Repotting the Canariensis

We bought two Tesco Canariensis a good few years ago for a ridiculously good price. I’ve wanted one for some time. I like their strong architectural form and their exotic appearance that conjures up visions of holidays, hot weather and sultry mediterranean climes. They make a good specimen plant or a focal point at the back of a set of pot plants with their leaves arching over other plants underneath.

Unfortunately, we lost one of the two to crown rot after a very harsh winter a while back, despite it being protected in a temporary greenhouse. I think it was just too moist for it in there and so the cold and rot set in and there was no saving it.

So now we are down to one.

The surviving Canariensis came with us on our recent house move and has been somewhat battered around. It was knocked over a few times in strong winds and doesn’t get watered as often as it should. Furthermore it was gradually lifting itself out of its pot as its roots grew. With all this abuse, it wasn’t looking too well.

Fearing the loss of my second canariensis goaded me into action. My attention focussed onto it like a laser beam and a short while later, it was all sorted out.

The first job was to gingerly take the plant out of its pot and see how dire the root situation was, turns out it was pretty desperate:


The compost at the top was exhausted and the thick fleshy roots had grown down to try and find more to feed on but they only encountered the bottom of the pot. That didn’t stop them from growing down further though.


If you look closely, you might just be able to see small red terracotta chippings that used to be at the base of the pot, but which the roots had grown past and pushed up. The last several inches of roots had no soil in contact with them at all, the whole plant was standing on its own roots.

Hacking all of these roots off with a combination of secateurs, shears and a tree saw, I could finally extract the chippings. I decided this time that I wouldn’t replace them, it would be soil all the way to the bottom of the pot.


I left the plant with remaining rootball soaking in a trug of water so that it got a good drink while I went off to make up the compost mix. Repotting with compost, a little well rotted manure and garden soil with a good amount of bonemeal mixed in should keep the plant fed for a while longer – at least until I start noticing it lifting itself out of the pot again.


There, another job done. I also repositioned it to a place that stays sunnier for longer: Jersey – just kidding.

Hopefully, it has survived the great root hack of 2014 and will continue to grow – albeit rather slowly in this climate. The leaves are still spiny and sharp and will have a good go at drawing blood or skewering an eye if you get too close but beyond those discomforts, it remains one of my many prized plants.


  1. Hi Sunil,
    I read a little about Canariensis after seeing your post as I did not know anything about it. They seem to be able to survive anything. I read “has been successfully grown in urban areas where air
    pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil and-or drought are common”. Yours will be grateful for the rich soil and the extra light. Good luck!


    1. Hi Alain, Canariensis will take a lot of abuse and they are tough, but their one weakness is being cold and wet. If they are cold and wet for prolonged periods, they will succumb to rot. In the south (of the UK) there are pockets where the climate is mild enough that they can be planted in the ground if the soil is very free draining. I’m not going to risk it with mine yet, perhaps when it gets too big and heavy to be lifting in and out of large pots for root pruning I may think about it.


  2. Your plant looks much happier! Actually, I’ve never had a potted plant last more than two years, so I’m impressed.


    1. Hi Jason, thanks. I have several plants whose permanent residence is in pots. I can’t be doing with continually making up and redoing pots. Once it’s in, it’s in and all it needs is fertilising and top dressing and perhaps slug deterrent and root pruning and watering during dry periods and moving in and out of the house or greenhouse if it’s a tropical plant. So you can see how it reduced maintenance!


  3. That’s a big plant! I had no idea what a canariensis was so I’m glad you included a photo. It does look happier in the last shot. It always seems bizarre to me to see such tropical plants in England. 🙂


    1. Hi Tammy, we’re very lucky with our temperate climate that we can grow exotic plants. I germinated and grew a mango for a short while before I gave it away. I’ve also got a Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise – several years from flowering though) I grew from seed. If you can give them the winter protection they need, which might be just a fleece or a fully heated greenhouse, then exotic plants can grow and perhaps even thrive in the UK. Many tropical plants are grown as annuals too, selected and used for their vigorous growth and striking foliage and flowers over the summer, then left to die in the frosts after having had their seed collected, ready for next year’s display.


  4. Hi Sunil, just bought a new Canariensis, unfortunately we left ours behind when moving but now was looking for info on what soil it would like to be potted in. Your article is spot on, I just wanted to know 7 years on, how is it? Trevor


    1. Hello Trevor, it was doing well for a while – so well that we decided to plant it in the ground, unfortunately, I’m sad to report that a couple of years after, we lost it to crown rot (spear pull) in a cold, wet winter. Our particular part of the UK doesn’t get terribly cold, but it is very wet and the long period of wet and cold in the winter causes the crown to rot and then there’s no coming back from that. We decided that after having lost two, we wouldn’t have any more as we can’t reliably get them through our wet winters.


      1. Hi Sunil,
        Thank you so much for taking the trouble to reply, I bet you got quite a shock to get a message after 5 years. But what goes on Google stays there…
        So sorry to hear of your bad news, we will keep ours in a pot and try to mollycoddle it through the winter with some sacking over it.
        We live on the South Coast near Chichester where it is supposed to have fairly mild winters. But this spring has been particularly cold with the accursed cold North winds and we have lost a few friends like solanum, azalea and outdoor fuschia. It is like losing old friends the way the look at you from their stems on the way to the recycling bin!
        Best regards,


        1. I must admit – I had to do a double-take he I first read your comment given the age of this post. I’m past feeling guilty for plants that don’t make it though the winter, they end up in the compost heap and on a “do not buy again” list as I look for the next thing. I guess I’m a bit mercenary like that.


  5. Hi Sunil – you seem to be something of an expert on Phoenix palms so can I ask you a question, please?? I have just been given a Canary Island Date palm but, on looking them up, it would eventually be much too big for my garden. So I want to grow it indoors. The pot it arrived in is 15cm. What would you say is a good size, ie not too massive, to transfer this plant into and be confident it will grow to no more than around 1.5 metres tall. Would a 30 cm pot do the trick ??

    Thanks in advance



    1. Hello Barry, I’m afraid this palm needs full, blazing hot sunshine (what we manage of it in the UK) to thrive. I can’t imagine it will be happy as a house plant, there’s just not enough light and heat indoors. It might look sickly if it doesn’t eventually die. You won’t be able to contain its growth either as it wants to be a full size tree (however long it takes to get there). If you restrict it by keeping the pot small, it will either break the pot or lift itself out out it – don’t underestimate the power of its roots. Instead of trying to keep it in check, I think you should pot up and nurture the plant outdoors (winter protection if needed etc) and when it gets too big for the space, invite someone over to dig it up and collect it for a price. Buy a new Canariensis with the money. Small palms do take a long time to get going so you’ll get to enjoy this for several years before it gets to 1.5m (from a 15cm pot plant).


      1. Many thanks for the advice. Looks like I’ll have to find somewhere in the garden, after all.


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