Growing up I would see palm trees on movies, TV shows and while traveling to different states on summer vacations. In every situation, the location was always in places like California, Florida or the deserts of Arizona. All warm places with lots of sun and well-tanned folks walking around in shorts and flip-flops. This became a common conclusion to most people. Palm trees = warm weather. However, as I got older and more fascinated with palms, I began to realize that this isn’t necessarily true.
So….can palm trees survive cold weather?
Sure they can! However, there are many factors involved that go into how WELL they can handle cold weather, if at all. Here are a few questions to ask yourself…
- Is the area you live in predictable when it comes to temperatures or are you in a microclimate?
- Is there a particular species that you would like to grow?
- Are there any palms already growing where you live and do they look like they’ve been planted there a while?
This list of questions could go on and on, so we’ll look at a few important things to determine if you have the proper environment to successfully grow palms.
Know Your Zone.
When considering growing palms, this is probably the number one factor most people take into account. There’s a good reason for this; there are some places on this planet where palm trees simply will not grow outdoors year round. (actually, there are a few solutions for these places, which I will talk about a bit later).
The good news is that with a little research on which palm species are best suited for your cold climate, your odds of growing palms successfully outdoors will improve dramatically. Here’s a brief list of some of the most common cold hardy varieties.
Like I said, this is just a brief list. There are plenty more varieties out there and more being discovered every year!
What Do You Want?
The great thing about palms is that they are incredibly unique. Some are giant in size while others don’t get any taller than a few feet. Some have pinnate fronds, while others have fan shaped fronds. There are even palms that don’t even look like palms!
Since there are literally thousands of species available, you need to decide what kind of look you want, the size of the area in which you plan to grow the palm, what weather conditions your palm will be subjected to in your region and if it’s a tree that you can bring indoors if living in one of these frigid areas.
Luckily, with so many varieties to choose from, finding a palm that suites your area and gives you the visual look to your garden you’re looking for isn’t all that difficult.
A great way to find out if a palm tree can survive in your area is to take a drive around the area you live in and see if there are any successfully growing outside. You’ll want to look for more mature, established plants since this will give you a better idea of longevity when it comes to surviving multiple winters. The more winters the palm is able to survive, the better your chances are of being able to grow the same palm species long term.
Also, make yourself aware of any micro climates in your area that may affect your chances of success. Micro climates are basically just small areas of a climate zone that may be warmer or colder depending on minor elevation changes, wind and sunlight conditions.
Something else to note is that the more established the palm’s root system becomes in an area and the more mature the tree gets, the more cold hardy it will become naturally!
Do You Have Protection?
Some of you reading this might be living in an area that will see a few mild winters in a row with the occasional freeze from time to time. Depending on the hardiness of the palm species you are growing, you may need to protect your palm during these freezing periods.
There are several creative ways people have used existing material to protect their palms. The most common methods are wrapping the palm with burlap, covering the trunk and crown with hay or pine needles and even using Christmas lights as a way to keep the tree warm. If you plan on using Christmas lights, be sure to use the older C9/C7 bulb type lights as they can get pretty warm.
If It’s Hopeless…
Maybe you live in an icebox and the idea of growing palms outdoors long term seems impossible. Most palms won’t grow outdoors year round in zones lower than 6 without some kind of protection.
I heard a story recently about a guy growing a Mexican Fan palm in his yard in Michigan. Normally Mexican Fans will only survive in zones 9 and above without protection year round. Since the lower lying areas of Michigan are in the 5-6 zone range, it’s hard to believe that this could be possible. Not only that, but apparently the tree has been growing there for a while and has made it to about 10 feet in height! Apparently, he wraps the whole tree up with burlap and Christmas lights to make this happen.
I wasn’t able to find out too much information about this particular case, but many folks have had success wrapping their tree during the winter and have been able to ward off any long term damage from deep freezes. This sounds like a lot of work, but if done successfully, could be a great solution when wanting to grow palms in the ground in such areas.
The most practical option of course would be to build a greenhouse or get palms that are suitable for indoors. Many species of palms, even ones that are more for outdoors, can be kept potted and brought indoors during the winter as long as they receive plenty of light and warmth. Sure, this isn’t the same as having one planted in your yard, but if you have a big enough container, you can eventually get a really good size specimen that will be sure to add enjoyment and draw attention as well.
In summary, the possibilities of growing palms in non-traditional areas is becoming much more promising given the vast amount of species and protection options. I hope to continue finding more of these cold hardy palms and bringing them to you as I move forward with my research. Stay tuned!
If you have any questions or if you are interested in learning about specific cold hardy palms, please leave a comment below!