Can Palm Trees Survive Cold Weather?- Palm Tree Covered in Snow

Can Palm Trees Survive Cold Weather Climates?

Growing up I would see palm trees in movies and 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.

I quickly concluded that Palm trees only grow in warm areas.

However, as I got older and more fascinated with palms, I began to realize that this isn’t necessarily true.

Group of Mediterranean Fan Palms - Encinitas, CA
Group of Mediterranean Fan Palms – Encinitas, CA

So…Can Palm Trees Survive Cold Weather?

YES! However, there are many factors involved that go into how WELL palm trees 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 Hardiness Zone

Small Palm Covered In Snow
Small Palm Covered In Snow

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.

Not sure what growing zone you’re in? You can easily look up your specific hardiness zone by checking out the USDA Hardiness Zone Map.

For most palms, anything below USDA zone 8 will need some kind of winter protection.

There are a few outliers such as the Sabal Minor or Dwarf Palmetto, the Needle Palm, the Windmill Palm, and the Mazari Palm, the latter thriving in dry, warm climates.

These palms can take well into zone 7 before any winter protection is needed.

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.

As I said, this is just a brief list. There are plenty more varieties out there and more are being discovered every year!

What Kind Of Palms Do You Want To Grow?

The great thing about palms is that they are incredibly unique.

Some are giant 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 thousands of species available, you need to decide a few things:

  • What kind of look do you want?
  • What size of an area do you have to grow the palm?
  • What weather conditions your palm will be subjected to?
  • Can it be brought indoors?

Luckily, with so many varieties to choose from, finding a palm that suits your area and gives you the visual look of the garden you’re looking for isn’t all that difficult.

Brahea Armata Palms In Encinitas CA

Look Around Your Area

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 can survive, the better your chances are of being able to grow the same palm species long-term.

Also, make yourself aware of any microclimates in your area that may affect your chances of success.

Microclimates are just small areas of a climate zone that may be warmer or colder depending on minor elevation changes, and 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 materials 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 incandescent bulb types rather than LED lights.

This is because the LED lights won’t give off the heat that incandescent bulbs can, thus keeping the palm warmer during heavy cold spells.

If It’s Hopeless

A Droopy Pindo Palm Hybrid
A Droopy Pindo Palm Hybrid

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 the tree has been growing there for a while and has made it to about 10 feet in height!

The owner 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 avoid 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 the 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 good-sized specimen that will be sure to add enjoyment and draw attention as well.

The Wrap Up

The possibilities of growing palms in non-traditional areas are becoming 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.

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One Comment

  1. I live in Maine on an island in Penobscot bay. I have had a potted windmill from 2014-2019 that was outside in spring, summer and fall, then in a lanai during the winter. when I purchased my home I decided to plant it in the ground on the the southern tip of the homes foundation. It also has the septic pipe to the north of the tree and about 5 feet down as the house is built up on a small man made hill. I have slowly over the course of the winter months constructed a green house with two sides to the west and north having Lexan glass. There is about a period of 4-6 weeks it is completely enclosed with no heat other than the daytime sun. I do depending on the day take off the plywood board on the south side of the greenhouse, to allow the palm a small amount of uv exposure even tho it is only rated 1. It has been this way for three winters now, as I slowly leave the palm more exposed each year I am finding it is taking the temperatures very well. My biggest concern will be when it is too tall to construct a roof and seeing what the moisture will do to the crown. It is 2 feet from the house so it is more than likely still have the heat coming off the house.

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