Is My Palm Tree Dead?

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Is My Palm Tree Dead ?

In light of the last two terrible winters we’ve had here in the Dallas area, I did a recent article that questioned whether I should rethink which palm trees to use in areas like Dallas, where harsh winter temperatures over an extended period, while not frequent, can indeed happen.  The question that’s on a lot of people’s mind in this area, and I imagine many others, is “Is my palm tree dead?”.

You can drive through the neighborhoods here and see lots of palms, especially California Fan Palms and Mexican Fan Palms, that indeed look very bad.   The typically very resilient Sabal palms don’t look so great either.  Hell, even my big Windmill palms took a little damage this year, although they took it all in stride and are very much alive and well.   I won’t even talk about the terribly ill-adapted ones that people plant around here like Phoenix Palms that have no chance, even a normal winter.

But, are they dead or do they have a chance to make a terrific comeback?  Unfortunately, the best answer I can give is a uselessly non-committal maybe. Maybe they took a beating but will come back as the weather warms.   BUT, maybe they won’t.  What do I think?  I think a great many, especially the Mexican and California fan palms, will have succumbed to this last winters bitter cold temperatures and died, even big established ones like mine.  They are simply not built to handle such cold temps for such long periods.  I think most of the Sabal Palms will come back, and nearly all Windmill palms (if established) came through just fine.  But I don’t know, and all we can do is wait and watch.

Wait and watch … not a pleasant prospect I know.  There is one sure fire way to know if a palm is dead.  If it’s small enough, just give a sharp tug on the fronds that emerge from the cone.   If they pull free and come out, then your palm tree is dead, without a doubt and you can start the painful removal process.  If they hold firm, you still have a chance and will just have to be patient and see what happens.  No guarantees it’s alive, but it might be.   If, like me, you have fan palms that are too big for this little trick, then all you can do is keep looking for signs of green emerging from the cone.  I keep a small pair of field binoculars outside to help with the vigil.

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Be patient and see what happens as we warm up, and know that it could take a while for them to come back, even if they are alive.  I almost took out a big Mexican Fan Palm (in the ground for 15 years)  in July last year that I thought was dead, and just happened to notice the day before removal was schedule that new shoots were emerging.  A very happy discovery for me but, unfortunately, I don’t believe it made it through this past winter.  Last winter was likely just too much for an already stressed palm.  We shall see …….


48 Replies to “Is My Palm Tree Dead?”

  1. I’m a new homeowner and inherited some Mexican Palms. One has been dead since I took ownership in September. The other was healthy and vibrant. The “dead” tree is now a 13′ trunk and the other is more pineapple shaped at about 8′. Your comments above have confirmed what I feared. This past weekend I got on a step ladder and pulled on the fronds at the top of the cone. Sure enough they pulled out easily from deep within the cone. If it is indeed dead I need to find someone to remove these fairly large trees. I’d like to replace them. Suggestions on removal or replacement?

  2. I may have the same challenge with a big Mexican Fan that is close to 30′ tall. I don’t have a specific recommendation, but any of the local landscape guys should be able to do it. I suspect they’ll cut them into small sections with a chain saw. Digging out the root ball is an entirely different proposition. I do not plan to do that with mine.

    I think I’d invest in large (7’+) Windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei). They’ll probably be $700-800, or more, but they are absolutely bullet-proof. The reason I suggest larger ones is because of their relatively slow rate of growth, at least when compared to the Mexican Fan palms. I’m an impatient soul. If you want something that a little closer to the fan palms, maybe a Sabal (Sabal texana or S. mexicana). They are readily available at nurseries around the area, but not the home improvement stores (home depot, lowes). There’s a small nursery very close to Park and the Tollway that had nice ones last year. I’ll get the name and post.

  3. I am the owner of several 12′ windmill palms, very established in well protect micro-climates, just north of the DFW airport. They did not survive this past winter. Mediterranean also died. The only palms that survived in my yard are the sabal minors whose trunk lies below ground. Leaves never even changed color. Because we live in that 8a zone planting any type of palm is risky. If you have to have a palm I recommend spending as less as possible and enjoy watching it grow until the next big freeze that is.

  4. From DeSoto:
    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.

  5. Gary, I’m surprised that true Windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) didn’t make it. I have several, not in protected micro-climates, and they showed only minor foliage burn and are doing just fine. Are you sure they were true windmill palms? My experience is that they are basically bulletproof in the DFW area. It is by far my #1 recommendation for palms in this area.

