Jungle Music Palms and Cycads Nursery

Phone: (619) 291 4605
Fax: (619) 574-1595


Palm Trees >>Palm Tree Help >>Cold Hardy Palms >>Page2  >>Page3 

cold hardy palm banner


Cold Hardy Palms
by Phil Bergman




There are a couple of basic things to consider when selecting palm species to grow in your locality.  First is to know how cold you get.  Second, learn the cold tolerance of the various species.  The final thing is to learn how to give your palms good culture and cold protection if needed.  This applies to periods before, during, and after the cold weather.

How Cold Do You Get?

Many palm enthusiasts do live in cold areas.  So we can guide the selections of such customers, we commonly ask them "How cold do you get?"  Most of the time customers guess at their low temperatures. These guesses are typically based either on hunch, the evening news, or what they read in the newspaper.  Very seldom is this information accurate unless the person has researched the subject and came up with accurate data.  It is not unusual for a customer from a known cold area to make comments like "We hardly ever get below 40 degrees".  Although we know that this conclusion by the customer is not accurate, we try our best to have him take a more scientific look at his actual weather.

illustration of snow on palm  

If you live in coastal Southern California or South Florida, cold weather is usually not much of a problem.  However, if you live in areas like Central and Northern California, most of Texas, Las Vegas, northern Florida, the southeastern U.S., or most of the Gulf States, cold weather is something you have seen or will eventually see.  And, you need to select the right cold hardy palms.  You should begin to know and have your low temperatures on the tip of your tongue.  Even areas like Miami and San Diego do, from time to time, get unusual cold winters. 

 The major limiting factor in the successful growing of palms is the degree of cold weather that any given palm species will see during the winter.  Factors such as intensity of sun, presence of summer heat (or lack of it), and humidity are also very important.  But, cold exposure is the most limiting factor for those of us in the United States.  So, the goal is to know how cold you actually get on the coldest nights; and to determine if this is typical of your winters.

high-low thermometer

Maximum-minimum (high-low) thermometer.
(click photo to enlarge)


Most palm nurserymen would rather you tell them your low temps than quoting "climate zones", as the latter are unreliable and quite variable.   It is really helpful when a customer says "I've never gotten below 28 degrees in ten years" or "I always get into the teens".


The best way to determine how cold your garden gets is to purchase a maximum-minimum or hi-lo thermometer.  Taylor Company manufactures an excellent maximum-minimum thermometer and it is quite easy to use.  You just leave it out during the winter in the garden and read the lowest temperatures.  It will not be accurate for high temperatures if the sun hits the thermometer.  You can use the provided magnet to reset the low values so you can plot your low temperatures over the entire winter. 


If it is presently Summer and you are not sure of the cold in your area, ask your friends about freezes.  Check the local weather log for your area.  Try to remember if you saw ice on the windshield of your car.  Look around in your neighborhood and see what other people have successfully grown.  All of these things let you know about your weather and what might be accomplished.  Therefore, when you contact us or another grower, you can say we typically get down to 25 degrees but once we saw 22 degrees.  This type of information will assist a nurseryman in telling you what you can grow.


Getting Good Advice
If you look in a typical palm book, you will see statements such as "this species is well suited for temperate areas".  What does that mean in your case?  Its not very helpful.  Words like temperate and semitropical and mild areas are sometimes more deceptive than helpful.  Yet these are the types of statements palm books make about growing different palm species.  All you want to know is "will it grow for me!"

Jungle Music Staff

Staff assisting customer in finding the best species for his area


To answer this question for you, a palm grower depends on his experience and the experience he's gathered from others over time.  For the past 35 years I've gathered cold tolerance information from my customers, my own growing experience, Internet discussions, and from meetings and conferences I've attended.   The knowledge that experienced growers attain becomes almost second hand to them.  The Palm Society of Southern California has, for years, pooled information and produced a publication about cold tolerance of many species.  The usefulness of this information is to let us all know which species have the best chance to survive in one's garden, especially if he lives in a very cold area. 


Therefore, when you know how cold you get, talk with a palm nurseryman, an experience palm enthusiast, or someone who really knows his stuff. This will keep you out of trouble and make your growing a lot easier.  Unfortunately, home improvement centers and general nurseries typically don't know much about the species and specifically about their cold tolerance.  Most palm specialty nurseries will know which species are best for your area.  It might be wise to trust their opinions and recommendations.


