palm trees

A group of assorted palms

Palms are very popular trees for landscaping, especially where the effect sought is a Mediterranean or Tropical look. Personally, I prefer to use plants that are native – or at least evolved reasonably close by. After years of designing for homeowners, however, I am aware that local natives don’t always offer the kind of effect wanted for the landscape design desired. Whether using local palms or not, it is important to use palm trees that are best for the area where they are being planted – both for appearance and for cultural needs. The best palm trees are those that will thrive and show off well in your landscape.

Two things to keep in mind are that unhappy and unhealthy trees will never look good, and young trees – including palms – can look very different than the mature specimens. It is important to choose the kind of palm that will grow well and look right when full-grown in the spot where it is to be planted.

Many palm trees handle a lot of heat but not all of them can tolerate the same degree of cold. Some are low growing whereas others tower high into the sky. Here is a quick reference list of the most commonly grown palm trees with their sizes and temperature preferences to help you select which palm trees are best for your landscape.

Smaller palms are best for limited space, to plant in groups or to mix into garden bedding areas.

Suggestions:

  • Pigmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelinii): can grow up to 10 feet high, but does so slowly. Temperature range is about 25°– 105°F
  • Dwarf Saw Palmetto Palms (Serenoa repens) can handle cold temperatures down to 0° F and grow only to 10’ – 12′, but heat and cold tolerance seem to vary widely depending on soil and location.

There are plenty of medium-sized palms. They are the most frequently used trees used in residential landscapes.

Suggestions:

  • Mexican Blue (Brahea armata): grows 20 feet tall with a head of about 10 wide. Prefered temperatures are from 20° – 120°F.
  • Guadalupe Palm (Brahea edulis) reaches 20 feet in height with a diameter of around 15 feet. Give it from 20°- 105°F.
  • The European or Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamerops humilus) reaches about 30’ tall and 15’ across. It can grow with multiple trunks. Give it temperatures between 20° – 120°F.
  • Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei): grows 15’ tall with a small head of only about 5’ across. This is an attractive palm that can branch into multiple trunks, too. Temperature range is 10° – 115°F.
  • Pindo Palm (Butia capitata) stretches 20’ high with a relatively wide head of 15’. This palm is found in single stem or multi-trunked forms. It does well in temperatures from 15°- 120°F.
  • Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) is a very popular palm planted in Southern California. It will grow to 30 feet tall and is best at temperatures between 25° – 115F°.

Use large, tall palms only where they have the space go grow an where they will look proportional with the rest of the landscape.

Suggestions:

  • The California Fan Palm (Wahingtonia filifera) is a very tall palm topping out at 60’ to 90’ tall and dwarfing its own 15’ wide head. It will grow at temperatures from 10° -120°F.
  • Chinese Fan Palm (Livistona chinensis) is another palm with a wide head growing to 40’ high and 20’ wide. It will handle temperatures in the range of 20° – 110°F.
  • The Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) is often seen towering along Los Angeles streets on its single trunk soaring up to and over 100’ high. It’s easy to grow  but often looks more like a sky-scraper telephone pole. It enjoys temperatures from 15° – 120°F. It self-seeds very easily and fruit/seeds are carried distances by birds, often germinating where not wanted.
  • A more graceful grower, the Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) grows slowly to 60’ tall with a wide head of 35’. Not liking it really cold, give this clump forming palm a temperature range of 25° – 110°F.
  • Also attractive is the Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) which also reaches 60’ tall with a wide head of 25’. Like the Canary Island Date Palm, grow it in temperatures from 25 °– 110°F. This one can also form a multi-trunked clump.
  • The Senegal Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata) is one of the widest of the clump forming palms. It grows to a modest 40’ tall but fills a large space with a 30’ width. Not very frost tolerant, it needs temperatures between 30 °– 110°’F.

This is not a comprehensive list of palms for landscaping. There are many more, but these are some of the more popular, multi-use varieties. Use them in rows for living walls and fences, groups to create oasis clusters, individual specimens as a focal point, or spaced for shade. Keep palms cleaned of dead leaves for smooth trunks and to avoid attracting pests.