Last month I discussed the importance of protecting young cycads and palms in particular from frost damage. One possible solution that I touched upon was protection provided by larger plants overhead. This is a good option, especially if your garden is extensive, but also because canopy plants add an attractive dimension to almost any garden. It is important, however, to understand which plants in your garden may already be canopy plants or are destined to become canopy plants.
The plants you choose as your canopy can be a curse or a blessing, if you have cycads as understory plants. In my garden I have both the blessing and the curse. Cycads are my primary understory plants, and I prefer to use some of the larger cold-hardy palms as my primary canopy plantings, such as Jubea chiliensis, Phoenix dactylifera, as well as Brahea and Trachycarpus species to name a few. I favor palms for a couple of reasons. With most palms I have some control over when the dried leaves are to be removed. This benefit also prevents damage from large leaves falling onto the smaller plants beneath. Palms also do not drop much smaller fine leaf matter, which tends to clutter the crowns of cycads. Canopy trees whose leaf litter clutters cycad crowns in my garden are Sycamore, Pepper, and Oak. These are some of the larger, older trees that were in place when I purchased my property. I tolerate them, because they are attractive in their own way.
Equally as important as choosing the right canopy plants, is the importance of proper location of understory plants in relation to the canopy plants. If you choose to include palms as canopy, it is important to note that many larger palms tend to have a very substantial root system that begins just below soil level, and for this reason, it is not wise to plant your cycads or other plants too close to the base of large palms. The palm roots will compete with and potentially kill your smaller less aggressive understory plants.
Certain understory plants that may have seasonal extreme temperature sensitivity may benefit from proper proximity to canopy plants. For example I have a significant number of cycads that can benefit from overhead cold protection in fall, winter, and spring, as well as sun protection in July through September. By locating these understory plants in locations ranging from the southeast to the southwest of a canopy plant, I am able to provide optimum year-round benefit to my understory plants. In the winter the mid-day sun is lower in the sky and shines from a southerly direction in under the canopy. The understory plants are also receiving canopy protection from the sun in summer, when the sun passes nearly straight overhead and the days are much longer. This way they are benefitting from greater sun exposure in the cooler days of the year, less sun exposure in the hotter days, and at the same time benefitting from cold protection from December through February.
Your use of canopy and understory plant placement can optimize your success in the garden.
Next month I will be discussing techniques for pup removal.
Grow and prosper,