How to Keep a Palm Alive in the Winter

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The beauty and resilience of palm trees appeal to gardeners and landscapers around the world. However, the trees vary greatly in cold tolerance, with species such as the windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, demonstrating hardiness to 0 degrees F, and others such as the cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto, which cannot withstand temperatures below 40 degrees F. In many areas, steps must be taken to help palm trees survive through the winter, but this is accomplished with a handful of readily available, inexpensive materials and approximately two hours time.

Things You'll Need

  • Fertilizer
  • Burlap sacking or muslin
  • Packing quilts
  • Wood chips or heavy mulch
  • Jute twine
  • Non-LED outdoor string lights

Water the palm tree to a depth of 3 inches. Watering deeply protects the tree from the drying effects of cold winter air by providing warming humidity and keeping the cellular structure of the tree from dehydrating.

Apply a slow-release fertilizer with a 3:1:3 ratio to the thoroughly moistened soil. Food spikes work well for overwintering palm trees since they are not as easily diluted or washed away by heavy precipitation.

Wrap the trunk with burlap sacking or cotton muslin, beginning at the roots and working your way up. Tie the cloth in place with jute twine. Apply a second layer of cloth. The second layer should completely cover any open areas in the first layer. Covering the trunk in cloth provides a breathable layer of insulation, providing warmth while allowing excess moisture to escape.

Apply a 3-inch-thick layer of wood chips or heavy mulch round the base of the trunk. The wood chips must completely cover the rootball of the tree in order to effectively protect them.

Spread packing quilts around the base of the palm tree over the mulch and halfway up with trunk. Tie them in place with jute twine. Packing quilts provide a heavy-duty layer of insulation needed in areas where temperatures routinely dip below 10 degrees F.

Apply a 3-inch layer of wood chips or heavy mulch around the base of the tree, on top of the packing quilts.

Drape cotton muslin or burlap sacking over the foliage of the tree. Secure the cloth around the trunk with jute twine.

Wind several strands of non-LED outdoor string lights around the trunk and foliage on especially cold nights. The small bulbs emit enough heat to keep frost from settling on the palm tree.

Tips & Warnings

  • Remove the wrappings from the trunk and foliage on warmer days to allow the tree to dry out.
  • Research varieties of palm trees suitable to your region to lessen the need for winterization.
  • Do not wrap plastic around palm trees since it may cause rot or encourage the growth of deadly bacteria.
  • Use outdoor string lights only for this task since indoor lights are less insulated against precipitation and may spark if exposed to moisture.

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References

  • "Ornamental Palm Horticulture"; Timothy K. Broschat; 2000
  • "Timber Press Pocket Guide to Palms"; Robert Lee Riffle; 2006
  • "Ortho's All About Palms"; Paul Craft; 2008
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