Palm trees are cherished for the tropical flair they add to any setting, but with so many palm tree types available, it can be hard to choose the right one for the landscape. When selecting palm trees for your garden consider function as well as environment. Some palm trees are well suited to planting as a specimen or accent, while others perform better along the edges of the landscape. Though we think of palms as sun-loving tropical plants, some have surprising cold or shade tolerance, expanding their range of use.
We’ve helped simplify the selection process by organizing the different palm tree types into categories based on performance and visual characteristics.
Palm Trees that Make Stunning Specimens
Canary Island Date Palm
Botanical name: Phoenix canariensis
Palm trees are the focal point of tropical gardens, and can even be used in more temperature zones to make a statement. Canary Island date palm is the poster child of tropical gardens. This majestic tree has a huge canopy of deep green, arching fronds set atop a stout trunk crisscrossed with diamond-shaped leaf scars. With a mature height of 40-60 feet and a spread up to 40 feet at maturity, Canary Island date palm makes a statement in larger landscapes. Hardy in zones 9-11, this palm can be planted as a single specimen or in groups along a border. In cooler regions, it can be grown in containers.
Botanical name: Hyophorbe verschaffeltii
Maturing at 20-25 feet tall, the spindle palm makes a wonderful specimen in smaller spaces, such as entryway planting beds and poolside gardens. This stately palm has a somewhat formal look, with a smooth trunk ringed with leaf scars, and a loose, open canopy of 10-foot-long arching foliage. Plant in full sun in USDA hardiness zones 10-11.
Fast Growing Palm Trees
Botanical Name: Wodyetia bifurcate
Whether you are trying to quickly establish a new landscape or add height to existing plantings, these palms fit the bill. Not only is foxtail palm fast growing, it is an enchanting tree. Planted singly or as a multi-trunk specimen, the smooth gray bark and stunning foliage set this palm apart. The foliage is unique in that the leaflets grow radially around the stems, rather than on a single plain, giving the appearance of a bushy foxtail. With a self-cleaning trunk, tolerance of limestone soils and rocky sands, and excellent drought resistance, foxtail palm is gaining popularity. This selection can reach heights of 20 to 30 feet.
Botanical name: Syagrus romanzoffiana
Growing to a height of 40 feet, the Queen palm is generally inexpensive and a great selection for those trying to create a finished look on a low budget. The single-trunk palms can be planted in groups to quickly create shade. Hardy to zone 9b, this palm is very popular, however it does have one main drawback, it produces an abundance of fruit which can cause quite a mess.
Small Palm Trees
Pygmy Date Palm
Botanical name: Phoenix roebelenii
Often planted in groups of three to create the appearance of a multi-trunked plant, Pygmy date palm is a graceful-looking palm widely used in entryway gardens and poolside plantings. This palm matures to just 5-10 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide, making it quite versatile in the landscape. It is also self-cleaning, which means the older, dead leaves shed by themselves, eliminating the need to prune.
Botanical name: Hyophorbe lagenicaulis
Named for the unique shape of its trunk, the bottle palm makes an eye-catching accent in any garden. The open canopy boasts long, stiff fronds, adding to the plant’s interesting architecture. Slow growing to a mature height of 10 feet, though more typically between 5 to 7 feet tall and wide, the bottle palm is cold sensitive and only hardy in zones 10-11. Overall, this is an easy to care for palm with few problems.
Blue Palm Trees
Botanical name: Bismarckia nobilis
Some of the most spectacular palms are those with blue-tinged foliage. With a rounded crown of stiffly upright, steel-blue fronds, Bismarck palm is striking in both color and form. Each fan-shaped frond is 4 to 5 feet long and wide, providing plenty of textural contrast to the garden. Provide plenty of space around this beauty to show off its remarkable features. Bismarck palms are drought tolerant and are hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11.
Mexican Blue Fan Palm
Botanical name: Brahea armata
With bold silver-blue foliage and a stout trunk, Mexican blue fan palm is another remarkable selection. The fan-shaped foliage of this species is held upright on long stalks that arch gracefully downward toward the tip, giving a different appearance than Bismarck palm. Mexican blue fan palm is also incredibly hardy, tolerating high heat, poor, dry soils, and temperatures as low as 15˚F (zone 8b). This drought tolerant palm requires little irrigation once established.
Drought Tolerant Palm Trees
European Fan Palm
Botanical name: Chamaerops humilis
European fan palm, also called the Mediterranean fan palm, stands out in the landscape for its dense covering of fine-textured, bright green fronds. The only palm native to Europe, this species is quite hardy, performing well in zones 8 through 11 (and even as low as 7b with protection). This slow-growing, clump forming palm matures at 8 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide.
Mexican Fan Palm
Botanical name: Washingtonia robusta
Considering its origins, one is not surprised that Mexican fan palm is heat and drought tolerant. It also stands up well to wind, salt, and humidity, making it widely adaptable. Mexican fan palm has naturalized in parts of Florida, California, and Texas, where it performs well in hardiness zones 9-11. This fast-growing palm can reach heights of 30-50 feet in 10 years, while keeping a narrow profile of just 6-10 feet.
Palm Trees for Shade
Petite Lady Palm
Botanical name: Rhapis excelsa
The petite lady palm is a small clustering palm perfect for shady spots in the landscape. The foliage has a lush, layered appearance and the individual leaf blades are much wider than other palms on this list. Though plants do tolerate sun, the dark green foliage keeps its color better in shade. Also look for variegated varieties. Lady palm is hardy to zone 9 and perform best in moist soils.
Botanical name: Trachycarpus fortune
Windmill palm is a stout palm with fan-shaped fronds and a compact habit. Though mature plants can reach 25 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide, windmill palms grow slowly and will remain small for many years. They are the most cold hardy of the tall palms, tolerating temperatures down to 10˚F (Zone 7b), extending its range of use far to the north. Windmill palm is well suited to smaller landscapes. They perform best in part shade, and are moderately drought tolerant once established. Windmill palms will require additional irrigation if plants in full sun.
Cold Hardy Palm Trees
Botanical name: Rhapidophyllum hysteric
Not all palms are limited to tropical climes. The windmill palm and European fan palm mentioned above are both hardy to Zone 7b, well beyond the confines of most other palms. Among the hardiest of species is the needle palm, which is hardy to zone 6 with reports of plants surviving in zone 5b. Needle palm is a shrubby fan palm growing up to six feet tall and wide.
Botanical name: Sabal minor
Dwarf palmetto is another cold hardy species. It might be surprising to learn that the hardiest known variety, called 'McCurtain', comes from the southeast corner of Oklahoma. This variety is hardy to zone 6b. For any palm grown in the colder extremes of its range, mulching the roots will help plants survive cold winters.
Palm Trees that Tolerate Salt
Botanical name: Sabal palmetto
Cabbage palm is the state tree of both Florida and South Carolina. Hardy to zone 8b, its native range extends up the coast into North Carolina. While they are tolerant of salt spray in their foliage, they do not tolerate salt in the root zone.
Botanical name: Serenoa repens
Another native species, the saw palmetto grows naturally throughout Florida and along both coasts east to Louisiana and north to South Carolina. This slow growing, clumping palm grows 5 to 10 feet tall and spreads 4 to 10 feet wide. Plants are highly salt-tolerant, making them an excellent selection for coastal gardens. Saw palmettos are very adaptable to a range of growing conditions, tolerating wet or dry soils, shady and sunny sites, and acid to alkaline soils. Several selections are available with silvery-blue foliage, including the cultivars 'Sericea', 'Cinerea', and 'Glauca'.
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