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!
There are several proven cold hardy palm trees for the desert that can be grown successfully with minimal effort. Here are 9 picks for your dry desert garden.
Bismarckia Nobilis – Bismarck Palm
A large, silvery-blue fan palm from the higher elevations of Madagascar, the Bismarckia Nobilis or Bismarck palm is cold hardy in zones 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 arid as well as tropical and subtropical climates. In its native habitat, these palms handle extreme drought and heat, making them a great choice for folks living in dry desert regions.
Bismarck palms have very fragile root systems that don’t like to be disturbed once established, so if planted in the ground, make sure it is where you want to keep it long term. They do best in a well-drained soil mix with full sun and high heat.
Bismarcks are massive palms growing to a height of 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 the crown getting up to 25 feet in width.
Brahea Armata – Blue Hesper Palm
Second on the list is the Brahea Armata, another silver fan variety known as the Mexican Blue palm or Blue Hesper palm.
These palms are native to areas of Baja and Northwestern Mexico and are a very popular landscape choice for 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 an extremely drought tolerant larger silver fan palm. These palms can also handle cooler, wetter winters in moderation, however for maximum growth they will do best in areas with hot, dry conditions. They handle part to full sun conditions and will do their best in well draining soil.
Although slow growing, Mexican Blue palms can get to a maximum height of 30-50 feet, however, it can take many years to reach these heights. They have bluish silver costapalmate fronds that range in width of 3-6 feet.
Old fronds will create a “skirt” underneath new fronds and will need the occasional pruning for a clean look.
Butia Capitata – Pindo Palm
The Pindo palm (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 as the true Capitata species is mostly found in South America. They are a great choice for zones 8 and above and will handle temperatures down to 10 F, possibly lower.
Like the Brahea Armata, they are versatile in their climate tolerance ranging from extreme dry to cool Mediterranean regions. They will not thrive as well in subtropical and tropical climates. They love sandy, well draining soil 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 with ease.
The Pindo palm trunk averages 10-15 feet in height up to 20 feet at maturity. Their pinnate fronds have a nice, tropical appearance and can vary in color from mostly green to silver green in color and range in length from 5-10 feet long. Frond length can vary depending on sunlight with full sun specimens having a more compact crown.
Chamaerops Humilis – Mediterranean Fan Palm
Native to many areas of southwestern Europe and known as the northernmost growing palm, the Mediterranean Fan palm (Chamaerops Humilis) is a smaller, drought tolerant fan palm for folks that want something with a slower growth rate ideal for desert climates and won’t take up a lot of space. They are hardy in zones 8 and above. They will handle temperatures down to 10 F, possibly lower.
They will thrive in a wide range of climates from dry arid to the cool Mediterranean and are another great pick for anyone living in desert regions with moderate watering. 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 a clumping palm that can grow as a solitary specimen or in a group. 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 armed petioles. They are a perfect size for entryways and smaller spaces if kept well groomed. These palms also make a great potted specimen for patios where they can be easily transported if needed.
Jubaea Chilensis – Chilean Wine Palm
Native to Central Chile and known for their massive size, slow growth and prehistoric appearance in mature specimens, the Chilean Wine palm (Jubaea Chilensis) is a great choice if you’re looking for not only one of the most cold hardy palms in the world, but also something that can handle a wide range of climates. They are cold hardy to zones 8 and above and will handle brief cold spells well into the lower teens and high single digits Fahrenheit making them one of the most, if not the most cold hardy pinnate palm in the world.
Chilean Wine palms are extremely slow growing, slow to germinate and don’t flower for several decades, making them very valuable in the marketplace. Their extreme drought tolerance makes them ideal for desert climates, but will also handle moisture as much if not more than the Butia Capitata. Moderate watering in hot, dry desert conditions are ideal for these palms, however they can easily handle prolonged periods of drought. The Chilean Wine palm is tolerant in full to part sun and like many palms on this list, prefer well draining soil.
As mentioned before, these palms get massive and will need a large area to grow in. 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 with a very tropical appearance when young.
Nannorrhops Ritchiana – Mazari Palm
The Nannorrhops Ritchiana or Mazari palm is native to Southeastern Asia and found growing in areas of the Arabian Peninsula. These palms are one of the best palms for hot desert climates while also being one of the most cold hardy palms in the world. It is a solid zone 7 and above palm taking temperatures into the low single digits Fahrenheit making them ideal for higher desert elevations.
The Mazari palm prefers incredibly dry climates where they will get the most out of their cold tolerance. These palms will successfully grow in warm humid areas such as the gulf coast of the U.S. and south Florida, however they don’t grow well in cold, wet conditions. In extreme hot and dry conditions, regular watering in well draining soil will keep it looking its best.
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 similar to the Chamaerops Humilis.
Phoenix Sylvestris – Silver Date Palm
A very popular pick for many dry desert climates, the Phoenix Sylvestris or Silver Date Palm is native to much of India and southern Pakistan. The flowers from these palms are used throughout India for production of sugar and alcohol while the fruit can be made into jelly, much like the Butia genus. 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 and can take a high degree of drought as well as moderate moisture. Silver Date palms are widely grown in the desert southwest of the U.S., including southern California and Arizona. They are relatively easy to maintain requiring occasional fertilizing and pruning of older fronds. Specimens in areas of Texas and Florida have been susceptible to Texas Phoenix Palm Decline, so be sure to find out if this will be a risk when looking to purchase from a particular source. The Silver Date palm has a high tolerance for many well draining soil types and prefer full to partial sun.
The Silver Date palm is fairly slow growing and can get quite tall, reaching 40-50 feet tall at maturity. The silvery green pinnate fronds can vary slightly in shape and appearance with the crown getting approximately 18 feet wide. The Silver Date also has a very unique diamond shaped design to the trunk from old leaf scars making it quite pleasing in appearance. These are great accent palms that will blend into many landscapes .
Syagrus Romanzoffiana – Queen Palm
Native to South America, the Syagrus Romanzoffiana or Queen palm is found growing in many tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world as an ornamental palm in residential and commercial 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 an ample amount of water to look their best. These palms are cold hardy in zones 9 and above tolerating temperatures to approximately 20 F.
Queen palms will require a bit of maintenance to look their best. Fertilizing regularly tends to be a must with these palms and will 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 healthy. Queen palms do best in full to filtered sunlight. Their fronds are sensitive to excessively dry winds, so planting in a wind sheltered position will help them keep a full, organized appearance to their frond structure. Queen palms grow well in sandy as well as clay based soils, however for excessively climates, clay based is recommended for more moisture retention.
The Queen palm is relatively 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 more full than others and will get up to 12 feet long on average.
Washingtonia Filifera – California Fan Palm
A highly recognizable and popular palm for many desert regions, the Washingtonia Filifera or California Fan Palm is the only palm native to the southwestern U.S. They are widely used for street planting as well as in residential and commercial landscapes. These palms are cold hardy in zones 8 and above, tolerating temperatures down to the low teens Fahrenheit.
California Fan palms are for folks living in drier, arid climates, want something that is fast growing and have room in their yard for a larger palm. These palms are relatively maintenance free only requiring occasional pruning of old, dead fronds and regular seed maintenance as they can leave a mess if unattended.
If grown in areas with too much cold winter moisture, they can easily succumb to root rot. California Fan palms can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions, handle some humidity in subtropical climates and will do best in full sun, however they can tolerate part sun as well.
California Fans can get 50 to 60 feet tall at maturity. The light green palmate fronds are approximately 13 feet long on 6 foot armed petioles. If left unattended, the fronds will create a “skirt” underneath the crown, giving it a unique shaggy appearance.