Can I grow palm trees outside where it freezes?

Windmill palms standing in the snow in Seattle - courtesy rutlo - CC-BY

Windmill palms standing in the snow in Seattle - courtesy rutlo - CC-BY

Are you thinking of being out in the cold looking at bare trees and wishing you could have a more tropical landscape?  Well, maybe you can.  There are palm trees that can take 20 degrees fahrenheit below zero temperatures and survive.  There are palm trees that will grow as far north as Canada and some even in Canada. With some protection, even the less-hardy palms can pull through a cold winter. And, the toughest palms may need no protection at all.

Here is a basic look at the most winter-hardy palm trees.

We will start with the palm that can survive at -20 to -10 F.

It is commonly known as a “needle palm” (Rhapidophyllum hystrix). Needle palms are the most cold hardy palm tree in the world. They have even survived through zone 5 winters with little protection (Ohio and Michigan for example).  They will easily survive sub-zero temperatures. This is the palm for you if you don’t want to ever have to consider any winter protection. This palm is as tough as nails and a way to bring the tropics to a Cleveland, Chicago or Detroit garden.  Needle palms are one of those strange palms that can either possess a clumping habit or have a solitary trunk.The solitary trunks are nice because you can see the trunk better, clumps on the other hand will get wider, have a fuller look and generally take up more space. They grow to about 8 to 10 feet tall and easily just as wide.
They aren’t called needle palms for nothing. Be careful when reaching into the plant to care for it. (-20 to -10 F)

Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor).  This palm tree has been known to survive temperatures as low as 18 F below zero and can be found as far north as Pennsylvania and the New York City region. It has fan shaped leaves and can grow 3 – 6 feet. ( -15 F to -10 F)

For a larger tree, there is the Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei).  Windmill palms are also among the hardiest palms available and are found growing even in Seattle and Vancouver B.C. as well as New Jersey and Long Island.   Fan shaped leaves are arranged into symmetrical crown that is about 8 to 10 feet wide. Trunks that are usually covered with a loose mat of coarse gray or brown fiber and can grow to heights of 20 to 40 feet. (-5 to 5 F )

There are a few other palm trees that fall into the class of ‘cold-hardy’ though most are a little less cold hardy than these.  So, it is very possible to have a White Christmas with a few palm fronds poking from the snow drifts.  And in the summer, combined with a few canna lilies and some hardy bamboo, you can have a bit of tropical paradise in the northern United States and southern Canada.

For more information about growing palm trees

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