Clustering Archontophoenix


Active Member
I want to create a cluster of Archontophoenix in my garden, this is the look I would like to achieve:



The plan would be to plant small ones so that they would grow up to be like this, here are some questions about how to achieve this look:

1) How close together should I plant the palms? Can I go as close as I like? I was thinking of planting each one about 18 inches apart (allowing that mature ones may be 12 inches diameter).

2) Can I plant a mix of species for variety? I was thinking of planting some A. Cumminghamaina, A. Alexandrae, and Montgomery palms mixed in too. Or will mixing the types cause problems when they are planted so close together?

3) In order to give it a dense jungle look I should probably buy them in different sizes. So I was thinking of buying some in 3 gallon containers and some in 7 gallon containers, with the hope that they would grow in a staggering way. Will this work? Or in the long run will the difference between starting in 3 gallon and 7 gallon not be much difference when the palms are 20 feet tall?
From my experience I think you should buy a few as large as you can find, a few 7gal and a few 3gal. Definitely mix up the sizes so they don't compete as much. I don't think it matters how close they are, palms are like weeds except they are so dang slow.
I will give you some advice from many years experience growing Archontophoenix. And note that you haven't said how many you plan to plant and how much of an area do you wish to plant. Here are some things I discovered - you can use the info as you wish to answer your own questions.

- I planted an expensive (for me at the time) large 15 gal. King next to a tenth of the cost small 5 gal. While I got some instant gratification with the 15 gal, after about 3-4 years, they were exactly the same size.

- I took five small one gal Kings and planted them very close (right next to) to a King that had about 3-4 ft. of trunk. It was difficult because of the roots, but I was going for that "arching/bending" out look that you see so often with a group of closely planted Kings. The bending out never happened, and today there are six fairly straight trees (angled out, but not curved) about 30 ft tall, with the center tree maybe a few feet taller, but you wouldn't even notice that it is.

- One another trunking palm, I let the volunteers remain - and then I selectively left about 5 or 6 - again looking to get that bending out look, but it didn't happen. And again, the mother tree is only moderately taller.

So, these palms (like Queen Palms) are palms that do remarkably well when planted small or actually germinate in their "home." The smaller palms will pick up ground rapidly on the pot grown ones. So --- getting that staggered look is difficult, as they need to be planted many years apart. But don't despair. If you have patience, you will be rewarded. When they start fruiting, you will have volunteers, and then you will have babies and the natural look. With this palm there is no real substitute for patience. But the saving grace is that they are fast. After 3-4 years in the ground, even from a 1 gal, they are rockets.

Also note that it will be impossible to grow much underneath them after they get large. The seeds can be prolific, as well as the root mass, and the dropping fronds. But the look you desire is assuredly achievable.

Also note that these experiences are mainly with Archonotphoenix cunninghamia. Your mileage may vary with the other varieties. Volunteers and seeds do not appear to be as big as a problem with at least A. beatrice and pupurea - the others I can not advise. I would recommend planting more than you need. Put some small ones in the ground if you can get some cheap. You can always remove them as the pattern takes shape.
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Just for aesthetics I wouldn't mix palm species in the kind of group look you want. The Montgomery being its only kind among many Archys might look like the "sick one" or "The good looking one" and 10 uglies.
I think with A.purperea and that color,the more the better. If one purple crownshaft is nice...a dozen would be jaw dropping.
Ok here are 3 main areas where I was thinking of doing this, I have marked the spots where I would plant the palms with red dots. I am leaning towards option 1, but I am concerned that it will block out the sun from the slower growing Bucaneer palm directly in front. What do you guys think?

Option 1
7 x 4 feet
Sun: Partial- Full
Advantages: Will block out the white fence behind, prime location in center of garden, easily viewed behind the pool.
Disadvantages: May block out the sun from the Bucanneer palm in front (which requires sun), may get in the way of the crown of the hurricane palm on left. Area only big enough for about 3 palms.


Option 2
17 x 2-4 feet
Sun: Mainly shade but some sun.
Advantages: Long area, will provide privacy from the 2 story house behind.
Disadvantages: There are already some pepper and Suriname cherry trees planted there which currently block the skyline above in places (but these could easily be cut back at the time when the Palms reach that height). There are already some baby Areca palms and some hedge type plants interspersed in this area, I am not sure if these will hinder growth, but if so they could be removed). The area is kind of thin most of the way along (only 2 feet), which means that I could not plant the palms in front of each other.


Option 3
9 x 3 feet
Sun: Mainly sun, but some shade.
Advantages: Reasonably prominent position in garden (but not as prominent as option 1), provides some privacy from 2 story house behind.
Disadvantages: The area provides a lot of sun, so I was thinking of saving the space for something that requires sun. The area is thin (only 3 feet wide, so no real chance to stack the trees in front of each other).

Why not just plant more Hurricane palms in option one? And move the Buccaneer - great looking palms that I wish I could grow- to option 3's hot sunny area? And feature it.
Option two looks like your best bet for a Archontophoenix grove. They don't care if its shady..they may even do better in it.
Very hard to offer constructive advice from photos - very hard. And I'm not real positive on how those grow in SoFlo. I know in SoCal, if planted early and taken care of, they can get fairly big, fairly fast. I had some Alexanders that were about 2 ft. in diameter, easy.

As Stan said, they will handle shade and even get tall quicker while the trunk will tend to be a bit thinner.

You are confronting what I consider the hardest thing in palm gardening - that is, accurately picturing what the mature setup is going to look like. I can tell you that as hard as I try, and as aware as I am with this difficulty, the finished product always is bigger and more cramped than I had planned for. And when you look at most palm gardens, you can see that seems to be a familiar difficulty.

So just try keeping that in mind, and remember, a good chain saw is a gardeners best friend. :) You can always correct your problem. And also, not every palm survives, so planting a few more than needed, knowing you will thin later, is not a bad strategy. Just be careful with the placement of your most cherished species.
Here is an update. I bought them as Cunninghams, but I think they may actually be Mylonensis as they have no Ramenta and the underside of the leaves has a slight hint of silver.

I like it. I saw a flipping house show that had a trio of A. cunninghamiana in soucal..tall,and with brilliant red seed clusters (inflour etc). Not sure of the other Archie species do that.
btw- Dean,I also saw a show in Hawaii with a trio of Royal palms...and they all had CURVING trunks away from each other. I could see the trunks tapered - a lot- and the green crownshaft wasn't as robust as telephone pole Royals usually are. Still,it looked very healthy- great color. And like you,I never get that curve out of palms planted close together. Its a mystery as to what tips the scales on that.
Yes - I think that is going to fill in very nicely. You will be amazed what that will look like in 5 years.

And Stan - I had three Royals, side by side, in a 5 gal, and was told by the experienced nurseryman to just plant them - and the strongest one would win out, and I would eventually have a single. I doubted his advice, thinking I might have a curving triple display. He was right, I was wrong. Long before they ever got to trunking, the strongest one pushed the other two out of the way - and now there is a very healthy fat single Royal.