Gardening: Palms you will dig

By Leigh Bramwell


I had no idea when I got up this morning how the day would pan out.

The weather forecast said mostly sunny, 23C and a chance of a shower, as it has every day for the past month. What it really means is a snowball's chance in hell of a shower, which has certainly been the reality here. Even the weather bomb a week or two ago shunned us and, apart from a good blow, nothing changed.

So there was no excuse not to go for a walk, followed by a visit to the village, the banking, a leisurely coffee, and home to finish off a little garden project we started yesterday.

The walk was shortened by the arrival of our mate with his digger, who'd been promising to come and move a massive Butia palm for us, and decided today was the day.

I've mentioned before how much I like men with diggers. Men with diggers can achieve about 50 times as much as men without them in the same time frame, which hugely endears them to me. I'm not so fond of Butia palms, though. At the time they were planted I didn't realise they have vicious spikes, messy seed pods and grow 5m in five minutes in entirely the wrong place.

The only saving grace is that they produce orange fruit called pindo dates that are quite nice to eat, although you risk having your eyes poked out trying to get to them.

So not that much going for Butias, then. However, I'm not one for wasting stuff.

So, after a short site meeting with tea and peanut biscuits (not home-made, sorry, so no recipe), it was decided the Butia would be moved rather than murdered. It would take its place well away from the house where I could see it, to a position behind the garden shed where I could not.

I went inside to consult Google on the best way to move a palm but, by the time I'd printed off the instructions, it was already out of the ground and sitting unceremoniously aloft in the digger bucket on the way to its new location.

When it comes to moving trees, palms are one of the best candidates. They have a compact, fibrous root system, which can be lifted out like a large ball, and they usually recover fairly fast.

If you have more than a minute's warning, soak the roots of the tree before your digger man pulls it out. Overnight is a good plan.

Before you start the big shift, dig the new hole and chuck in compost or whatever is appropriate for what you're planting. Get plenty of water in there, too.

Some experts advise pruning the top canopy of the palm and removing about one-third of the fronds. Spraying the remaining foliage with a protective product such as DroughtShield will reduce water loss through the leaves and help the tree to survive its transplanting ordeal.

Dig a trench around the tree, then lift as large a root ball as you can manage. Tip the tree on its side, use a crowbar and shovel to lever it out of its hole.

If it's a fair-sized tree and you're doing this by hand you'll need two or three mates. Planning ahead, in that case, is optimum.

If the tree's going any distance, wrap the root ball in hessian and saturate it. Then draw all the fronds together and wrap them with tape. This will stop them from ripping your flesh to bits while you manoeuvre it into place.

Drop the wretched thing in the hole and make sure it's at exactly the same depth as it was in its previous location, to prevent trunk rot.

Bang in three or four very sturdy stakes, burgle the neighbour's shed for ratchet tie-downs and secure it.

Rehoming our palm took about an hour. After more tea and biscuits the mate with the digger agreed to camouflage the ugly culvert on the opposite bank of our stream, so he moved about 20 very big rocks in 10 minutes to make it disappear.

He made us a small waterfall for fun. Half a dozen more rocks were dragged out of the water and carefully positioned in a new piece of garden that's under way. Then a lump on the lawn that's been annoying The Partner was scraped off and the soil used to fill the hole where the palm was. Finally, he slowly reversed his way off the property, gently patting down the tracks he'd made in the lawn with the flat side of the bucket.

I love a man with a digger.

- Hamilton News

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