A Closer Look At Needle Palm Trees and Where To Grow Them

It’s about time I wrote more in depth about this incredible palm. There are many cold hardy palms, but Needle palm trees tend to be one of the most fascinating.

Why is that? 

To start, these palms may be the most cold hardy palm tree on the planet! They have the ability to withstand brief temperature dips down to approximately -15 F with little to no damage. With some protection, Needle palms can possibly survive even colder temperatures.

Due to their tolerance for such frigid temperatures, they are quite popular in areas where other palm trees wouldn’t survive.

Let’s take a closer look at this amazing palm and find out if it will be a good fit for your climate.

What Is It?

The Needle palm, known by its botanical name Rhapidophyllum Hystrix, can thrive in a wide range of growing zones across North America and Europe. They are native to the southeastern U.S. from the southern Atlantic coast and west into Alabama and Mississippi.

It is a slow growing shrubby palm getting up to 6 feet in height and 5 to 6 feet in width with a dense crown of fronds. The glossy green palmate fronds can reach up to 6 feet in length. They emerge from several stems from a single base and are covered in sharp needles up to 6 inches in length.  In some instances they will develop a trunk, although this can take many years.

Needle palms are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers will grow on separate trees to make viable seed.  It is a suckering palm and propagation can also be achieved by separating the suckers and planting separately.

Where Will It Grow?

Needle palms enjoy hot, humid conditions and thrive in lowland swamps. They are hardy down to the high zone 6 range without winter protection, although heavy damage is expected at these temps.

These palms will need to be grown in areas with hot summers to achieve optimum growth.  They can be grown successfully in areas with cooler summers, but will have a much slower growth rate. For this reason, they are not highly recommended for mild Mediterranean climates. Needle palms have become popular in areas such as the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and Northwestern Europe, but can struggle during excessively cold winters.

They are grown throughout certain areas of the midwest and northeast U.S. with hot, humid summers and freezing winters.

Who Are They For?

Needle palms are an ideal choice for anyone living in areas with extreme seasonal temps where many other palms may not survive.

Due to their limited height, they are excellent for growing underneath taller trees in the landscape. They will tolerate varying amounts of sun if kept in warm areas.  Needle palms are relatively drought tolerant and can adapt to a wide range of well draining soil types.  They will also do well in moisture rich, swampy conditions similar to their natural habitat.

Since these are wide, shrubby palms with excessively sharp needles, they can also be good for growing along fence lines. This is ideal for acting as a barrier for unwanted wildlife.

Needle palms are great for folks wanting a slow growing shorter palm, but also have room for the palm to spread out. Since the needles of these palms are are very sharp, they are recommended for open areas away from paths like entryways and doorways.

Any Drawbacks?

Needle palms are relatively worry free from pests and other diseases.  They can be subject to spider mites and mealybugs, but this can be maintained with proper soil care.

While highly moisture tolerant, Needle palms can develop yellowing fronds from over watering. This is more common in areas with long cool weather periods.  Over fertilizing can also cause this as well, so only fertilize twice a year if necessary.

As mentioned before, these palms develop very sharp needles, so great care is advised when planting near high traffic areas.  Provide ample room and when handling, be sure to wear thick gloves to avoid injury.

The Wrap Up

If you live in zone 6 or higher and always wanted a palm for your landscape, the Needle palm is a great solution to give you a nice tropical look.

Although very slow growing, taking several years to achieve a mature size, Needle palms are a very easy palm to grow. They are great for beginners and with very little effort, will provide years of enjoyment for any palm enthusiast.

1 thought on “A Closer Look At Needle Palm Trees and Where To Grow Them”

  1. The Needle Palm does not really grow in the “true” Midwest and Northeast. Most large and long term plantings in the Midwest are in southern Ohio. IL, and IN. In the Northeast, one will only find Needle Palms from coastal Connecticut/Long Island south to coastal Maryland- which is really more Mid-Atlantic. Very few Needle palms survive into New York State and New England .

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