Palms For Cooler Climates
A palm enthusiast populates his Seattle home garden with the tropical treel.
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If you think that palm trees grow only in tropical climates, think again. There are a variety of hardy palms that tolerate cooler climates. Palm enthusiast John Spaulding discovered this while experimenting in his Seattle, Wash., garden.
During a trip to Hawaii, Spaulding came across a palm tree that had some ripe seeds on it. Figuring he didn't have too much to lose by taking some home to experiment with, he planted them, and all of the seeds germinated. With that success, he has been gardening with palms for over 25 years. Here are a few of his favorites.
Palms that tolerate cooler climates
Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis ) is native to Chile, but grows just fine in Seattle. It grows best in full sun. Although it isn't very salt tolerant and not ideal for planting next to the beach, it's drought tolerant once established. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 and warmer.
Jelly palm (Butia capitata) is known for its edible fruit that can be made into jams and jellies. Native to Brazil, it's drought tolerant once established and will also tolerate some salt spray. Plant it in full sun to part shade and a moist, well-draining soil. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 and warmer.
European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis ) is one of the most chill-tolerant palms, capable of withstanding temperatures to 10 degrees F. It's also drought and wind tolerant and is only slightly salt tolerant. Plant it in full sun to light shade. It is native to the western Mediterranean. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 and warmer.
Cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) is the state tree of South Carolina and Florida. It's native to southeastern United States, Cuba and the Bahamas. This palm is drought and salt tolerant and is virtually hurricane proof. Plant it in full sun to part shade. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 and warmer.
Bermuda fan palm (Sabal bermudiana) is native to Bermuda. Plant it in full sun to light shade. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 and warmer.
Puerto Rican hat palm (Sabal causiarum) has a uniquely smooth gray bark that distinguishes it from other Sabal palms. Plus, it's self cleaning, meaning that it sheds its old leaves on its own, while other Sabal palms tend to hang onto old leaves. It's native to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Plant it in full sun and a well-draining soil. Drought tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 and warmer.
Scrub palm (Sabal etonia ) is a hard-to-find plant native to Florida. It's drought tolerant and shows some salt tolerance. Plant it in full sun. Hardy to USDA Zone (7)8 and warmer.
Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is perhaps the most common temperate palm available. Its trunk is covered with dense brown fibers; to control these hairs from looking out of control, Spaulding singes the fibers with a torch, which he does not recommend for others to do at home. Instead, he recommends using sheep shears to trim away the excess hairs. Plant Chinese windmill palm in part shade and a well-drained soil. It's moderately tolerant of salt, drought and wind. Native to Asia. Hardy to USDA Zone (7)8 and warmer. With reasonable care, Spaulding can get his Chinese windmill palm to grow about 18 inches a year, which is a fairly substantial growth rate. The trick is the watering process.
"Palms don't like wet feet, especially during the winter. In the summertime, though, it's a entirely different situation, and I've found that probably the biggest factor for me being able to get 18 inches of growth out of the palms is to use a bucket system of watering," says Spaulding. He recommends using a three-gallon bucket with a 1/8-inch or smaller hole punched into the bottom corner. He places it under the palms once a week during the summer months.
Consider the bucket system as a low-tech form of drip irrigation. "The advantage of this system is that all the water drops underneath the bucket so you never lose any to evaporation. So you fill up the three-gallon bucket, it drains through, and you know that there is at least three gallons of water underneath the palm where it really needs to be."
In high rainfall areas, Spaulding recommends digging an additional six to eight inches below the root system and adding pea gravel when planting palms. If the roots remain too wet, the palms can suffer a variety of problems including algae, fungus and disease.
Master gardener Paul James explains the best trees to plant in the soggiest of conditions.