Gardening: Red palm weevil brings ban on imports into the UK

Despite its tropical looks, some palms will stand temperatures down to -8C - and snow.
Despite its tropical looks, some palms will stand temperatures down to -8C - and snow.

In the last 10 years, hardy palms have become common plants in our gardens but a threat in mainland Europe has prompted the government to take drastic action.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has banned nearly all imports into the UK from January 1, thanks to the red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus), which is causing havoc on the continent.

Palm yucca.

Palm yucca.

A weevil was discovered on an imported plant in Essex in spring 2016, so Defra’s decision is trying to protect our existing stocks.

Exporters from across the continent now have to grow plants in a protected area (such as an enclosed greenhouse) or palms have to be quarantined for a minimum of two years in a protected area.

Most exporters grow their palms outside in warmer areas of Europe and say it isn’t cost effective to quarantine areas for export to the UK, as the market is so small.

If you’re after a large palm this year, stocks already in the UK are going to diminish quickly – and prices are likely to rocket, not helped by the weak pound.

Our most popular palm, the Canary Island date palm.

Our most popular palm, the Canary Island date palm.

Virtually the only palms being imported after January 1 will be the small ones grown in Dutch greenhouses.

Obviously, this is going to hit our small specialist tropical nurseries hard and gardeners need to support them through the next two years.

If palms aren’t available, buy other plants from them – keep them in business.

If you don’t use them, we’ll lose them.

This is a complex issue, so for more information, visit my in-depth analysis page at


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Snowdrops can be lifted and divided as long as you re-plant them straight away.

Packing the branches of borderline hardy deciduous trees and shrubs with straw and securing this with fleece and ties, will protect them from frost.

Make sure protective straw or fleece is still in place on vulnerable plants overwintering outdoors. In cold spells, protect non-frost-proof containers with bubble wrap, hessian or fleece. Group pots near a south-facing wall to give extra protection.

Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs such as Cornus, Salix, Forsythia, Weigela, Escallonia, Rosa, Ribes, Chaenomeles and Elaeagnus and deciduous climbers such as Fallopia and Lonicera. Check last year’s hardwood cuttings, for planting out or potting on.

Phytophthora root rots can cause dieback on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly-drained soils will make the likelihood worse on susceptible woody plants.

Bracket fungus on trees is often noticed this month – if the tree is suffering, call in a tree surgeon.

If your Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and S. x buckleyi) didn’t set flower buds, it may be that the temperature was too high (above 18°C/65°F, or had too much artificial light. Move it into cooler conditions away from night lighting. Encourage bushy growth by twisting off outer segments after flowering. These can be used as cuttings if dried and kept warm for a week before potting up.

Mole activity increases from now until February, due to mating and nest building. Remove the largest hills from your lawn and firm before seeding it in spring.