    Mediterraneans dying doesn’t surprise me at all.


  6. Rod, I feel your pain. I lost two big California fans and have a 30+ foot Mexican fan I’m almost positive is a goner. Been in the ground for 12-15 years. Last 2 winters have been brutally wet and cold. I’m giving my big Mexican Fan the summer too, just to be sure.


  7. Sigh. Took the big ladder out to my 10′ Mexican palm and the center pulled out easily, wet & moldy. Does anyone have experience with one coming back after pulling out the dead center? I’m considering taking the sawsall to it in hopes of trimming back to a part that’s still alive…do palms work like that? Please oh please someone chime in with some good news…I’m trying to have hope!

  8. Just backtracked to your previous article. (crosses fingers, takes deep breath) The palm that still looked dead in June but had shoots in August…had you pulled out a dead core?

  9. Caryn, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, if that core pulled out, the palm tree is almost certainly a goner. I have never heard of cutting a palm back to living tissue. Might be worth reaching out to a North Florida nurseryman just to ask the question, but based on what I know if that core comes out, it is dead.

    As for mine that sparked back to life last year …. no, I was not able to pull out the core. It’s way too tall, which makes it hurt even more if I lose it.


  10. I’m just North of Austin, and unfortunately after reading all these posts, I’m afraid I lost most of my palms this past winter. The previous winter, which also presented a long, extremely cold spell, killed two sago’s, several California palms, several large (12′) queen palms, but my 3′ Mexican fan palms survived.

    Fool/sucker that I am, I replanted the sago’s, added Pindo’s and a true windmill palm. I lost the Mexican fan palms (now that I know if the core comes out, it’s dead), the sagos, & the Pindo’s. The windmill palm is alive, but looks much worse for the wear.

    I also lost all my smaller, other plantings around my pool. Now I will have to start over, keeping only the windmill.

    Do I trim the brown, burnt looking part of the fronds off, leaving the green parts of the fronds, or?

    Any suggestions on any other palms to plant or should I just give up and try some other plantings?

    Losing all these palms over the past two winters has been extremely expensive. As much as I like the look around my pool, I just can’t keep justifying the expense for the “annuals” (haha).

  11. Karen, my “Is my Palm Tree Dead?” post has generated a lot of readers/comments. Lots of us are feeling the pain for sure.

    I’ve had a big Sago in the ground here in the DFW area for many years, and it looks to have come through the winter fine, with no protection. Of course, the fronds are all burned (happens every winter here), but the core still seems good. I should say that it’s been in the ground for many years and has had plenty of time to acclimate. Or, maybe I just got lucky on that one.

    I wouldn’t worry about the windmill. It will be fine I’m sure. If you’re like us here in the DFW area, we haven’t had the extended period of warm weather yet that’s needed to get it recovering fully. California and Mexican fan palms are decimated all over the city here, but windmill and Sabals look like they’re OK. Pindos and Queens are far less hardy and would almost certainly have fallen victim to last winter.

    We’re into spring so I’d trim the burned stuff to clean up the look on the windmill. As far as palms go, Windmills and Sabals seems to be the most reliable here and should not be “annuals” for you as you’re even further south. I wouldn’t give up on those two ….

    Beyond palms, my bananas and gingers came through last winter fine. I did have them heavily mulched and I know that was the difference maker.

    I feel your pain on losing big palms. I have not replace my fan palms, opting for other tropical looking plantings (i.e. bananas, castor beans, etc). If I do replace, it will be with windmills and Sabals. No way I’m giving my my Backyard Resort. I just get far too much enjoyment out of it ….




  12. Between Waco and Austin- center cones pulled out of both my 18′ fan palms. Looks like they’re goners. Sago palm survived with a tarp thrown over it. I am mildly surprised we lost the fan palms, after they survived the previous winter. I suppose temps held below freezing long enough to do more damage then the winter before, when it was actually colder.

  13. Lyle, here in the DFW area, last winter was colder (not wetter though) than the year before. It was the consecutive days WAY BELOW freezing that did the fans in. We’ve had many years where we would have a night when the temps fell into the teens (even low teens) for a short period, and my fan palms got through just fine (with burned foliage of course). But, last winter was extended periods of bitter cold and it was just too much.

