Hot Gardens Newsletter: Spring 2008
Snowy Palms. We were amazed to receive an e-mailed photo from a friend in London in early April showing several inches of snow on the small palm tree in her front yard. (What’s this? A palm tree in a London garden!?) As surprising as the photo is, we know that all palms love heat and, as a bonus, some palm trees are quite hardy in cold temperatures.
This photo of a snow-covered Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) was taken in London in early April, 2008.
(Note: after the even colder winter of 2010-2011, this palm tree still lived and grew! And in 2017 it’s still thriving in a sheltered corner of the garden!)
Later the same day in 2008 the snow had melted, but even those few hours of sub-freezing temperatures damaged the fronds slightly, turning them brown on the edges.
The shrub-size Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis), shown above and right, is ideal for small gardens and has survived brief cold spells down to 0 F. (-18 C.) And “brief” is the important factor; their survival depends on daytime warming after a night of chill.
The Canary Island Palm, (Phoenix canariensis) will withstand temperatures to 20 F. (-7 C.) at least for a short time. After a cold snap the fronds will turn brown and may very slowly regrow.
Its cousin, the Date Palm, ( P. dactylifera), a native of the Middle East, is even hardier. It has been known to survive and regrow after experiencing temperatures down to 5 F. (-16C.)
The California and Mexican Fan Palms, (Washingtonia filifera and W. robusta), natives of Southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, are also rugged, surviving cold weather as low as 18 F. (-8 C.)
The Washingtonias and both Date Palms reach heights of 60 to 100 feet, making them not particularly suitable for residential gardens although we see them planted around homes everywhere. After a few years’ growth they are more like columns in a yard than trees.
You can see other palm trees, including shorter ones, on this site.
Weather Proofing Palms
Some people wrap burlap around the trunks of their palms in an effort to shield them from the cold. Unless, however, the burlap is very thick and wrapped around the heart of the palm — which is just below the top of the trunk where the fronds emerge — wrapping will not improve survival chances. Wrapping the lower part of the trunk will provide no benefit at all.
If your palm tree appears badly damaged after a cold spell, don’t rip it out immediately. Wait a few weeks to see if new green fronds begin to appear.
Planting Palm Trees
If you have to replace your palm, plant a new one during the summer. Palms usually thrive when planted in warm summer months. They like warm soil on their shallow roots. For more about palm trees go here.
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