You don't have to live in the south to grow these tropical treasures.
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The "tropical look" is one of the hottest landscaping trends today. And what says tropical better than palms? Palms are one of the staples of tropical gardening, and you don’t have to live in the south to grow these tropical treasures. Some palms will thrive in zones as low as 7, not exactly your typical tropic location.
For more information, we visit palm grower Ciscoe Morris in Evergreen, Wash. According to Ciscoe, there’s surprisingly little upkeep involved in maintaining many palms. Trachycarpus wagnerianus, for example, is cold hardy to Zone 7 and grows up to 20 feet. This particular palm is not a "self-cleaner" like some other varieties. But all you need to do is just cut off the old fronds to keep it looking good.
Trachycarpus fortunei, commonly known as the windmill palm, requires similar care. Both of these palms are fan type palms, and their fronds resemble the shape of a hand.
Native to desert regions, fan palms are not only cold hardy, they’re drought tolerant as well. Ciscoe recommends fertilizing your palms with a low level of nitrogen, like fish emulsion. A composition of 7-7-2 is ideal for using once in the spring and once in the summer. If your soil is low in magnesium, these palms benefit from Epson salts. It has magnesium and sulfur in it and palms love it. Just a quarter cup for three feet and don’t overdo it.
The other popular palm variety, the feather palm, is named for its feather-like fronds. Feather palms are favored for their classic tropical look. One you might try is the Butia capitata from South America. It’s the hardiest of all the feather palms. It’s also known as the jelly palm and bears fruit that can be made into wine or jam. Butia capitata requires full sun, excellent drainage and can reach up to 30 feet in height. But it may not survive winters in zones lower than 8.
When planting a palm, Ciscoe says to resist the temptation to break up the roots, even if it appears to be root bound. This can damage the plant. And even though your palm may be hardy in zone 7, you still need to protect it during winter for the first three years. The best way to do this is to stake around the palm, then insulate the plant with a bed sheet or mattress cover. If the temperature is going to be extremely low, use hardware cloth as a brace and insulate the plant with cedar needles. If cold weather requires you to leave the protection on all winter, Ciscoe recommends using a fungicide. Be sure the fronds are in bright light and fresh air. Once the weather warms, remove the insulation and the palm should thrive.
Gardeners and plantsmen keep their eyes open for happy accidents of nature, and gardens are richer as a result.