Lady Palm – How to divide clumps


Rhapis Excelsa is more commonly called Lady Palm, and two related palms, Rhapis multifida and Rhapis subtilis, can be divided using the same methods.
Although they are slow-growing palms, they can still outgrow a space over time. In this case we are preparing to paint the home within a few months and needed to regain clearance.

FIRST STEP – TRIM THE PALM

Trimming the Palm serves two purposes:
1) Reducing canopy size will ease transplant shock.
2) Providing a visible space where a cutting strategy can be made

The lower half of the palm has the fronds pruned to allow space for working.

The lower half of the palm has the fronds pruned to allow space for working.

NEXT STEP –  CUTTING THE ROOTS

Some people use a sharp handsaw or machete, and either will work as well as an electric saw with a pruning blade. Decide the size of the divided clumps. If planting into a container to root out as I will here, try to cut sections of root mass that are about half the surface area of the new container. This will allow room for growth after the palm roots emerge and new shoots fill the container.

Saws All with a long pruning blade works great for cutting the most critical top 6-8" of root.  A strong shovel in the cut area can lift sections after cutting.

A saws-all with a long pruning blade works well for cutting the most critical top 6-8″ of root. A strong shovel in the cut area can lift sections after cutting.

 

FINAL STEP – PLANTING THE DIVISIONS

Whether the divisions will be planted into the ground or into a container, a space should be selected to allow for a bit of future growth once the palm division establishes.

 

This clump is being planted into a 25 gal root pruning container where it can root out and fill the pot.

This clump is being planted into a 25-gallon root pruning container where it can root out and fill the pot.

– Soil should be a well draining mix and slightly acidic for best uptake of needed micronutrients. Care should be taken to not pile soil on top of existing root mass as this area need to ‘ breathe’.

– Use staking material if needed to maintain these tall narrow clumps upright while they properly root into the new soil.

I recommend a little extra iron and magnesium to keep Lady Palm looking best. It can tolerate full sun, but it definitely prefers shade to look best. — Pete

This clump has five stems and a planted height of about 7'.  I consider this Palm ready for sale when another 6-8 stems emerge after the palm roots.

This clump has five stems and a planted height of about 7 feet. It will be ready for sale when another 6-8 stems emerge after the palm has rooted.


Have a comment or question?

  1. Jo-Anna says:

    I have a 24″ box that I bought years ago and never planted. I didn’t know where I wanted it and I liked being able to move it in the nursery box. I’d like to transplant some, but I’m afraid to Kill them, they seem attached to each other. Is this safe, and how deep should I go?

  2. Pete McKay says:

    You should make a clean cut with sharp tools if you wish to divide the clump. It takes some time to see new shoot growth after division. The palms in the blog did not have new stems emerge for 6-8 months afterward. Always plant palms at the existing dirt level. No new soil on top of existing root mass, only on the sides where roots will grow into the added soil. Keep it well drained also.