Secret to Growing Cold Hardy Palm Trees

If you live in a cold climate and would like to grow palm trees in your garden, you are not alone. Many gardeners from northern areas want to have a tropical paradise in their yard. The good news is, cold hardy palm trees can be grown virtually anywhere. A lot of people don’t know that palm trees can be grown in 40 states. Some cold hardy palms can tolerate cold down to 0F.

The secret to growing cold hardy palm trees successfully in a cold climate is to know your hardiness zone, lowest temperatures that you can get during coldest months, what palm species can grow in your area, and how you can protect them from unexpected cold snaps. All of the above things are equally important.

Your Hardiness Zone

First, determine your hardiness zone. Knowing your zone will help you narrow down the list of palm species that can grow in your area. There are 10 USDA Zones. Each hardiness zone is a geographically-defined zone and has a specific category of plants that can grow there by withstanding the minimum temperatures of that zone. First USDA Hardiness Zone map was create in 1990 and the most recent map was created in 2006. What is really surprising is how much warmer U.S got over the last 20 years. Now, more and more palms can be grown in northern climates than before.

Although USDA Hardiness Zone map is a great starting point, keep in mind, it doesn’t take in consideration heat, humidity, soil moisture, the number of days of frost and the risk of a rare catastrophic cold snaps.

Cold Tolerances of The Palm Species

The challenge with growing palms in a colder climates is that most of them love warm and humid weather. Since all palm trees originated from different areas, some palms can tolerate cold temperatures better than others. That is because palms have different cold hardiness which is measured by the lowest temperature a palm can withstand.

There is a huge list of cold hardy palm trees that will grow almost anywhere. Some of them are very expensive and hard to find. Below is a list of  10 most popular cold hardy palms. They became so popular because they are durable, cold hardy, inexpensive, easy to find and don’t require a lot of maintenance.

Top 10 Cold Hardy Palms

Common Palm Name Scientific Name Zone Min. Temperature
Cabbage Palm Tree Sabal palmetto 8a-11 10 to 15 F
California Fan Palm Tree Washingtonia filifera 8a-11 15 to 20 F
Chinese Fan Palm Tree Livistona chinensis 8a-11 10 to 15 F
European Fan Palm Tree Chamaerops humilis 7b-11 5 to 10 F
Mexican Fan Palm Tree Washingtonia robusta 8b-11 15 to 20 F
Needle Palm Tree Rhapidophyllum hystrix 5b-11 -15 to -10 F
Pindo Palm Tree Butia capitata 7b-11 5 to 10 F
Sago Palm Tree Cycas revoluta 7b-11 5 to 10 F
Saw Palmetto Palm Tree Serenoa repens 7a-11 0 to 5 F
Windmill Palm Tree Trachycarpus fortune 7b-11 5 to 10 F

 

Here are more details on most popular cold hardy palms.  You can buy these palms at almost any nursery or online.

Coldest Temperatures in Your Area

Another important thing to know is how cold doesn’t it get in your area during coldest nights. A lot of gardeners, when asked that question, guess at their low temperatures. This information is rarely accurate. Check the local weather log for your area or use a maximum-minimum thermometer during winter to determine the lowest temperatures, don’t guess. Also, determine if that low value is typical of most winters. Even tropical areas like Miami get unusually cold winter time to time.

People that live right on the border of hardiness zones, might experience colder/warmer temperatures than what zone finder will show. The warmer the temperatures in your area, the more palm trees you can grow.

Palm Tree Acclimatization

Knowing hardiness of the palm species is not enough. Before planting palms in a cold climate they need to be acclimatized to the cold temperatures. If you buy cold hardy species of palm that was grown in a tropical climate of Florida and have never experienced cold weather, it will not survive in a colder climate. So, it is important to buy palms from well known and trusted nurseries, that acclimatize their palms before selling them to the customers from northern regions. This is why some palm growers might have different results when growing in the same hardiness zone.

Another thing to keep in mind, not all cold weather is the same. Research showed that sudden cold snaps are more devastating than a gradual temperature drop. When the weather gets colder over a longer period of time, palm trees have time to slow down their process and enter a dormant phase. During a cold snap, palms don’t have time to prepare which often results in a cold damage.

Microclimate

Microclimate is a relatively small area about few yards or even smaller, that has a slightly different climate from a general climate of a region. You can create a microclimate by sheltering palms with trees and shrubs. Sheltered palms have better chances to survive cold weather than unprotected palms. Planting a palm tree near objects that absorb heat during the day and release it at night, is another way to create a microclimate. Objects like rocks, buildings, fences or paved surfaces will keep your palm warmer during cold nights. Creating a microclimate in your yard can definitely expand a list of the palms for your area.

Palm Tree Cold Protection

This brings me to the last key point, palm tree cold protection. You can protect your palms from cold snaps and during extremely cold nights by using a warm cover, light bulbs, heater, and spraying your palm with FreezePruf. The most important part of the palm tree is the bud. If the bud gets damaged, the palm tree will die. A lot of times, palm trees die

If you planning on planting a palm, give it enough time to develop a root system before the cold weather starts by planting it in spring. Regular fertilizing will make your palm stronger and more tolerant to sudden temperature changes.

There is a great book, written by David A. Francko that I really like, it’s called “Palms Won’t Grow Here and Other Myths: Warm-Climate Plants for Cooler Areas”. It goes into the details on how you can grow cold hardy palms in zones 7, 6 and even 5. This is the perfect foundation book for the gardener who would like to see a banana next to his cherry tree and a palm between his maples.

~Susan Brian

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