Be Realistic
Once you are armed with information about your cold weather and have a reliable and informed nurseryman for your plant material, pick the appropriate species for your area.  I can't tell you how many times a customer has enthusiastically told me that their particular area is a "special microclimate" and that they can grow things no one else can grow.  Perhaps this is true, but palms show very predictable damage when exposed to certain temperatures.  Certainly there are a lot of variables like how long the cold lasts, how wet it is, and how warm the next day becomes, etc.  But, it is next to impossible to grow "all of the tropicals" if you see severely cold weather.  Don't expect the impossible.  Be realistic in your expectations.  


In our area the Coconut Palm does not survive outdoors.  Yes, there are a few survivors throughout the entirety of Southern California.  But, as a very reliable rule, Cocos nucifera, will eventually die in Southern California from our cold weather.  This doesn't mean you cant try, but the chances are you will fail.  The same applies to a lot of sought after species.  Cyrtostahcys renda, the Red Sealing Wax Palm, attracts many enthusiasts because of its dramatic red trunks.  No, it will not survive in cold weather.  It predictably dies at about 47 degrees Fahrenheit.  Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, the King Palm, dies at about temperatures below 24 to 25 degrees.  The typical Queen Palm dies at about 18 degrees.  So, if you know your garden gets down to 5 degrees, don't think you're going to keep alive any of the above species.  Plant palms that will predictably grow in your area.


If you like to make lists of palms that appeal to you (typically on the Internet or with books), bring that list to your local grower and he can tell you which ones to eliminate.  Many of our customers do just that.  Some specifically are searching for cold hardy palms.  If they aren't sure, they might bring in a list of twenty-five plants, and we immediately eliminate some because they probably wont survive in his area.  Remember, the first things I ask a new visitor to the nursery is "where do you live and how cold do you get".


What About Microclimates?
It is true that microclimates are very important and do exist.  Being on a ridge is better than being in the bottom of a cold valley.  Overhead canopy also protective from the cold.  Such canopy can keep interior garden temperatures much warmer on a cold night, sometimes even 10 degrees F. warmer.  Large rocks jutting out of the ground can maintain the previous days warmth and release this warmth during the night.  Morning exposures to sun can quicken the re-warming of the plants after a cold night.  All of these things are important.  But, the cold that you measure (even in the microclimate areas) is the low.  This determines which species you can grow. 

Another recommendations is to look around in your area.  If your neighbors tell you that a given species has died in the winter despite three attempts, perhaps that species is bad for you.  On the contrary, if people in your neighborhood are growing well a given species, the chances are you can grow it as well.  Except for the rare "warmer" individual microclimates, most neighborhoods share a similar low winter temperature.

Coconus nucifera

Cocos nucifera, a poor choice for all but the most tropical areas


Remember To Acclimate Your Palms
Lets say you've done your homework, you know how cold you get and which plants to purchase.  When you purchase your plants, remember to acclimate them to your area.  A cold tolerant palm may need a little help getting ready for your area.  If it was raised in a greenhouse, it might need a little protection before its ready for your cold or your sun.  Such a plant could be placed under a tree or next to the house for its first few months.  This is especially true if you've purchased it during the coldest part of the year.  Don't just challenge the plant.  Rather, acclimate it slowly into the cold or full sun that you have to optimize your success.


How To Use This Information
Use the following cold tolerance information as a general guide.  There is no crystal ball in the plant world.  Figure the following information will help you pick the right species for your area.  But, it is not gospel.  It is not a guarantee.  It is meant to be helpful information only.  With this in mind, please read the next session. 

The next section of this article is where I discuss the species and which would be right for you.  Click below.  


(CLICK HERE: Continued on next page) 


Phil Bergman
Owner and Author

Jungle Music Palms, Cycads and Tropical Plants
Nursery Location: 450 Ocean View Ave., Encinitas, CA 92024
Nursery Hours: 9AM to 4PM, Monday through Saturday
Nursery Phone: 619 291 4605
Email: phil@junglemusic.net




Home Contents Palms Cycads Directions

  To be added to our mailing list click here. Receive quarterly species lists and announcements of Jungle Music's famous Open House Sales!

Send mail to phil.bergman@junglemusic.net with inquiries about Jungle Music nursery stock or mail order.

1997- Jungle Music Palms and Cycads
Last modified:

All major credit cards accepted