If you live in a desert climate then you are aware that temperature swings are pretty normal, especially at higher elevations.
Many times these areas will only plant a few species of palms at most, but are there other types you can try? Absolutely!
Several proven cold hardy palm trees for the desert can be grown successfully with minimal effort. Here are 9 picks for your desert gardenTL;DR:
In a hurry? Here is a breakdown of the palms featured in this article with some quick facts:
Bismarckia Nobilis (Bismarck Palm): A large fan palm from Madagascar, hardy in zones 9+, surviving brief low temperatures around 20°F.
Brahea Armata (Mexican Blue Palm): A silver fan palm native to Northwestern Mexico, ideal for zone 8+, tolerating temperatures around 10°F.
Butia Capitata (Pindo Palm): A pinnate palm from South America, suitable for zones 8+, handling temperatures down to 10°F.
Chamaerops Humilis (Mediterranean Fan Palm): A small, drought-tolerant fan palm from southwestern Europe, hardy in zones 8+. They can survive temps into the low teens (F).
Jubaea Chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm): A massive, slow-growing palm native to Central Chile, cold hardy to zones 8+, tolerating lower teen temperatures.
Nannorrhops Ritchiana (Mazari Palm): A palm from Southeastern Asia, hardy in zone 7+, will survive low single-digit temperatures.
Phoenix Sylvestris (Silver Date Palm): Popular in MANY desert climates, native to India and southern Pakistan, hardy in zones 8b+, handling temperatures down to about 15°F.
Syagrus Romanzoffiana (Queen Palm): A palm native to South America, hardy in zones 9+, takes temperatures around 20°F.
Washingtonia Filifera (California Fan Palm): Native to the southwestern U.S., hardy in zones 8+, will withstand low teen temperatures.
What Are the Best Cold Hardy Palm Trees for the Desert?
Let’s get started and see if any of these palms will be a fit for you and your climate.
Here’s a list of the BEST cold hardy palm trees for the desert.
1. Bismarckia Nobilis – Bismarck Palm
A large, silvery-blue fan palm from the higher elevations of Madagascar, the Bismarckia Nobilis or Bismarck palm tree is cold hardy in USDA zone 9 and above.
They have survived brief temperatures around the 20-degree Fahrenheit mark with a fair amount of frond damage, but will usually rebound in the spring.
Bismarck palms are versatile and thrive in dry desert climates as well as tropical and subtropical areas.
In its native habitat, these palms handle extreme drought and heat, making them a great choice for folks living in arid desert regions.
Bismarck palms have very fragile root systems once established and can damage easily, so if planted in the ground, make sure it is where you want to keep it long term to avoid moving it around.
They do best in a well-drained soil mix with full sun and high heat.
Bismarcks are massive growing to 30 to 40 feet high in cultivation with bright silver costapalmate fronds that can get up to 10 feet wide each!
Petioles are approximately 6-8 feet long with a crown up to 25 feet in width.
Please read my full article on the Bismarck Palm HERE
Second on the list is the Brahea Armata, also known commonly as the Mexican Blue palm tree or Blue Hesper palm tree.
Much like the previously mentioned Bismarck palm, this is another palm with bright, silver fronds, but much better cold tolerance!
These palm trees are native to areas of Baja and Northwestern Mexico, making them a very popular choice if you live in the southwest U.S.
They are ideal for zone 8 and above and will handle temperatures down around 10 F.
The Mexican Blue palm is one of the more drought-tolerant palms out there making them perfect for your dry, desert landscape.
The Brahea Armata can also handle cooler, wetter winters in moderation, however for maximum growth they will do best in areas with hot, dry conditions. They have successfully survived in areas of the Pacific Northwest U.S. such as Seattle and Portland near the coastal regions.
They handle part sun, prefer full sun, and will do their best in well-draining soil. They do not like having soggy feet!
Although slow-growing, Mexican Blue palms can get to a maximum height of 30-50 feet. Since it can take many years to reach these heights, folks wanting a faster-growing palm may want to look elsewhere.
They have costapalmate fronds that range in width of 3-6 feet. The silver color can sometimes take on a bluish effect in certain lighting, creating a unique color contrast when placed around other green-form plants in your garden.
Like many fan palms, the Brahea Armata will create a “skirt” of dead fronds underneath the new growth and will need the occasional pruning for a clean look.
Check out my full article on the Mexican Blue Palm HERE
3. Butia Capitata – Pindo Palm
The Pindo palm tree or Jelly palm tree (Butia Capitata) is a pinnate variety native to many dry grasslands across areas of South America.
In recent years these palms have been labeled as Butia Ordata in North America since the true Capitata species is mostly found in South America.
