The windmill palm is one of the hardiest palm trees available, allowing you to add a splash of tropical flavor to your temperate garden. It is one of the few palms that can survive freezing temperatures (down to 10 F). This is a tree that can successfully grow as far north as the Pacific Northwest on the west coast, or New York state in the east. Frequently seen in Britain and France, the windmill palm is a recipient of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
A slow-growing tree, the windmill palm tops out at about 40 feet, although most specimens will be 10 to 20 feet in landscape use. Its spread is usually 6 to 10 feet. Originating in Burma and China, the windmill palm grows well in USDA hardiness zones 7B to 11.
The windmill palm has fan-shaped leaves that are 3 feet in length and which give the tree its name. The leaf shafts produce fibers that cover the trunk and can be made into ropes, mats, brushes, brooms, hats, and other fibrous products. The leaves are also sometimes used in thatched roofs.
This tree is dioecious (trees have either male or female flowers) and you will need at least one male and female tree if you want fruit production. The flowers are yellow and will perfume the air around them. After the female flowers are pollinated, clusters of purple drupes (stone fruit) are formed in the summer.
The botanical name for this palm tree is Trachycarpus fortunei and it belongs to the Arecaceae (palm) family. The species name was given in honor of Robert Fortune, a horticulturist from Scotland.
The windmill palm is known by a number of other common names, including hemp palm, Chusan palm (after Chusan Island in China), Nepalese fan palm, and Chinese windmill palm.
Windmill palm is a favorite specimen to plant in landscapes near the ocean since it tolerates salt. It is a relatively small, slow-growing palm, so it can be a good choice for containers although the containers need to have adequate drainage holes. In outdoor environments, windmill palms are a good choice for confined areas such as sheltering a patio. They can also be grown as specimen plants in the larger landscape. If you do not want to deal with fallen fruit, look for a tree that is male.
Windmill palms can also be grown indoors in pots; it grows slow enough that it will be many years before it outgrows the space.
Growing the Windmill Palm
Windmill palms prefer a semi-shade or shady location but will tolerate full sun in more northern climates. As long as there is good drainage, the windmill palm will grow in most soil conditions and pH levels. It does not like to have wet feet. The leaves are somewhat delicate, so a location somewhat sheltered from harsh winds is best as strong winds may shred the leaves.
Make sure to keep windmill palms well watered. There are no pruning requirements for this tree except for the standard advice to prune away any parts that have become dead, damaged, or diseased.
You can use palm seeds to propagate new trees, but be patient—the seeds may take two to three months to germinate.
Pests and Diseases
Windmill palm is relatively free of problems, especially in the cooler climates. Further south, it sometimes experiences problems from scale insects and palm aphids. Diseases are rare, though leaf spots and yellowing disease sometimes occur. If the soil is not well-drained, root rot may be a problem.