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Underplanting a Phoenix palm

I have a huge Phoenix palm in our front garden and would like to make a feature of it by underplanting. I have been told be a garden centre that this is not possible, however have seen a couple of Phoenix palms that have been underplanted and look great. What can I plant?


The Phoenix palm (Phoenix canariensis) is a wonderful addition to the garden if you have the space, and can look great when underplanted or otherwise incorporated into the garden design.

I can see two possible reasons why the garden centre may have attempted to discourage you from underplanting. 

The first is that Phoenix palms are notorious for the large vicious spines at the base of the leaves.  These spines are well-known for the injuries they cause gardeners (I used to get jabbed mowing the lawn).  While the spines do not seem to be poisonous, the wounds caused often seem to get infected and take a while to heal.  Many people prune them off to prevent this.

Secondly, the space under a Phoenix palm is quite a challenging area to choose plants for.  It may be dry and shady depending on the site and age of the palm.  If the large leaves are still near the ground, strong winds will whip them around and destroy most things underneath.  So you need to choose something hardy which will fit your situation — which is probably dry with some shade. Clivias, some hardy ferns, non-invasive ginger species, vireyas and many natives would probably do well.  If the palm is quite old and there is a significant amount of sunlight beneath you may like to try succulents. In fact in the native habitat of the Phoenix palm, the Canary Islands, Aonium species grow on the trunks of many of the larger specimens.

UnitecAdvice by Dr Dan Blanchon from Unitec's Diploma in Sustainable Horticulture and Bachelor of Resource Management.

Reproduced with permission from NZOOM Home and Garden content,
from the previous website of  TVNZ News

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