6 Palm Trees that Tolerate Freezing Temperatures

Palm tree on tropical beach
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Nothing else gives a landscape that tropical feel quite like a palm tree, but palms can be tricky to use in those borderline climates that experience occasional freezing weather. Fortunately, there are some species that do quite nicely in weather that hovers around the freezing point, and will even tolerate being blanketed with snow for short periods.

To make understanding easier, palm trees can be divided into two broad categories: those with palmate leaves, and those with pinnate leaves. (Technically, there is also a third category, a cross between palmate and pinnate, known as costapalmate leaves.)

  • A palmate leaf has lobes fanning out from a common point. The structure resembles an opened hand, with fingers radiating out from the palm.
  • A pinnate leaf has individual leaflets branching out on both sides of a common axis. The structure resembles a feather. (Pinna is Latin for "feather.")

The palm tree species below include selected species that are moderately tolerant of cold, at or slightly below the freezing point. No palm can survive in regions where the ground is frozen solid for weeks or months at a time, but a surprising number of palm species can tolerate occasional snow and temperatures down as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Aside from cold hardiness, knowing the mature height of the species and its sunlight requirements are key to choosing the right palm.

Palm Trees With Palmate Leaves

Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)

  • Cold-hardiness: to 22 degrees Fahrenheit—USDA hardiness zones 9a to 11
  • Mature height: 4 to 8 feet
  • Sunlight requirement: shade or filtered light

Puerto Rican thatch palm trees (Coccothrinax alta)

  • Cold-hardiness: to 28 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit—USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11.
  • Mature height: 25 feet
  • Sunlight requirement: full sun

Silver saw palmetto palm trees (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii)

  • Cold-hardiness: to 20 degrees Fahrenheit—USDA hardiness zones 9a to 11
  • Mature height: 15 to 20 feet
  • Sunlight requirement: full sun

Palm Trees With Pinnate Leaves

Mountain cabbage palm (Prestoea acuminata var. Montana)

  • Cold-hardiness: 30 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit—USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11
  • Mature height: 20 to 25 feet
  • Sunlight requirement: filtered or partial sun

Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

  • Cold-hardiness: to 20 degrees Fahrenheit—USDA hardiness zones 9a to 11
  • Mature height: 50 feet
  • Sunlight requirement: full sun

Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

  • Cold-hardiness: to 18 degrees Fahrenheit—USDA hardiness zones 8b to 11
  • Mature height: 50 feet
  • Sunlight requirement: full sun

But What About the Coconuts?

Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) are the most famous kind of palm, but unfortunately, they cannot survive in any climate that gets even moderately cold for extended periods in winter. Native to the western Pacific, they are suited to USDA plant hardiness zones 10 to 12. In the United States, this means that they will grow well in only the hottest, most humid areas, such as southern Florida.

Growing Shade-Loving Palms

Although mention of "palm trees" conjures up an image of bright, sunny skies, not all palm trees can stand full sun. If you have a sun-drenched yard but want to grow a short variety that likes partial shade to full shade (for example, lady palm trees), consider planting a taller, sun-loving palm tree first (for example, Queen palm trees). If you adopt this strategy, you will have to wait for the taller specimen to achieve some height to provide a sheltering canopy before planting the shorter shade-loving palm beneath it. Just make sure both have sufficient cold-hardiness for your area.

Protecting Palms from Freezing Temperatures

When you're faced with a brief cold snap that is unusual for your climate zone, you may be able to protect your palm trees until the crisis passes. Even the cold-hardy palm tree species described here may have trouble when the temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. These tips may help.

  • Apply a freeze-protecting spray. A palm tree can often be protected from sudden freezes by spraying them with a product such as Freeze Pruf, an eco-safe spray that shields a plant from ice crystal damage.
  • Keep the plant fertilized. A healthy, robust plant will be better able to survive periods of freezing weather.
  • Apply mulch. A thick layer of mulch around the base of the tree will protect its roots against permanent frost damage. If roots survive, most trees will regain their health even if many of the leaves are destroyed.
  • Cover small trees with sheets or blankets. Although this technique is not practical for large specimens, smaller palms can be covered with sheets, tarps, plastic, or blankets, which will trap ground warmth and prevent the tree from freezing. A small light bulb can be placed beneath the cover if the weather is expected to be quite cold or is expected to continue for several days.

Other Tropical Plants for Landscapes

Other plants useful for injecting a tropical feel into your landscaping include:

Mix such plants in with your palm plantings for a more convincing tropical look.