They are one of the better choices for zones 8 and above as they are one of the most cold hardy palms in the bunch and will handle temperatures down to 10 F, possibly lower.
Like the Brahea Armata (also mentioned in this article), they are versatile in their climate tolerance ranging from extremely dry and hot to cool, wetter Mediterranean regions.
They will not thrive as well in subtropical and tropical climates and much like the WIndmill palm, prefer more temperate zones without excessive humidity during the summer.
They love sandy, well-draining soil (like many palms) and prefer full to moderate sun.
In desert regions, they will do best with regular watering during the summer months but will handle prolonged dry conditions, especially during the colder months
The Pindo palm has a trunk that averages 10-15 feet in height and up to 20 feet at maturity, so you don’t need a humongous yard to grow these.
Their pinnate fronds, which can get 5-10 feet in length are one of the stand-outs and have a nice silvery-blue green color. They have a classic tropical appearance so you can have a warm, palmy look for your yard, even if you live where it snows!
Frond length can vary depending on sunlight with full sun specimens having a more compact crown.
Check out my full article on the Pindo Palm HERE
4. Chamaerops Humilis – Mediterranean Fan Palm or European Fan Palm Tree
Native to many areas of southwestern Europe and known as the northernmost growing palm, the Mediterranean Fan palm or European Fan palm (Chamaerops Humilis) is a smaller, drought-tolerant fan palm popular in desert climates across the world.
These are perfect palms for folks who want something with a slower growth rate and won’t take up a lot of space.
They average around 10-15 feet in height up to 20 feet with a small, dense crown of green to light silver palmate fronds on heavily thorned petioles. I’ve been stabbed by these thorns before and it’s not fun, so be careful!
They are hardy in zones 8 and above making them versatile for many areas.
They will handle temperatures down to 10 F, possibly lower!
Plant them closer to the house or a warm structure and they should survive even colder temps during brief cold snaps.
Mediterranean Fan palms will thrive in a wide range of climates from the hot desert to the cool Mediterranean.
Keep these palms regularly watered and they will thrive in your desert region.
Mediterranean Fan palms are a popular choice in the desert southwest of the U.S. and many areas of the Middle East.
They thrive in full to part sun with a well-draining soil mix.
Mediterranean Fans are clumping palms that can grow as a solitary specimen or in a group.
If you are looking for a small tree, they are a perfect size for entryways and smaller spaces when kept well groomed.
These palms also make a great potted specimen for patios where they can be easily transported if needed.
Check out my full article on the Mediterranean Fan Palm HERE
Native to Central Chile and known for its massive size, drought tolerance, slow growth, and prehistoric appearance in mature specimens, the Chilean Wine palm (Jubaea Chilensis) is a palm you will want to consider for desert areas.
These palms may be the most cold-hardy pinnate palms in the world but are also very drought tolerant making them perfect for the high desert where temps can have a sharp dip at night.
Chilean Wine palms are cold hardy to zones 8 and above and will handle brief cold spells well into the lower teens and high single digits Fahrenheit.
They are EXTREMELY slow-growing, slow to germinate, and don’t flower for several decades, making them very valuable in the marketplace. These can be great palms to grow in mass and sell a few years down the road for some decent cash!
I’m still trying to do that, but they hate the excessive humidity we get in the summer.
Moderate watering in hot, desert conditions is ideal for these palms, however, they can easily handle prolonged periods of drought.
The Chilean Wine palm is tolerant of full to part sun and like many palms on this list, prefers well-draining soil.
As mentioned before, these palms get massive and will need a large area to grow in. NOT FOR SMALL SPACES!
Chilean Wine palms can get up to 80 feet in height over several decades with a trunk reaching an incredible 15 feet in diameter!
The dark green, sometimes greenish silver pinnate fronds can reach 10-15 feet in length and in my opinion have more of a tropical look than the previously mentioned Butia Capitata.
6. Nannorrhops Ritchiana – Mazari Palm
The Nannorrhops Ritchiana or Mazari palm tree is native to Southeastern Asia and found growing in areas of the Arabian Peninsula.
Mazari palms are built for hot desert climates while also being one of the hardiest palms in the world.
It is a solid zone 7 and above palm (possibly some areas of zone 6!) taking temperatures into the low single digits Fahrenheit making them best for those cold high desert places.
Think areas like Reno, NV., Albuquerque, NM and upper elevations of Arizona. These places stay dry most of the year and have hot summers, but winter can get downright frigid in these locations.
The Mazari palm prefers dry climates where winter moisture isn’t an issue. Their cold tolerance can actually be boosted if the climate is nice and dry during most of the winter.
Funny enough, these palms will successfully grow in warm humid tropical areas such as the Gulf Coast of the U.S. and South Florida. If you live in the subtropics, watch out for excessive cold/wet spells. Mazari palms can handle the cold but suffer from cold AND wet conditions.
