Hardy palm trees for growing in cold climates

If you live in a northern European climate, yet dream of palm-lined tropical gardens, then you may be interested to know that there are a number of palm species available that are hardy enough to survive those temperate region, sub-zero winter temperatures.

A couple of species such as Cordyline australis (yes, I am aware that Cordyline australis is not a true palm, but it has palm-effect and its resilience has been thoroughly tested over the years) and Trachycarpus have proven themselves to be as tough as old boots. In fact in the milder regions, such as the south of England, no winter protection is required.

While Jubaea chilensis (the Chilean wine palm), Rhapidophyllum hystrix (the needle palm), Sabal minor (the dwarf palmetto) and Trithrinax campestris (the Caranday palm) are all often cited as being hardy and tolerant to temperatures of down to between −12°C and −15°C they often struggle to recover from cold damage in the colder summers of northern European. They should only be considered growing if their cultural requirements can be adequately met.

Top five hardy palms

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1. The number one, go to palm for northern Europe is the Chusan palm - Trachycarpus fortunei. Native to central China, Burma and northern India it is grown widely in the UK and has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

It has large fan-shaped leaves and it both tolerant of clay soils and partial shade. It is a little on the large side for a garden specimen reaching between 12–20 m in height. It is best planted in a sheltered position as the leaves may be damaged by high winds in cold, northerly sites. It can withstands temperatures of -15°C although the greatest recorded cold tolerance for Trachycarpus fortunei is −27.5°C. This was experienced by four specimens in Plovdiv, Bulgaria during a severe cold spell on 6 January 1993. Be aware that young plants are less hardy, and can be damaged by temperature of −8°C or below.

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2. Far more suitable as a garden specimen and almost as winter hardy is the dwarf fan palm - Chamaerops humilis. It too forms fan-shaped leaves and has received the Award of Garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, but Chamaerops humilis will grow to a far more manageable 2 metres in height. Native to southern Europe is wind resistant and will tolerate temperatures of -12°C or lower.

It is a shrub-like clumping palm, with several stems growing from a single base. It is suitable for heavier clay soils and partial shade. The variety Chamaerops humilis argentea is indigenous to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and has attractive silvery-blue leaves.

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3. Commonly known as the Cabbage tree or Cabbage-palm, Cordyline australis is an extremely popular and hardy garden plant which is widely grown throughout the southern counties of Great Britain. Growing up to 20 metres tall in its native habitat, it is more usually seen between 3-10 metres tall in northern Europe.

Native to the islands of New Zealand Cordyline australis has long narrow, sword-shaped leaves on a widely branched, stout truck. Mature specimens can tolerate temperatures down as low as -12°C but will suffer stem and foliage damage. Younger specimens will need to be protected if temperatures are expected to drop below -5°C.

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4. If you are looking for something a little different then consider the Canary Island date palm - Phoenix canariensis. Again this species has been awarded the has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society but is not as hardy as the previous three offerings. Mature specimens can be tolerant of temperatures as low as -8°C, but young specimens should be protected from all but the lightest frost.

As its common name suggests it is native to the Canary Islands found off of the north-west African coast. It is relatively fast-growing feather palm which can be expected to reach between 10–20 m in height, although rare specimens have been reported as tall as 40 m. It will require a sunny, sheltered and well-drained position but will struggle in all but the mildest areas of the UK. In truth it is far better suited to humid subtropical and Mediterranean climates.

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5. The Jelly palm - Butia capitata is the last on the list and one of the hardiest feather palms tolerating temperatures down to about −10°C. It is relatively slow growing with attractive arching green-blue leaves. It can be grown outdoors in well-drained, sheltered gardens. but again only in the mildest regions. It is also suitable for clay soils.

Native to Brazil, it will grow to approximately 7 m tall with a bulbous trunk crowned by large, graceful, blue-green fronds. In the UK it tends to have a lower height of between 4-5 m. The name Jelly Palm relates to the edible fruit. The flesh is fibrous, sweet and reminiscent of apricots and is used to make sweet jellies and jams.

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