Often, when homeowners think of palm trees, images of places with tropical climates such as Florida and Hawaii come to mind. However, you do not need to travel long distances to enjoy the beauty of these plants. Several palms can be grown in our area. They are attractive, low maintenance, tolerant of prolonged dry conditions and evergreen.
The critical factor that determines where palms can be grown is cold hardiness. Some can tolerate our cold winters while others will need some protection. The ones that do the best in our area are the needle palm and the windmill palm. The needle palm is easy to grow. It is among the hardiest tolerating temperatures as low as -5o F. They have a slow growth rate and rarely exceed five feet in height at maturity. The palms are a clumpy, small growing understory palm. They have fan-shaped leaves that are deep green on top and silvery green on the underside. Needle palms can be used as single specimens or in multiple plantings. They are an excellent choice for sites with limited space. The palms prefer to grow in partially shaded areas and thrive in most soils as long as they have adequate moisture.
Windmill palms have a single slender brown trunk with dense fibers resembling burlap covering it. The trunk is usually wider at the top than the bottom. It has a moderate growth rate and can reach a height of 20 to 25 feet. It has fan-shaped leaves that are two to three feet across. They grow well in most soils but require adequate drainage. Windmill palms prefer light to medium shade. They are attractive when planted in groups but do well as a single specimen and are a great tree to plant around swimming pools because they do not drop their leaves. It makes an excellent accent plant and does well in confined areas such as courtyards and entrances.
Other palms, such as sabal palms, saw palmettos and others can be grown in our area, but are not as cold tolerant and could suffer damage when the temperatures drop below 20 degrees. In the winter, tie the fronds together in bundles and then cover them with burlap or blankets to protect from the cold. Make sure the central bud is protected since the new growth originates from this point.
Palm trees are best planted in the early summer when their root growth is the highest. They should be watered deeply and thoroughly. Apply mulch around the root zone to reduce water loss. Palms should be fertilized in the growing season before early August. Use a fertilizer that contains both potassium and magnesium since palms are prone to suffer from a deficiency of these nutrients. Broadcast or scatter the fertilizer over the root zone.
Palm trees are not limited to regions with tropical climates. Even this far north, some palm trees are suited to our environment. If given proper care, they will thrive and will add interest to the home landscape.
Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be contacted at 678-377-4011or firstname.lastname@example.org