How To Protect Palm Trees From Freezing

Well winter has spring upon Florida rather quickly this year, bringing freezing temperatures that many of my palms trees cannot handle. Fortunately most of these are in pots, so the easiest fix to prevent them from freezing is bring them into to garage. This not only protects them from the frost but protects them from damaging winds as well, since the radiant heat from the house as well as the lighting in the garage will keep them happy.

Now I’m sure many of you however have planted a palm tree or two that are not as cold hardy, and therefore do not have the luxury of just bringing them in to protect them from freezing. If you are one of these people, here is what I suggest. First, you will need some way to provide heat to your protect your palm. Many people will first string a few strands of Christmas lights both around the trunk of the palm and over or through the fronds. Some even place a floodlight or two and angle them up towards the fronds. After placing your lights the next step would be to drape the palm with some sheets or a light blanket, carefully tying them down or if they are long enough weighting them down with a few rocks or bricks. Using these tips should help keep the ambient air around your palm above freezing, and thus prevent it from both frost damage and freezing.

A word of caution, whatever you do, do not use plastic sheeting on your palm, as this can actually trap moisture underneath which may freeze. Some people also use frost cloth, and it should be applied in the same fashion as stated above. However, in my opinion the added expense is not necessary.

If you are trying to protect a palm from a hard freeze, ultimately what you are then trying to is protect the trunk and heart of the palm, which rests at the top of the trunk where the fronds emerge. On top of the above recommendations, I would also wrap the entire trunk with a heavy blanket. Other suggestions are to surround the trunk with a cardboard box, then filling it with mulch all the way to the top, ensuring that you cover the heart area with a thick layer as well.

By no means will this necessarily ensure the survival of your palm from freezing temps, especially if you have a palm that is rated for Zone 10 planted in Zone 7, but it will certainly be better than leaving it unprotected. The final suggestion to protect your palm tree from freezing would be to only plant palms that can take sub freezing weather, such as a Butia, Phoenix, Washington or some other cold hardy palm tree.

16 thoughts on “How To Protect Palm Trees From Freezing

  1. Should I remove the protection during the day? In other words, it will be cold again tonite, 3rd nite in a row. I didn’t remove the protection on the second day but I am not sure if I should remove the protection on the 3rd day before the frost tonite again.

    1. That depends on how warm daytime temps are going to get. I’d say of it is going to stay at or near freezing, even upwards to the low 40’s then you could leave it covered without any issues. The problem comes when you have a extremely warm day and the protection traps too much heat, which could cook your plants depending on what you used to cover them.

  2. I live in south west Utah, high desert. I have four Windmill Palms in my backyard. This last winter was very cold. The palms got covered in snow. 90% of the fronds are now brown and are starting to break off. Is there any hope for these plants?

    1. Trachycarpus fortunei (aka windmill palm) are some of the most cold hardy palms in the world. I used to have a picture of one that was covered in snow in Canada shown on my website, but they people didn’t like the fact that I was using their image without permission.

      Anyways, if you search Google images you will find it is one of the most photographed palm covered in snow. Mine get some damage and my Queen palms are completely defoliated every year but come back just fine. Some of this depends on the age of the palm, as younger palms are a little more sensitive to the cold than mature palms. Even Phoenix roebillini’s here in NE Florida usually recover nicely, and they are nowhere near as cold hardy of a palm as the windmill palm.

      I’d cut off the dead fronds and wait for signs of life. I’m sure they will rebound nicely.

  3. For the last hard freezing winters I have covered my queen palms with a/c duct flexable pipe. I usually cover the base with an old quilt and duct tape tight and also do the same on where the leaves come out. I usually leave the leafs out because they turn brown anyway and they get sun during the day. After that I put the duct over it and duct tape the top and hold the base with bricks. It works beautifully because the duct is far away from the truck and it avoids rot.

    I like your christmas light idea. I am going to try that next with the duct pipe.

    Enjoy another method in avoiding freezes for palms. BT

  4. I have (4) Windmill & (1) 12ft Sable Palmento palm, 40 miles NE of Atlanta GA. 5 yrs ago I took the Christmas light idea one step further.
    Being from the north I used snow melt electric cables used to melt snow from the roof, and wrapped it around the trunk of the tree and the fronds in the same manner as the Chritmas Lights. The wire is warm enough to hold continiously, but never hot. It can be purchased in most Home Depot, Lowes or online. It’s low maintenance since I leave it up all year, and turn it on/off the nights required from by bedroom window, using an outdoor remote control. Great not only on frosty nights but during ice storms.
    No… I never noticed any difference in my power bill.
    It works great for me, and my trees love it.

    1. I have a sable palm in north al. Built a hot Vic with a floor heater and it worked great, it’s just a real hassle to build. Like your idea. Did you use any type of cover or leave exposed?

      1. Hey Ron thanks for visiting and for the question. What type of sabal and how big is it?

        After wrapping with lights I usually build a frame with some bamboo or wood and drape sheets or blankets over them. Old military wool blankets would work great for this. The real challenge comes in when the tree gets too big to cover, which is what happened to my coconut tree eventually. I have a small greenhouse now and our last two winters have been mild so I have not had to do this in a while.

        Anything to do with keeping plants alive where they normally don’t grow can be difficult, but the satisfaction knowing you succeed is well worth it.

  5. I just planted a spindle palm. Its over 6 feet tall. Its spring in central florida. Should I return it and replace it with a robolini phenix?

    1. It depends on the look you are going for and what the low temps are in your location. Spindles palms do not take frost well at all, and without protection will probably not last very long. If your low temps get under 30 then you will need to do some serious winter protection on it for the nights it gets cold or it might not even last vary long after that.

  6. live in englewood,fl,zone 10b,. lost 3 christmas palms 2 yrs ago, 2 well estab and 1 new.would like to replace with foxtail or anaconda/christmas palms. Would it be safe if i use heat tapes during frost or freeze periods?

  7. pygmy dates are always in qoeutisn as well as foxtails during a harsh winter. the best thing for your palms is to be on the preventative side prior to the freeze. Fertilize regularly with a palm tree fertilizer, there are also antitranspirant sprays that help for winter ice entering spring after the freeze you need to cut off any dead fronds and spray all cut petiole bases and center spear with a fungicide and liquid potassium. if the apex/ center spear pulls out than you have a very slim chance of reviving your tree. i have had customers that have had these types of trees here for years even though they are not recommended for this area. no promises though on survival as these trees are not recommended for this zone so gambling with these less than cold hardy trees is not for the faint hearted.

  8. Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

  9. What are your recommendations for Mexican Palms in Dallas Texas during winter months. My Windmill Palms did not make it through winter as I did not protect them. The Mexican Palms are a replacement and I would like to get through the winter. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the question.

      First, where are you located?

      I ask as the windmill palm is literally one of the most cold hardy palms in the world once mature. There are pictures of these growing unprotected with snow cover in Vancouver, so to kill these you must be in an area that gets cold and stays cold!

      Mexican fan palms are not as cold hardy, so ironically you will need more protection. They are also much taller palms, so over time if they do survive eventually they will be so tall you won’t be able to protect them unless you have a bucket truck to reach the crown!

      My suggestion would be to go back with the windmill palms, keeping them in large palms. Use blankets and heat lights to keep them warm, and bring them inside if possible for those extended period of cold until they are mature (10+ years).

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