Regular watering in well-draining soil will keep it looking awesome in extremely hot and dry conditions.
The Mazari palm can average 10-20 feet in height and spreads out into a cluster of several stems, however, the crown is quite small with about 4-foot wide palmate fronds, so they won’t take up a lot of room and are similar in size to the Chamaerops Humilis.
7. Phoenix Sylvestris – Silver Date Palm
I see these palms all over the place in many dry desert climates.
The Phoenix Sylvestris, or Silver Date Palm tree is native to much of India and southern Pakistan.
As a fun fact, the flowers from these palms are used throughout India for the production of sugar and alcohol while the fruit can be made into jelly, much like the Butia palms.
They are cold hardy in zones 8b and above tolerating temperatures down to approximately 15 F.
The Silver Date palm is found mainly in scrubby flatlands in its native habitat, so it can handle a high degree of drought.
They are relatively easy to maintain requiring occasional fertilizing and pruning of older fronds if you want them to look their sharpest.
Silver Date palms in areas of Texas and Florida have been susceptible to the Texas Phoenix Palm Decline, so watch out for this risk when buying palms from certain sources.
The Silver Date palm loves all well-draining soil types and prefers full to partial sun.
The Silver Date palm is somewhat slow-growing and can get quite tall, reaching 40-50 feet tall at maturity.
The silvery green pinnate fronds can vary in shape and appearance with the crown getting approximately 18 feet wide. These are ideal palms if you are looking for something with decent height, but not too wide.
The Silver Date also has a unique diamond-shaped design on the trunk from old leaf scars giving it a cool prehistoric look to the trunk.
Native to South America, the Syagrus Romanzoffiana or Queen palm tree is popular in many tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world as an ornamental palm in many suburban areas.
They have become quite popular in desert regions such as Phoenix, Arizona, and the Coachella Valley of California in the U.S., although when young, they will need frequent watering to look their best.
These palms are cold hardy in zones 9 and above tolerating temperatures to approximately 20 F.
Queen palms will require regular fertilizing and trimming for the best appearance.
Queen palms do best with organic mixtures like blood meal and manure.
When grown in desert regions, regular watering of mature specimens once every couple of weeks will keep them looking top-notch.
This palm tree thrives best in full to part or filtered sunlight, so don’t worry if you don’t have an area of your yard that gets blasted all day with sunlight.
Their fronds are sensitive to excessively dry winds, so planting in a wind-sheltered position will help keep them from looking beat to shreds during a strong wind event.
Queen palms grow well in sandy as well as clay-based soils. For excessive climates, clay-based is recommended to keep more moisture around the root system.
The Queen palm is fast growing and will eventually reach heights of 40-50 feet tall topping out at 80 feet in the most ideal growing conditions.
Their deep green pinnate fronds can vary in appearance with some looking fuller than others and will get up to 12 feet long on average.
Check out my full article on the Queen Palm HERE
A highly recognizable and popular palm for many desert areas, the Washingtonia Filifera or California Fan Palm tree is the only palm native to the southwestern U.S.
They are the more drought-tolerant and are the hardiest palm of the two Washingtonia species, the other being the Mexican Fan palm.
California Fan palms are popularly planted along residential streets, parks, and commercial lots, and are naturally found growing wild in the dry canyons of Baja and Southern California.
These palms are cold hardy in zones 8 and above, tolerating temperatures down to impressive single-digit levels when paired with dry conditions. The Filifera will not tolerate extended wet, and cold conditions for long and can get root rot quite easily.
California Fan palms are for folks living in dry climates, who want something that is fast-growing and are able to accommodate a larger palm on their property.
These palms are relatively maintenance-free. You will want to keep the palm pruned from old dead growth in areas where it might become a fire hazard.
Regular cleaning up of seeds and seed stalks will also be a regular occurrence, so be sure you are willing to do a little clean-up from time to time so you’re not left with a mess on the ground
California Fan palms can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions, handle some humidity in subtropical climates, and prefer full sun to part sun.
California Fans can get 50 to 60 feet tall at maturity, so they will get very big. Keep this in mind when deciding where you will be planting the palm.
The dull green palmate fronds are approximately 13 feet long on 6-foot armed petioles.
Keep in mind that these are the best cold hardy palms for colder desert regions.
This is a list to get you started. If you live in a mild desert zone where freezes are rare, there are many other types of palms out there that you might want to experiment with.
Get enough light in your house? You may want to pot-grow some of these palms year-round indoors!
Overall, indoor conditions tend to have low humidity and controlled temperatures, so give some of the non-cold hardy ones a try if you find something you like!
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