For many years I have had a Chamaerops humilis in a large, terracotta pot by the front door. It is a sunny, south-facing spot and I stopped watering it in summer many years ago since it had quite obviously rooted into the soil below. I can’t recall quite how long I have had it but it must be close to 20 years. The main trunk has grown taller and there are numerous sideshoots around the base which is typical of this palm, the only truly European palm (apart from Phoenix theophrasti). It is also one of the hardiest palms and has stood here, unprotected, through the past ten winters, including those that clobbered phormiums and cordylines. Drainage is the big issue with this and other plants that have a hint of tenderness. If this had been in the soil and the roots wet, I am sure it would have died, as did some smaller plants I had of the silvery ‘Vulcano’. But with its roots above soil level with perfect drainage, especially since the pot is packed with roots, helped it survive. Of course, plants in pots often suffer because cold can get at the roots more easily than plants in the ground. But I think that drainage, drainage, drainage is the answer here.
So it was with a sense of foreboding that I saw that the palm had got too big for its pot last year and had made its feelings known by splitting the pot apart. This meant that it had to be repotted and moved. This was going to be no mean feat as, in common with many palms, this one is beset with vicious thorns. So the first stage was to cut away a lot of the outer leaves and removing dead leaves, stalks and old flower clusters so I could get near it. I then had to break the pot so I could get to the roots and to the base so I could start to dig out and cut off the roots that had grown into the soil. I had to be quite vicious when doing this because a) I could not physically handle a larger rootball than in the pot and b) I didn’t have a pot much deeper than one it was in so I could not accommodate a very deep rootball. So I had to be quite rough and chop off the roots. The danger of course is that most of the roots that are feeding the palm and taking in water will be here so it is going to be a shock to the plant. But I had cut off a fair few leaves so that will help. It is also spring, when the plant is just waking from winter so, hopefully, it will not sulk too much.
There was no way that I was able to lift the plant into the pot so I put both on their sides, slid the palm into the pot and managed to lever the pot upright. Then all I had to do was work soil down the sides. By now my hands and arms were cut to ribbons, despite stout gloves, but it was worth the effort.
Of course Storm Doris had less trouble knocking it over again! But I had the knack now and so the palm is upright and well watered!