This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol2", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Of the four or five hundred species of Palms known in cultivation but very few have attracted the attention of the market grower. Although nearly all kinds are ornamental in foliage and graceful in habit, most of them lack the main features required by commercial gardeners - namely, rapidity of growth and easiness of propagation. Some ornamental Palms, although grown easily and quickly enough, are still too scarce to make it worth while devoting a large space to their culture. Others, again, may be obtainable in quantity, but unfortunately it takes so long to bring them to saleable size that the grower cannot afford to keep the space they would occupy so long under one particular crop. The market grower, therefore, looking at Palm growing purely from a commercial standpoint, confines himself to those species which will sell readily at a reasonable price, and can be produced in a comparatively short time.
The trade in Palm seeds is enormous, and millions are imported annually into the British Islands alone of the most popular kinds, such as the Kentias, Cocos Weddelliana, C. flexuosa, Livis-tona chinensis, Seaforthia elegans, Corypha australis, etc. On the Continent also a very extensive trade is done in Palms.
All market Palms, and indeed most Palms, are raised from imported seeds. These are generally sown, in shallow pots or pans or wooden boxes, in rich sandy soil of a loamy nature, and are placed in warm moist houses to ensure rapid germination. Before sowing, some growers steep the seeds in tanks of water, and it is often noticed that large numbers of seeds float on the surface of the water. These are considered to be old seeds, that have lost a good deal of substance and perhaps vitality, whilst those that sink to the bottom are heavier and fresher, and more likely to give better germinating results.
When the seedlings have made two or three leaves they are potted up singly into 3-in. pots in a rich gritty loam with a little leaf mould or well-decayed manure added. They are still grown on in heat and moisture, and in due course many find their way into 3-in. or 5-in. pots.
Many, however, remain in 2½-in. pots, and in this size thousands of Cocos Weddelliana (fig. 291) are sold annually. To secure a better effect, and a readier sale, some kinds, such as Areca lutescens, are placed two in a 5-in. or 6-in. pot, in the same way that many Ferns are, thus securing at once a more bushy and well-furnished appearance.
Although for actual market work Palms sell best in 2½-in., 3-in., 5-in., and 6-in. pots, there. is also a good trade done in large specimens grown in big pots and large wooden tubs. Plants ranging from 10 ft. to 30 ft. high, and even more, are grown by some of the big marketmen like Messrs. Rochford, and these are sold for furnishing purposes to the great florists in London and the provinces. Such plants are often required for big Society weddings, public dinners, and public functions of all kinds, and there is no other class of plants that can give the requisite air of opulence and luxury to such proceedings. While the price of Palms in small pots may be as low as 6s. per dozen, the large decorative specimens will realize anything from £5 to £50 apiece, according to circumstances. It must be remembered, however, that large plants do not sell rapidly at high prices, and that they require large and costly glass structures to keep them in a healthy condition, to which must be added the cost of fuel, labour, etc.
Amongst the most saleable Palms the following may be mentioned: -