Palm Trees for Transforming Your Yard Into Paradise

Backyard surrounded with palm trees and patio furniture

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

No plant evokes an image of the tropics more than a palm tree, with its slender trunk and feather-like fronds that sway gently in the breeze. But with nearly 3,000 species in existence, not all palms are alike. If you live in a region that is suitable for growing palm trees, it's helpful to know which ones are best for back yards. Things to consider: ultimate height, size of property, what it will be planted near, soil conditions, and leaf or fruit drop.

These evergreen trees feature either fan-shaped (palmate) or feather-shaped (pinnate) compound leaves, or fronds. Palmate leaves—also known as fan palm leaves—have leaflets that radiate from the leaf's base. More of the cold-hardy palms have palmate leaves. Pinnates, aka feather palm leaves, have two rows of leaflets on each side of a stem.

We've researched palm trees to come up with some of the best ones for residential landscapes. One thing they have in common: they aren't the giant palms that line boulevards or glamorize casino entrances. 

For design purposes, we look at the best palmate palms.

  • 01 of 06

    Areca Palm

    buttefly palm
    Butterfly palm tree De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

    Botanical nameDypsis lutescens 

    Also known asGolden cane palm, butterfly palm, bamboo palm, or yellow palm.

    Frond Type: Palmate

    How to ID it: Leaves or fronds are green with yellow, gold or even silver/gray in the leaflets and stems. From a distance, Arecas look gold, hence, some of their common names. Fronds are 4 to 6 feet long with a bare petiole. Dark spots or specks can be seen at the base of the leaf stems. Leaves form a "V shape" at the cross section. 

    Palm trees with crownshafts are considered self-cleaning, which means that aging leaves fall off, including the crownshaft. Brown tips are evident on this species after hot, dry, or cold weather. Simply trimming it, or giving it a haircut, will make the plant look neater.  Ideally, this palm prefers a region with humidity. 

    Landscape uses: This drought tolerant palm tree grows quickly and is often grown as a shrub or hedge.  widely planted throughout sub-tropical and tropical climates and make wonderful wind, sound and privacy screens. The number of stems vary and can be controlled by pruning.

    Height: 25 to 30 feet

    Native to: Madagascar and tropical India, Malaysia, Southern China, Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Australia. 

  • 02 of 06

    Canary Island Date Palm

    canary island palm
    A Canary Island palm Westend61/Getty Images

    Botanical namePhoenix canariensis 

    Also known as: Mistakenly, as a pineapple palm.

    Frond Type: Palmate 

    How to ID it: A strikingly beautiful palm tree that makes a statement, it has a wide trunk lined with diamond patterns and a dense crown of arching fronds

    Landscape uses: Canary Island palms are highly desirable among landscapers and tree nurseries because they are often used for luxury residential and commercial properties.

    Height: A very slow grower, takes decades to reach 60 feet.

    Native to: The Canary Islands. In New Zealand, it is considered invasive. This palm is considered naturalized in Spain, Italy, Australia, Bermuda and the Unites States, including Florida, Arizona, Southern Nevada, California, and Alabama. 

  • 03 of 06

    Chinese Fan Palm

    chinese fan palm
    Chinese fan palm trees Federica Fortunato/Getty Images.

    Botanical nameLivistona chinensis

    Also known as: Chinese fountain palm.

    Frond type: Palmate, or costapalmate 

    How to ID it: Features large, bright green fan-shaped leaves that are divided into segments that droop downward into a graceful, fountain-like shape. The leaves, or fronds, grow to about 5 feet in diameter and form a dense canopy on a single trunk. The trunk is wider at the base and can be brown to a grayish color. 

    Landscape uses: Chinese fan palms form long tap roots and is fairly drought tolerant—good to know for Californians and others in drought-stricken regions. Providing some irrigation will ensure more rapid growth. Smaller trees look attractive in containers on patios and decks or in small yards. It's also an effective privacy screen (or green screen) and an anchor or focal plant for a petite tropical bed. Plant in USDA Zones 9 to 11.

    Height:  It can grow to 50 feet in its native habitat but is usually seen at heights of 15 to 25 feet.

    Native to: Southern Japan, Taiwan and several islands in the South China Sea.

  • 04 of 06

    Mediterranean Fan Palm

    mediterranean fan palm
    Chamaerops humilis underplanted with primula obconica. Jerry Pavia/Getty Images

    Botanical name: Chamaerops humilis

    Also known as: European fan palm

    Frond type: Palmate

    How to ID it: Its trunk is covered by leaf scars that create a rough texture. Usually grown in clumps, which have up to five separate stems or trunks. Fronds are triangular shaped, grow upright, and are about 2 feet wide. Leaves are gray-green to blue-green.

    Landscape uses: This cold-hard species produces multiple trunks, which are covered with a dense mat of old leaf bases that create a rough texture. The triangular-shaped fronds grow upright and are about 2 feet across. Leaves are dark green to silvery gray and stems have sharp teeth. The fruit and flowers aren't as showy as other palm species. Fan palms are hardy to 0°.  Zones 4 to 24, H1, H2. 

    Height: Grows slowly to about 20 feet.

    Native to: The Mediterranean region. It can be found in southwestern Europe (Malta, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and northwest Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) 

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Queen Palm

    queen palm
    Queen palm tree Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Botanical name: Syagrus romanzoffiana

    Also known as: Cocos plumosa

    Frond Type: Palmate 

    How to ID it: A queen palm has a smooth, straight trunk ringed with evenly spaced leaf scars and graceful, glossy, plume-like fronds. It has orange-red fruits that can get messy when they drop.

    Landscape uses: Beautiful palms that provide a nice vertical effect in larger residential properties. It's best not to plant them near a path, patio, or pool because of their messy fruit droppings.

    Height: Grows to 50 feet or more.

    Native to: Brazil and South America.

  • 06 of 06

    Windmill Palm

    chinese windmill fan
    Trachycarpus wagnerianus (Chusan palm) Brian North/Getty Images

    Botanical nameTrachycarpus fortunei

    Also known as: Chusan palm and Chinese windmill palm.

    Frond Type: Palmate

    How to ID it: Windmills have slim trunks with hairy black Fronds are sword-like and about 4 feet in diameter. Colors range from dark green to yellow-green, with a silver-green on its underside. Pinnate fronds grow in an upward direction.  

    Landscape uses: A very popular palm with home gardeners, windmills are ideal in the landscape, as a patio tree, or in a container, either indoors or out. Unlike other palms, it can be grown in USDA zones 7 to11, in states like Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and New York. 

    Height: Slow growing, but can reach 20 to 40 feet in height.

    Native to: Central and eastern China.