We’re used to seeing palm trees flowing carefree in a breeze with a golden sun and blue skies as their backdrop.
But in some areas, palms don’t get to soak up paradise all year round. Take Florida, for example. Allison, a Davey blog reader from the northern half of the state, reached out for help with her freeze damaged palm trees. She said, “we had a hard freeze in Florida and our medium palms took quite a hit. I don't know if I should prune them down to nothing or let them be. I also don't know if they are still alive.”
Harsh winter weather can be tough on these tropical trees. Read on to learn how to help them bounce back.
With careful prep before and lots of patience after, some palm trees can survive a wicked-cold winter.
A visit from Jack Frost will have palm trees switch from leafy green to rusty brown before your eyes. Why is that?
Well, unlike hardwood trees that sprout new growth from multiple spots, palm trees only grow new leaves from one spot—the heart. The palm heart sits right in the center of the tree’s canopy, and if it’s hit with harsh cold, the damage trickles down to all the future palm leaves growing from it.
Plus, if a palm is planted outside of its growing zone, it’ll be extra vulnerable to cold damage. For example, pygmy date palms are meant for planting zones 9-11, areas that get almost no frost. That means they wouldn’t do so well in Allison’s neck of the woods in Northern Florida. The same goes for areca and coconut palms—frost can be fatal for these quintessential tropical trees.
But even if palm trees are tolerant to the cold (like pindo and sabal palms, which can bear 15- and 20-degree temperatures) a hard freeze can still spell trouble.
“No matter the type, always err on the side of caution with your palm trees,” says Jess Running from Davey’s Menlo Park, California office. “It’s really important to protect all palm trees whenever harsh winter weather is expected.”
By far, the best way to determine the health of your tree is to get an arborist’s opinion. In the meantime, here are a few things to consider:
Palms have a much better chance at surviving a winter freeze with these preventative steps: