in 4” pots to attendees. Mine have a long way to go to reach that size, but they’re still a joy to have in the garden. As with most palms with entire leaves, these guys suffer terribly in the wind, so plant them in a sheltered location.

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.c50c90291ed8b3b972815ee11a8d5c4e.jpeg

Pelagodoxa henryana is listed as a monotypic genus in Palmpedia, but a September 2019 research report in Palmsdescribed what may be a new species with much smaller fruits. Floribunda is also growing a variety with a noticeably larger fruit. Regardless of how the taxonomists hand out names, this is an incredibly beautiful palm as it gets bigger. The large fruit remind me of a hand grenade. I’m not sure why these are not more widely grown. The seeds germinate quickly as long as the fruit was allowed to drop to the ground naturally. This trio was started from one gallon plants in 2018. They are about four feet tall now. Teaser: In the distance you might notice another entire leaf giant that will be the subject of a future post.

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.a31261bab31b7930994914540e0886d9.jpeg

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Rick Kelley

Although the very mild climate of Hawaii is perfect for most tropical palms, we might be a bit too cool for Johannesteijsannia to reach their full potential. I think they top out around 10-12 ft tall here, while they might double that in their native steamy habitat. Even so, these are such beautiful and distinctive plants that pretty much every palm garden here has at least one. I’ve pigged out with four.

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.4b44af59dcd2251a547f116b0291a8df.jpeg

I’m just beginning to appreciate Hydriastele beguinii Obi Island form since it only went into the ground a little over a year ago from an overgrown Floribunda 4” pot. But it has really taken off already reaching about four feet tall despite growing in deep shade. I had thought it was a miniature, but it looks like it will get much larger than I anticipated. That’s OK. I like big.

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.e0cc191921a4647d3119872798f09cef.jpeg

I’ll finish up the post on entire leaves with Verschaffeltia splendida. The beautiful fronds have an orange midrib. The trunk is covered with spines. Once the crown disappears into the forest canopy, you still get to enjoy the wonderful stilt roots. Another must have. And just like peanuts, you can’t stop with just one. I have five and need some more.

Slide1.thumb.jpeg.62d38429b08c3c043325550300ffa412.jpeg

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WaianaeCrider
11 hours ago, realarch said:

I believe Rick alternates between gun powder and bullets for breakfast. After seeing first hand Rick’s physical labor and sweat equity, it’s enough to give me back problems. 

I’m a bit more fortunate, living on an old Mauna Loa flow, with mostly fractured substrate in between exposed blue rock islands. My biggest challenge planting palms has been digging holes and what seems like, every time, finding the largest rock in the world. After wrestling the boulder out of the hole, then the perfect home for a palm appears. A shovel is worthless digging holes in my garden and the O’o bar is the only tool, excluding dynamite, that works beautifully. There are still risks. I have a friend, while using an O’o bar, lost control prying out a large rock and the end of the bar hit him in the face and knocked out his front teeth. Ouch. 

Tim

I have one and many missing teeth but there is no connection between the teeth and the O`o.  A very handy tool here on O`ahu even though I don't have to break throw any lava.

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Cindy Adair

Hi Rick and welcome to PalmTalk!

Your garden is amazing and I had no concept of the work involved to plant in your part of HI!

I guess each area has its own challenges, but I am appreciating my plentiful good dirt and zero pigs in the mountains of Puerto Rico more and more.

I am looking forward to many more posts of your adventures!

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OC2Texaspalmlvr

@Rick Kelley What an amazing garden so far :drool:Your Metroxylons are out of this world. I especially love your entire leaf palms what a dream to be able to grow all of those!! Do you have an Marojejya darianii in your garden , if not I think that would just top off your garden =) 

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mike in kurtistown

I am puzzled by the o'o bar shown above with the spoon-like delivery end. Here is my version, which I call a pike:

1016245893_Mypike.thumb.JPG.a26d96f8a932d7788691b10913347aa7.JPG

Has a pointy delivery end. Steel, about 4 ft long, quite heavy. The claw on my backhoe will get out a lot of rocks. In fact, that was the purpose of its purchase. But sometimes a rock or two will be so jammed together that the claw can't get it out. In many cases, prying around it with the pike will lead to success, and one has a planting hole. The pointed end is useful for probing the bottom of the hole to insure that there is some depth of loose soil.

Rick, your palms are an eye opener. You have done amazing things in the time you has been working on your garden. I really like the broad-leaf palms. Good pictures, too.

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