Rethinking Best Palm Trees for Handling Winter Weather

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Mexican Fan Palm in DallasLast year, at the beginning of my Backyard Resort season, I posted an article that talked about how bad the winter had been here in Dallas and the damage I had seen to my palm trees and other plants, mainly due to lots of snow staying on the ground for a long time.  Later I posted a followup article that talked about some lessons learned.  In this article, I freely admitted that I lost palms, bananas, and other things that I had kept for years and years  because I didn’t do the simple things that I preach to everyone else (i.e. mulch heavily going in to winter). I slacked off because the preceding four or five very mild winters had lulled me in to a false sense of security.  Shame on me for getting lazy!

I’m a laidback guy and my attitude at the time can be summed up as “Hey, this is a 30 year event here in this part of the country (Dallas), unlikely to happen again, and I’ll not make the mistake of being unprepared again.  Just part of it, not worth losing sleep over …”. Going in to this winter, I did all the right things to get ready.  All is good in the world, right?    Well, guess what?  This winter was again terrible, worse than last!  Only this time, it wasn’t snow …  it was unbelievably cold temperatures for very extended periods!  Like nothing I have ever seen here in North Dallas.

Now, I don’t know what got badly damaged or what I lost for sure yet. The good news is that doing the basic preparation helped.  I can already tell that my bananas are fine.  It looks like my big sago palm is fine too, although I can really do little to protect it. My windmill palms are fine although, for the first time ever, I can see some superficial cold damage.

Questioning Mexican and California Fan Palms and Cold Weather …

The big question marks are the California Fan Palms and a big Mexican Fan Palm (30+ ft).   I lost one big California fan last winter.  I believed that I had also lost the big Mexican fan palm as it was showing no sign of growth as late as June, but it showed new shoots around August!  Deep sigh of relief.   I had lost a whole season, but it wasn’t a goner.  Now, I’m not so sure  …..  Can it have survived two horribly damaging winters, back to back?

So, now I find myself rethinking California and Mexican fan palms.  I absolutely love the way they look in my backyard resort and had them for many years with no big problems.   But, looking at the last two winters, I have to ask are they worth the risk and hassle?  Or, should we stick with things like Sabal Palms and windmill palms, which are more winter hardy, for our tropical foundation?

On one hand, our Backyard Resort is supposed to be a stress-free zone, right?   Losing big tropical foundation plants like this is painful, stressful, and expensive, especially if they’ve been there a while and are key parts of your backyard landscape.  On the other hand, unusually cold winters occasionally are a fact of life and really should be a known and accepted risk for us Backyard Resort’ers.   What to do ….

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I’ll admit, I’m torn.  Am I having a knee-jerk reaction, or are California and Mexican palms in this area like the rich old man’s young trophy wife …. Just when he thinks he’s got everything perfect, she breaks his heart and costs him a bundle of cash … ?

In any event, I will be updating the Backyard Resorts ebook to at least more forcefully warn about the risks with both California and Mexican fan palms in Dallas and other areas that absolutely can get those tough winter years, and highlight the other options.

Ah well, it is getting very close to Backyard Resort season 2011.  Enough deep thought for now …

Time to enjoy my tropical backyard resortCheers …

4 Replies to “Rethinking Best Palm Trees for Handling Winter Weather”

  1. I too, am worried my Mexican Fan trees are dead. I know the little three foot tall one is gone. But my two 18 and 20 footers I hope will survive. Today (3-27-11) I got a ladder and managed to get to the top of the 18 footer. Drats! Fronds pulled out of the center 🙁
    I discontinued my pruning of the trees and will give the two large ones the summer to think it over.
    They frame my yard and pool and will look sad this summer.

  2. I have read a good bit on how to winterize palms and banana trees, but I have not found anything about what happens in the spring. This past summer, I had a 12ft red banana and a 6ft musa basjoo that grew from 6in that summer. I mulched heavily around the base and left the dead leaves on for aded protection. As I cleaned up the mulch and dead leaves this week, not much was left except a mushy and wet stump. Is this normal for bananas? Also, what should I be looking for regarding new growth? I also have a 2ft windmill palm that has oliive to brown fronds attached to the outside trunk. Am I correct that new growth will appear from the center in palms if not permanently damaged? I am crossing my fingers the heavy snowfall this year did not wipe out my most prized plants.

  3. Glenn, last winter and the winter before were tough on bananas (at least here in the DFW area), but the ones I mulched heavily are all coming back now and starting to grow rapidly. Bananas in our area (without assistance) die to the ground, so your mushy wet stump may be OK. I don’t know where your’re located, but here in the Dallas areas, I’m seeing good new growth. Not that, in a lot of cases, the main plant will not come back, but new pups will sprout up around it.

    Have a look at this article I wrote some time back. It talks about a way that I’ve had some success with in getting bananas through the winter, without them dying to the ground. The goal was to get them up to a reasonable size quicker in the following spring.

    New growth on the windmill will appear from the center, if the plant is alive. Give a gentle tug on that center cone, where fronts emerge. If it pulls out, the plant is dead. If it doesn’t, you just have to wait. Windmills are one of the most cold tolerant palms there are so thee is hope.

    Hope this helps.


    Eric Harris

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