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Hardy Palm Trees

Published on August 31st 2019

by PimlicoDan. All rights reserved

A tree next to a palm tree
Palms are by far the most iconic of all exotic plants. However, this expensive summer impulse purchase can lead to tears when winter comes. Here are some of the hardier species, starting with the toughest and moving to the more tender.

True or False Palms?

You will see many plants listed as ‘hardy palms’, which are not. These include:

Cabbage Palm

Cordyline spp.

A flowering Musa basjoo banana tree with green leaves

Japanese Hardy Banana

Musa basjoo

Sago Cycad

Cycas revoluta

A green Musella lasiocarpa plant in a garden with a yellow flower

Yellow Lotus Banana

Musella lasiocarpa

These are, in fact, impostors (don't blame them, blame humans naming them!) with all true palms belonging to the family Arecaceae.
A tree in a park
A true palm: the pindo or jelly palm (Butia odorata)

Hardy Palms for the UK

Needle palm (Rhapidophylum hystrix)
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of the hardiest palm tree in the world.
An underrated species which prefers shady, damp spots, the needle palm grows very, very slowly.
Because of this, it is often overlooked in favour of its Chusan cousin. But it cannot match its sumptuous glossy green leaves that provide a genuine tropical effect.
Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)
Also known as the Chusan palm, T. fortunei is by far the most popular palm tree to grow in the UK.
It tolerates very low temperatures, isn’t too fussy over soil type and will grow into a beautiful tree over time. The large, fan-shaped leaves give colour and shape all year round, and established plants will produce pendulous panicles of yellow flowers.
It will only need protection from the hardest frosts. Trachycarpus loathes strong, drying winds, so a sheltered position is still best.
Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)
European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)
With similar leaves to the Chinese windmill palm, the European fan palm makes a welcome addition to a sunny, sheltered border that has free-draining soil (main image).
It may grow either as a tree or a dwarf shrub and, although more sensitive to winter rain and cold, is more drought and wind resistant than T. fortunei. They will often grow back from the base if unprotected over a severe winter.
The dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) has a similar growth habit and is somewhat hardier, but slower growing.
Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis)
Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis)
The hardiest of the feather palms, J. chilensis is very slow growing in the UK. But this species has the thickest trunk of any palm.
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Although it is cold hardy to around -10°C, it hates becoming wet in the winter (a common theme amongst palms). So the drier the palm remains, the more resistant it will be.
Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata)
A beautiful species with silvery-blue fan-shaped leaves. More sensitive to wet winters than those above, if kept dry it survive at -8C, though be aware that leaves may suffer permanent damage below this.
A free-draining spot where it can bathe in full summer sun is best, such as near a south-facing wall. Once established, it is very drought-tolerant.
Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata)
Pindo or Jelly palm (Butia odorata, formerly capitata)
Although less hardy than the Chilean wine palm, the Pindo palm is more tolerant of wet winters and is far more beautiful. Complete with graceful, arching fronds in shades of greyish-blue.
Outside of the south-west and central London, it is advisable to offer some winter protection with fleece around the trunk/base and crown.
Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis)
Perhaps the most widely known of all palm trees (after the coconut), the Canary Island date palm is a fast-growing palm with a beautiful growth habit.
It possesses dagger-sharp spines at its centre, so not an ideal choice around children or pets.
Very tolerant of dry conditions, P. canariensis doesn’t like wet winters at all, so although it is hardy down to around -5°C, it can be tricky to get through the winter without protection.
A group of palm trees on the side of a building
A Canary Island date palm enjoying the outdoor life in the UK.

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