Admit it. Every time you visit the beach, you envy the bevy of graceful palm trees along streets and in yards. You wish you could grow palms in your home garden, but think where you live is just too cold in winter. Maybe you’re right, but you could be wrong.
Twenty years ago, Grumpy planted two windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and a dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) in his north-central Alabama garden. At the time, my growing zone was USDA 7B that, thanks to global warming, is now officially Zone 8A. All three have flourished. They withstood temps as low as five degrees Fahrenheit (I refuse to submit to the Commie Celsius scale, the only purpose of which is to rob our American freedoms and force us to knuckle under to worldwide government) with no damage whatsoever. That got me wondering what other palms would take a good amount of cold.
It turns out quite a few will. That beautiful palm with the arching fronds in the container up top is the pindo or jelly palm (Butia capitata). It’s been growing there for years at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama, just a few miles away from me. I know it’s hardy down to 15 degrees, but it will probably take 10 degrees with some minor foliar burn.
Native to the Southeast, needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is probably the most cold-hardy palm in the world. There’s a venerable, old one at Aldridge Gardens. This trunkless palm gets its name from the sharp black needles that protect its crown. It survives temps well below zero and reportedly grows as far north as Massachusetts, where winters are as cold as Vlad Putin’s stare.
Other cold-hardy palms include Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), hardy to 10 degrees; Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis), to 15 degrees: cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto), to 10 degrees; blue fan palm (Brahea armata), to 15 degrees; and saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), to 15 degrees. With the exception of cabbage palmetto, which gets too tall, all of these would be good for growing in large containers as well as in the ground.
Provided your winters are mild enough, palms are easy to grow outdoors. They have few pests and deer don’t eat them. Most prefer full sun, but many tolerate light shade. Some are quite drought-tolerant (I never water my windmill palms). Others, like dwarf palmetto, thrive in wet or well-drained soil.
There is one caveat when talking about cold-hardiness, however. It matters just as much how long it stays cold in winter as it does the absolute low. One night of 10 degrees may be OK; five straight nights probably won’t be.