    Combine that with the winter before, which was not as cold but very wet with lots of snow, and the fan palms had a tough go of it. They are dead all over the DFW area. Mine had been in the ground for many years.

    All part of stretching the zones to get a little of that exotic, tropical feel. Painful to lose plants, but goes with the territory. I will likely shy away from the fan palms when I replace, moving to more windmills or Texas Sabals. Both got through fine here it seems.


    Eric Harris

  14. oh my:( but atleast its coming back right!? will same thing is happenging with my palm trees and yes (TREES) there huge ive had them for 12yrs and therer exaclly like the picture but trimed, i hope they dont die on me:)

  15. I have now replaced my 12′ mexican fan palm a second time…..and just pulled the center out!!! I am done with those! I also live in the Dallas area.

    For those of you who are planning on replacing your palms….many local nursery’s around town (TX Palms – in farmers market area) are pretty expensive. The men that work there are great and they are great about removing and replanting new. I will tell you HOME DEPOT is the way to go when buying new palms. At the local store they normally only carry the smaller palms. Last spring I had the lawn and garden department special order 10 and 12 foot windmill palms and a mexican fan palm. They were $699!! I was shocked! The only down side is you have to pay for delivery and have your own arrangements for planting them, so if you have a landscape crew that can plant them,,,,,special order from home depot…you save money!! ** I had no idea that Home depot even did special orders 🙂

  16. Misty, if that core doesn’t pull out of the center, there is hope. If it does pull out, the palm will not come back. Even if it’s alive, it may take an entire season to come back. I’m giving my big Mexican fan the benefit of the doubt, to see if any green shoots will make an appearance. I can’t get to the top to check the core on it, so I’m stuck waiting. My suspicion is that it’s a goner, but we shall see ….


    Eric Harris

  17. Amanda, there are better choices for sure. My Mexican/California fans did just fine more many years here in DFW, but the past 2 winters were just too much. Look to windmills or Texas Sabals I suggest. The windmills are 100% bulletproof it seems, and Sabals also seem to have come through well. Sabals give you a much closer look to the fans.

    And, have a look at this recent article I wrote on this very topic.

    Great tip on the Home Depot special orders. Thanks.


    Eric Harris

  18. Hello,
    In searching for answers on my well established Mexican/California Palm I stumbled across this site. My palm is roughly 25′-30′ and I haven’t seen any comments similar to the situation I am experiencing with my palm. I too was worried about our palms entering this spring. However, I had a few fronds which were unable to fully develop in time before the growing season ended last fall. Well, maybe 2-3 weeks ago I noticed the palm continued where it left off and the fronds from last season appeared to be growing out again. The fronds pushed out about 6″ of green new growth. But now I am once again concerned as it appears to have completely stopped? I haven’t noticed any new growth in the last 10-14 days. I am hoping once we are consistently in the upper 80’s low 90’s that it will pick back up, or as others have said I’m waiting for summer before I decide what to do with it. Is there hope?? Given my situation and your experience? I too am in Plano.

  19. We have had our Fan Palms since 2001. Our gardner had trimmed the dead fans after the winter. One of the three came back so far. It sprouted right away. On the shorter of the two “dead looking” palms we got on a ladder and was able to pull out the old inside fan stems. Is that the core?

  20. Check out which will answer your questions. This site is written by Tony Cerbone – a local gent who knows what he is talking about.
    The dead looking Mex Fan Palms are indeed dead. At the top of the tree is a bud that produces the new fans. If the top shoot inside is gooey, thats a dead bud and the fan palm is dead. Also, many of the California Fan Palms are not pure Cal Fans – they are Mex/Calif hybrids. The two known California Fan trees near me survived ok.
    Go to the aforementioned website.

  21. Just pulled soft,stinky and rotten fronds from the top of my palm as well. I used a company last year that pulled out an Oak for me for a good price. Took a while for him to get around to it, but it was well worth the price. Tree Service Solutions. You can find them on the web.

  22. Valerie, if it is the mian growth, coming up from the middle, then it is the core bud. If that pulled out, then your palm is dead. Sorry.


  23. I have looked at Tony’s site in the past and even exchanged some emails and, you’re right, he knows his stuff. I agree, if we had pure California palms growing, we may not have seen the devastation we have with the fans. The are dead all over the city, even the very large established plants. Mine had been in the ground for 12 years or so and doesn’t look like it has survived. Unfortunately, it is too tall for me to check the core bud, so I’m going to wait it out this season to see if anything happens.


