Perhaps no other plant than the palm evokes a sense of the warm reaches of the tropics. By selecting the appropriate species of palm for your home landscape, you can enjoy palms that are in scale with your house and property, and add architectural interest. Visually, palms are a strong vertical element, with an explosive, bold accent of foliage at the top of the trunks.
Row or Formal Allée
One of the easiest applications of palms in a landscape is planting them in a straight line in a row, or if lining a roadway or a walkway, as an allée. Remember the simple guideline, however, that a palm is visually similar to a telephone pole. The stark vertical trunks of the palm can be jarring in a residential landscape, especially if the mature size of the palm is out of scale to the nearby buildings or neighborhood. Royal palms look grand on large thoroughfares, but a foxtail palm is more in scale with the average one- or two-story house.
If room allows, planting single-trunked palms in a loose grouping of three, five or seven accentuates the beauty and form of each palm's frond canopy. Robert Lee Riffle dubbed this as "creating a canopyscape," in which palms of varying heights are planted in a cluster so that their mops of fronds are at different levels, softening the trunks. As the palms grow, they remain at different heights and create beautiful silhouettes against the sky.
Some plant species naturally clump, such as a lady palm, butterfly palm or paurotis palm. Treat each clumping palm as one plant or vertical element when you design. If the palm has many trunks, a cluster planting may not make sense visually or financially. Remember, other shrubs and flowers can be planted under the palms, which cast a light shade in the garden.
Small-growing palms or larger palms that are in a juvenile state can be enjoyed in containers on the patio. In regions where palms may not survive the winter, growing palms in containers that are relocated indoors makes sense. Consider using palms in containers in tropical climates, too, as a movable, temporary way to make a patio or an entrance elegant. Palms with exceptionally ornamental trunks or foliage are great in containers, such as the bottle palm or colorful stems of the lipstick palm.
Massive palms, like date palms or bismarkia palms, grow thick trunks and have large rounded canopies of big fronds. Such plants need ample space in the landscape to lend themselves as specimens, grown singularly in a lawn or a garden bed. Keep other trees well away from the specimen palm so that light and soil moisture promotes robust, even growth on the specimen palm.