By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Palm trees recall warm temperatures, exotic flora, and vacation type lazes in the sun. We are often tempted to plant one to harvest that tropical feel in our own landscape. Queen palms are hardy in USDA zones 9b to 11, which makes them intolerant of the temperatures in most of our country. Even warm regions, such as Florida, tend to fall into an 8b to 9a zone, which is below the Queen palm’s hardiness range. Queen palm cold damage can be fatal in extreme winters. For this reason, knowing how to overwinter queen palms is a must to protect your investment.
The queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) is a majestic tropical tree that can grow up to 50 feet (15 m.) in height. It is easily damaged by temperatures below 25 degrees F. (-3 C.). Winterizing queen palm trees that are at their mature height is nearly impossible. Smaller specimens can be protected from light freezes and snow. If exposure is brief, queen palm cold damage may be recoverable. There are some things you can do to minimize any adverse issues with a little extra care of queen palm in winter.
The types of queen palm cold damage will vary due to the plants exposure and location. Low exposure will result in tattered and discolored fronds. Heavier damage will result in a condition called spear pull, where the frond easily slips out of the trunk when you pull on it. The stem will be soft and wet. This condition is rarely recoverable.
Even worse is meristem death. This is when a freeze causes areas of the trunk to discolor and eventually start to rot. Fungal issues soon develop and within months the fronds will all drop and the tree will be on its way out.
As bad as all this sounds, queen palms can recover from light cold exposure, which is usually what occurs in areas where they are grown. Applying a few ideas for care of queen palm in winter will enhance the plant’s chances of survival.
Young palms are especially vulnerable to cold damage because they haven’t developed deep enough root systems to ensure the base of the plant survives. Plants in containers can be brought indoors for winter. Those in the ground should be mulched around the base.
For extra protection when a freeze is due, put a bucket or garbage can over the crown with holiday lights inside. The lights emit just enough warmth and the covering keeps heavy snow and icy winds from the fronds.
Winterizing queen palm trees is essential if your region ever expects freezing temperatures. The young plants are easy to protect, but the big mature beauties are much more difficult. Holiday or rope lights help add ambient warmth. Wrap the trunk and the fronds. To make this more effective, build a scaffold around the plant. Then you can cover the entire plant in frost barrier fabric. This is an important part of queen palm winter care where even an extended frost can cost the plant much of its vitality.
A product also exists that is a spray on protection. Whichever method you choose, follow in late summer to early fall with an appropriate fertilizer. Well-nourished trees are much hardier than nutrient deprived tissues.
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A little snow doesn’t hurt this mature pindo palm, which is hardy to Zone 7b.
Photo by: Image courtesy of Real Palm Trees
Attribute it to gardeners pushing the envelope or global warming, but palms are popping up in places you wouldn’t expect. Palms are growing in 40 states, thanks to the efforts of enterprising gardeners. Places like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and even Michigan are hosting a touch of the tropics as gardeners test their green thumbs with winter hardy palms. If you’re ready to tend your own homegrown paradise, consider adding a winter hardy palm to your gardening repertoire.
The trick to growing palms in areas where they’re not a typical landscape plant hinges on several things. First, make sure you select a palm that’s rated hardy for your growing zone. There are palms that naturally grow in cold environments—like mountain regions of Afghanistan or even Bulgaria. It’s also important to know the lowest temperatures your area usually experiences in an average winter.
To hedge your bets with winter hardy palms, start with the largest plant you can afford and easily cover. A larger palm has likely already experienced some cold weather and developed some degree of cold tolerance. It also has more food reserves to help it overwinter successfully—and bounce back if cold weather kills existing fronds. Plant in spring, so the palm has a growing season to establish. Use a quality palm fertilizer to strengthen your plant so it can stand up to cold weather.
Many hardy palm growers suggest keeping palms in a pot the first winter, acclimating them to cold temperatures by placing them in an attached garage. Choose a planting spot that’s protected from winds (especially frigid north and west winds) and preferably with a southern exposure.
Keep an eye on weather forecasts through winter. If temperatures are predicted to tumble, plan to take action to protect your palm. Which protection method you use depends on how large your palm is. Here are steps you can take to protect your palm:
Spray the leaves with an antidesiccant like Wilt-Pruf, which helps reduce moisture loss through leaves.
It’s worth the effort to research winter hardy palm networks online to learn about palm growers in your region and glean specific advice for your locale.
Median plantings, curbside planting strips and petite planting areas near a deck or patio are all good places to plant queen palm. Pair queen palm with small and medium flowering and shade trees for a lush landscape. Great planting partners for queen palm include sweet acacia, spicewood, locust berry, floss silk tree, and fiddlewood.
Queen palm grows best in full sun. It is well-suited for acidic, well-drained soil. When planted in alkaline soil it shows severe mineral deficiencies through stunted young leaves. Prolonged mineral shortage will kill the plant. Soil can be treated with mineral applications but the expense and effort are intense and must be maintained for the lifetime of the tree.
Queen palm fronds persist after they die and often require pruning to remove the dead fronds. When pruning, take care and try not remove any live fronds. Pruning off too many fronds at one time can cause the palm to decline. Protect the trunk of queen palm to prevent diseases as the trunk is susceptible to decay and injury by lawn mowers or landscape equipment which can create an opening for various roots to take hold and kill the tree.
