South Carolina has a lot of warm areas for growing palm trees. It’s humid subtropical climate, with hot summers and mild winters, provides enough sun and warmth for many different palm species to thrive.
The average July temperatures in South Carolina range from 89 – 92°F (31-33°C) while he average January temperatures range from 50 – 59°F (10-15°C). In the summer, this state gets tropical cyclones and thunderstorms. During winter it receives on average about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of snow.
In addition, to about 64 days of thunderstorm each year, the state also gets threatened by tornadoes. The warmest temperature ever recorded was 111°F (44°C) and the lowest was –20°F (–29°C).
Since South Carolina USDA hardiness zones ranges from 7a to 9a, you can easily find cold hardy palms that can grow in Zones 8 and 9. Of course, growing palms outdoors in zone 7, will require some serious acclimation and cold protection.
South Carolina USDA Zones
10 Palm Trees That Grow in South Carolina
If you live in the zone 8 or 9, you shouldn’t have any problems growing palm trees. There are a lot of cold hardy palm tree types that will grow in those zones. Here are some of the palms that will grow in South Carolina:
1. California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)
California Fan Palm, scientific name Washingtonia filifera, is native of American southwest including California and Arizona.
While it’s not as fast growing nor gets as tall as Mexican fan palm, it is much more attractive specimen specially when mature. It has a thick trunk covered with old leaf bases and topped with fan-shaped yellow-green leaves with droopy tips.
This impressive palm is drought tolerant and prefers dry climates. It can tolerate cold down to 10F and can be grown in South Carolina in zones 8a to 9a.
2. Dwarf Palmetto Palm (Sabal minor)
Dwarf Palmetto, scientific name Sabal minor, is native to southeastern United States including South Carolina.
Often confused with saw palmetto, dwarf palmetto is a clumping plant with a trunk that is either very short or below the ground. Unlike saw palmetto, it does not have spines on the sides of the stems and does not form invasive colonies.
Its fan shaped fronds range in color from green to bluish-gray. The leaves of Sabal minor have a pronounced split ‘V’ in the middle of the leaf. This palm is very cold hardy and can tolerate cold down to 20F but is known to survive exposure to -5F and even -10F.
So, you can definitely grow it in all areas of South Carolina without any cold protection. Keep in mind, this palm is very hard to transplant, therefore it’s best to plant it from a container.
3. Jelly Palm Tree (Butia capitata)
Pindo Palm Tree, scientific name Butia capitata or Butia odorata, is the most cold hardy palm with feather-shaped leaves. Native to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, this palm is commonly cultivated in Southeast including South Carolina.
This medium sized palm features gracefully arching grayish green to bluish green fronds and a short grayish trunk. While not as cold tolerant as palmetto palm, it can withstand cold down to 15F. Low temperatures below 15F that will cause leaf damage.
In South Carolina it will do best in zones 8a to 9a. Make sure tot provide it with full sun and well-draining soil.
4. Mediterranean or European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)
European Fan Palm, scientific name Chamaerops humilis, is a hardy fan palm native to Mediterranean region of Europe. In the wild, it can be found growing in the mountains on poor, rocky soils.
This slow growing palm makes a large clump with stiff leaves and a skirt of dead leaves underneath the crown. In South Carolina, it usually doesn’t grow over 5 feet in height.
This tough plant is very cold hardy and can tolerate cold down to 5F without any damage. In its natural habitat, it has been known to even receive snow cover. It is also very drought tolerant when mature enough.
You can easily grow Mediterranean palm in zones 8a to 9a of South Carolina. In zone 7b it might be challenging without any winter protection.
5. Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta)
Mexican Fan Palm, scientific name Washingtonia robusta, is native Mexico . When young, Mexican fan palm is often confused with California fan palm. It has similar growth habits to California fan palm preferring well drained acidic or alkaline soil.
This fast-growing palm can tolerate cold down to 10F but temperature lower than 23F will cause leaf damage.
You can successfully grow it in South Carolina in zones 8b to 9a. If you don’t mind annual defoliation, you can also grow it in zone 8a.
6. Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)
Needle Palm Tree, scientific name Rhapidophyllum hystrix or Rhapidophylum hystrix, is actually native to South Carolina. Unlike windmill and palmettos palms, it grows as dense shrubs and doesn’t produce an obvious trunk.
This adaptable palm is considered to be the word’s hardiest palm that can tolerate cold down to 10 F and even known to survive -5F. However, officially it’s listed to be cold hardy for USDA Zones 8a (10 to 15 F) to 10b (above 35 F).
Of course to tolerate these low temperatures, Needle palm needs to be mature enough. It can be grown in all areas of South Carolina without any protection once established.
However, I do recommend providing some cold protection in the first year or two after planting it into the ground.
7. Palmetto Palm (Sabal palmetto)
The state tree of both South Carolina and Florida, Sabal palmetto is one of the most common native palms in US.
Also known as Cabbage palm, sabal palmetto can be found growing in the wild along the coast of South Carolina and even near the state capitol in Columbia.
It has a massive trunk covered with old leaf bases in the crisscross pattern and a large canopy with blue-green fan-shaped leaves. This slow growing palm can tolerate drought as well as cold down to 10F when mature enough.
You can grow it in South Carolina from zone 8b to 9a without any protection. If you want to grow it in zone 7b, you will need to protect it from cold during winter months especially when it’s young.
8. Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
While not a palm but rather a cycad, Sago palm is considered to be one of the oldest plants on earth, unchanged for millions of years.
Native to Japan, this evergreen has brownish black trunk that is topped with stiff palm-like fronds. Sago palm, scientific name Cycas revoluta, grows best well-drained sandy soil that can be acidic or alkaline. It likes full sun but grows also well in shade.
Drought tolerant, it can survive low temperatures down to about 20F but will get leaf damage if the temperatures get below 15F. In South Carolina, it grows best in zone 9a.
9. Saw Palmetto Palm (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmettos, scientific name Serenoa repens, are native to coastal areas of the Southeast including South Carolina. This dense weedy plant, forms a conspicuous ground cover in dry forest areas.
It features fan-shaped stiff fronds with a trunk creeping along the ground surface or through the soil. While saw palmetto visually resembles dwarf palmetto, they are rarely found growing together in the wild.
Because it’s difficult to transplant, it’s best to get a container-grown plant. This slow growing palm, can tolerate cold down to 10F. Although you can grow it in all areas of South Carolina, zone 7b will require some cold protection especially for the younger plants.
10. Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)
Windmill Palm, scientific name Trachycarpus fortunei, is native to China. It features dense canopy of dark green fan-shaped leaves and 8-inch-thick trunk that is covered with brown fibers and old leaf bases.
This is a very durable palm that can tolerate cold down to 22F and is known to survive -10F. Of course, at such low temperatures it will fully defoliate but will recover in the following Spring. In its place of origin, it may even receive a light winter snow.
While you can grow it in South Carolina from zone 7b to 9a, it prefers warm temperate climate with cool summers like in California. If planted in the hot tropical climate, it will not thrive and will be short-lived.
That being said, if you are planting it in the southeast area of South Carolina, provide it with light to medium shade.