  24. Natalie, thanks for the tip on the tree removal service. I think a lot of people will be looking for that kind of help with big fan palms.



  25. Nick, if you saw green this year, then there is hope. It may take it the entire season to get going again but, for a tree that size, it would be worth giving it the benefit of the doubt. You’re correct in that it will need that heat to really get going. We are still getting some very cool nights. Your call, but no way I would remove that palm until I was 100% sure it was dead. If you saw green this year, then I’d bet it’s not dead. Patience will be a virtue in this case though …



  26. Thank you for the responses. Yes the one we checked was wet and moldy looking. I was hoping I will see green every morning! So today I bought two more palms and will have the old ones pulled out and replaced with the new small ones. I am sure taking them out will not be easy.

  27. Our Mex palm does have green at the top but no signs of fronds yet. My husband climbed up the ladder to see if he could pull on the green and it is intact. Hopefully we did not loose it to the freeze. We live in central Texas.
    What’s your opinion?

  28. If you see some green and can’t pull out that core, I’d bet you’re OK. You may have to be patient though, as it could take some time for it to really take off. Even Central Texas got some very cold weather last winter so it may take it a while to recover. I think very few survived here in the DFW area, but maybe you’re far enough south not to have had it as bad as we did (for the last 2 years). If it’s big enough that you need a ladder to check, I’d give it the benefit of the doubt this season if it was mine.



  29. Thanks for the comments and article Eric!

    I have 3 10′ mexican palms near Keller, TX. Now I know how to check….I’ll be up there this week to find out.

    I hope at least 1 made it….but likely not.

    Thanks for the tip on removal services.


  30. We’re all feeling your pain Martin. Fan palms have had a really tough go of it the last couple of years. Sabals and Windmills both seem to have fared just fine though, so we have some options when replacing (see this recent article).



  31. Lost a ten foot palm last year in Denton, Texas. Cut it down to what I though was not rotten and left it at my wife’s request. It is dead. Had a second one 12 feet that died this year. I just climbed up to the top of the ladder and pulled out the rotten smelly core. Bummer!

  32. Is there a website that has Mexican Fan Palm pictures of the differences between an alive or dead cone/meristem/crown before I climb on a ladder and inspect the tree?

  33. Carl, I’m not sure what pics would show you. If that core pulls out, the tree is dead. If it doesn’t, you just have to sit back and see if any green shows itself as the season progresses. I had one that looked dead last summer and started to show green again in July. Of course, this past winters looks to have finished it off ….


  34. Just had to lay down my 15 ft 10 yrs old palm tree today. The week long sub freezing temp was too much this past winter. I have another but looks like that’s a goner too. So sad.

  35. Our windmill palms fronds are all bunched up in the middle and won’t grow out. Any suggestions?

  36. We cut the last set of the old fronds off and now the others are unbunching. However, we have two others that we planted this year to replace Mexican palms and their fronds are turning brown and even the ones that aren’t brown are droopy on the ends. Do you think it is the heat or we are under or over watering them. We are in Dallas and the heat is horrible this year.

  37. Sorry for being so slow to get to your question. Is it a true windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)? Bunching in the middle, from my observations, seems to be their growth habit. But, as you say, they should grow out eventually. Are the fronds green and healthy? If so, I would think you’ll just have to be patient. I will tell you that, here in Dallas with our relentless heat (105+) and drought, mine’s growth seems a little subdued. I am giving supplemental water and that has helped. They really are as close to bullet proof as you can get for a palm, so I’d bet you’re OK.


  38. I just saw you’re in Dallas like me. Yes, this heat is negatively affecting everything, even these normally bullet proof palms. They will not stand for “wet feet”, but I cant imagine that you’d be over watering. I would bet just plain old heat / drought stress. Mine sure don’t look as good as they normally do this time of year. I try to give them some supplemental water by just letting a water hose slow drip for an extended time. There is not a plant on this planet I would bet that thrives in what we’ve been going through this summer (maybe some desert plants) here in the Dallas area. Hopefully, we’ll get some relief soon …



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  41. We have a Triangle Palm that we believe is dying or dead. It has always been a beautiful full tree – 15 to 20 feet tall and full. It’s about 9 years old but now has only one new chute at the very center. We hate to remove the tree if it still has a chance. We live in Southern California about 3 miles from the beach. Any help/suggestions, PLEASE 🙁

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