Ganoderma butt rot is a deadly disease caused by the fungus Ganoderma zonatum, and it causes internal trunk decay. The damage from the disease will prevent water and nutrients from moving up the trunk, causing the visible symptoms of wilting, leaf drop and death. In some cases, conks will appear on the lower part of the trunk. These have the appearance of a hard marshmallow and contain spores that may spread to other trees. There are no controls for ganoderma butt rot, so be sure to destroy conks and any infected trees to prevent spread to other palms.
Another fungus called Thielaviopsis paradoxa causes trunk rot at the top of the palm. It infects the tree through any trunk damage, and soft rot or sunken spots of the trunk may be visible. Eventually, the crown will break, and the top of the tree will fall off. There is no control for this infection, but healthy trees with no trunk wounds won't be infected.
Fusarium wilt, another common disease with no control measures, causes symptoms such as a reddish-brown stripe on the stems and leaflet death. The spread of the disease is not fully understood. It may be spread by wind-blown spores or by contaminated pruning tools. Be sure to disinfect all pruning tools before using them on your palms. Prepare a solution that is one part bleach to nine parts water and soak the tools for 30 minutes, advises University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions.
Slow-release 8N-2P2O5-12K2O+4Mg with micronutrients fertilizer
My Queen Palm suddenly looks stressed and fronds start to brown quickly. New spears appear but are not as robust as usual.
This article will help. The article is about Sago Palms, but the same principles apply to Queen Palms as well:
Once you plant the palm, water it thoroughly. Make sure you water it daily for at least two to three weeks, from the day of planting. After this period, watering can be done three times weekly. During summers, you should water the plant at least three times a week, which can be reduced to twice a week in winters.
Every time you water this palm, make sure that the soil around and beneath the root ball is moist. This can be done with a soil probe. Though this palm tree is resistant to drought to some extent, proper watering is good for its healthy growth.
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You mentioned wrapping and xmas lights for winter. Just wondered if you've onverwintered any trachys, and if so what you did. I have 2 that will see their first winter this year, and I planned on burlap and c9 xmas lights around the trunk, and maybe a canvas drop cloth over it completely. Figured I'd take the drop cloth on and off with temp changes, but didn't know if the burlap would hurt the tree if I left it on. They are about 5' tall and in full sun. Would you wrap the burlap around and then xmas lights around the burlap? Just looking for some ideas from anyone who has previously pulled it off.
Also, saw some king sagos and silver european fans at home depot. Seems they have a good shot at making it outside all year. What do you think?
I love queen palms. Very tropical looking and moderately cold tolerant. My local HD's do occasionally sell queens and P. canariensis. I have two queens that may be about 12 feet tall. They are too big for the house so I overwinter them in a loft garage from about the beginning of December until mid to late March. The garage temps are rather cold but mostly frost free. Temps in the coldest part of winter may only be in the mid 40's by day, minimums are about 38 F. though dropped to 32 F. on one morning. I water very little in the dead of winter (during mild periods I'll drag it out and soak it with the hose). Despite the chill, leaves stayed green without damage. I overwinter the
Sagos along with the queens in the garage. I have a few T. fortuneis in the ground. I wrap the trunks with a couple of shear insulating blankets (some of them have x-mas lights under the blankets--looks pretty if nothing else).
This is the first year that I have decided to overwinter a windmill palm as well. They havent seen a winter yet, but they have seen some cold. Since mine are small (about 3-4 feet tall) I will probably put a garbage can over it when we get those cold winter rains. When temps go below 15 I'll put some x-mas lights inside the garbage bin to keep the plant warm. I think the main problem for most palms on the east coast is all the cold rain. When mine gets too large for the garbage bin to cover it (which may be as soon as next year) I will first put burlap around the trunk followed by christmas lights, and then burlap around the lights. I probably wont cover the leaves because I have it in a spot away from bad winds. I will only turn the lights on when temps go below 15F. It really keeps alot of heat in so I think this method will work well especially since windmill palms can handle 5 degree temps which most zone 7ers dont even see every year unless you live in a cold zone 7.
I was also considering a king sago, and may try that this winter as well. I think they have a good chance in a zone 7 with protection. If I do get one I will mulch it well, and put a tarp on it, or use the garbage bin method when rain, snow, or cold comes.
Also Ive had lots of luck with livinstonia chinesis. They have lasted to late January in a pot without protection, so they cold probbaly make it in zone 7 in the ground with protection. They are also one of the nicer looking cold tolerant palms.
Good luck with your windmills, and any other tropical plants you are trying!
Tropical zone 7. Trachycarpus palms really don't need too much babying in zone 7. They are very tolerant of wet and cold winters as long as the soil drains well (and my winters are very wet along with the rest of the year). I do have mine on the south side of the house so they do get a ton of sun year-round. Still, they have gone through snow and ice storms and a minimum of 4 F.. Yes, many of leaves look ratty by the end of the winter but center bud and surrounding leaves stay nice and green. They've already grown a new crown of leaves. Most recently, I put down a layer of black mulch (extra heat absorption). Don't know if it does any good but I also put down a layer of larger rocks and stones around them. All in all they have surpassed my zone 7 expectations for palm growing. Good luck with yours!:)