Years ago if someone had told me that there were palm trees that could survive single digit temperatures and survive, I would have thought they were nuts. Maybe they could take a light frost or a slight dip below freezing for a couple of hours, but 25-30 degrees below the freezing mark? I don’t think so.
While there are many types of palms that will not survive these frigid temps, there are a few out there that have proven hardy into the single digits and in some cases below the 0F mark without winter protection!
What Is a Hardiness Zone?
Before we get into the types of cold hardy palm trees for zone 7, first I wanted to provide a brief description of what exactly a hardiness zone is.
Hardiness zones, also known as growing zones, are simply a guide to gauge the average minimum temperatures of a given area over time. There are a total of 13 zones that range in 10 degree increments. For example, zone 7 encompasses minimum average temps ranging from 0-10F. The higher the zone number, the milder the climate (zone 8=10-20F, zone 9=20-30F and so on).
In 1990, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced breaking the zones down into 5 degree increments specified with a letter following the zone number. Using zone 7 as an example, 0-5F would be considered zone 7a while the 5-10F range would be considered zone 7b. This can be a huge benefit considering that there are a number of plants that may be able to withstand certain temps on the high end of a zone, but may perish if subjected to extended periods of temps in the lower end of the same zone.
Not All Hardiness Zones Are Created Equal
A WORD OF CAUTION…..the hardiness zone guide is only a guide and shouldn’t be your only factor in choosing which plants can survive winters in your region. Other factors such as climate type (wet or dry), microclimates (small areas of a growing zone that can range colder or warmer depending on conditions in that particular area) and whether the plants are already established or just being introduced to their environment will also play a significant role in how you choose the right plants for your area. In most cases, especially with palms, the longer a specimen is in the ground and becomes more adapted, the hardier it becomes over time.
However, a palm that can survive zone 9 in a dry climate may not survive a wetter climate in the same zone especially if the palm is native to a drier climate.
With that said, let’s get to the list of the 3 palms suitable for zone 7 climates. I’ve ordered the list from the least cold hardy palm to the most cold hardy, although all three palms will survive single digit temps with little to no protection.
Keep in mind that for young plants or ones that you are just introducing to your cold climate, you may need to add winter protection for the first couple of winters during cold snaps to avoid shocking the palm. Though once established, these palms should thrive in most zone 7 climate conditions.
For the cooler, Mediterranean climates, the windmill palm has become a popular go-to for tropical landscape enthusiasts and the only trunking palm on the list. They have a nice, tropical-like appearance and have been known to survive temps as low as -5 degrees F! They have a slender trunk covered in a fibrous coat of hair with medium to large size fan-shaped fronds.
Many landscapers and palm enthusiasts will choose the windmill palm as a replacement for the popular Mexican fan palm in colder areas due to it’s ability to survive much colder winters that the Mexican fan palm would normally succumb to.
#2 The Dwarf Palmetto (sabal minor)
Coming in at a close second place is the Sabal Minor palm, also known as the dwarf palmetto. These palms are native to the southeast United States stretching from the southern part of Florida all the way up the northern east coast as far as Virginia. Taking several degrees below zero before showing any damage, these palms are native to many freezing areas of the U.S. including parts of Oklahoma where these palms will grow naturally in the wild.
These palms are trunkless palms and would be perfect for planting underneath taller trees as they provide a nice tropical underbrush.
#1 The Needle Palm (rhapidophyllum hystrix)
Considered the most cold hardy palm in the world, the needle palm is a shrubby fan palm with very sharp needles on the petioles. Once established, these palms can take temps down to -10F! I have heard of some cases where they have taken winter temps as low as -15F, but will become questionable at this point unless some protection is used.
They love moisture and warm summer temperatures. For this reason, drier desert climates are not really ideal for these palms, although if kept well watered and in partly shady conditions they will do alright especially since they love the hot summer temperatures.
The Wrap Up
Before I go, I just wanted to emphasize that even though these three palms will thrive well in all of zone 7, there are some other species that you may want to consider, especially if you are in the high end of the zone. While some winter protection will most likely be needed from time to time, you can still experiment with other cold varieties that are borderline with zone 8a (10-15F min temp).
Here are a few more species that you can experiment with in the 7b/8a zones.
- Butia Capitata (Pindo palm)
- Serenoa Repens ‘Cinerea’ (Silver Saw palmetto – silver form)
- Serenoa Repens (Saw palmetto – green form)
- Jubaea Chilensis (Chilean Wine palm)
- Chamaerops Humilis (Mediterranean fan palm)
As you can see, even a 5 degree difference in average minimum temperatures can make a difference in the number of choices you will have.
If you find a palm that you really like, but it is just out of your hardiness zone range, give it a try anyway! Sometimes just planting a palm near a wall, away from strong winds and in full sun areas can can give it an extra zone push.
Have any questions? Did I miss anything? Please leave a comment below!