Palm Trees in Texas
The limiting factor for growing palms in Texas is the extent of winter cold. Palms that grow with a trunk are "tree-like," with a minimum mature height of 5 feet. An organic rich, moist, well-draining, non-alkaline soil favors best palm growth and aesthetics. Many more palms prosper in the warm climate nearest the Gulf Coast than farther north.
The Panhandle: USDA Zone 6
The northernmost reaches of the Texas Panhandle experience the coldest winter weather in the state. Reaching lows to -10 degree F, no trunk-growing palm "trees" grow well here without lots of care and intensive protection by gardeners. Shrubby palms like the needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) or scrub palmetto (Sabal etonia) may be good cold-hardy alternatives, but they do not grow tall.
- The limiting factor for growing palms in Texas is the extent of winter cold.
North Texas: USDA Zone 7
North Texas, the vast interior of central and north Texas in USDA Hardiness Zone 7, includes the cities of Abilene, Lubbock and Odessa. The best palm tree choices include windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and jelly palm (Butia capitata), and they survive winters much better if sheltered from the winter winds. Only in warm microclimates on the southern side of buildings would a European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) perhaps grow nicely, and then only in the warmer parts of Zone 7.
Southeast Texas: USDA Zone 8
Winter's low temperatures in Zone 8 usually get no colder than 10 degrees, increasing the number of palm tree species suitable to grow and enjoy. In Austin, Tyler, El Paso and Lufkin, cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) grow with minimal winter frond browning. Other tree-like palm species possibly growing well in southern Texas include European fan palm, jelly palm (Butia capitata), blue hesper palm (Brahea armata), windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), Texas sabal (Sabal mexicana) and, in only the warmest areas, the desert fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), hardy bamboo palm (Chamaedorea microspadix) and Everglades palm (Acoelorraphe wrightii).
Coastal and Subtropical Texas: Zone 9
The long, hot growing season with mild winters in USDA Zone 9 along coastal Texas allows gardeners to enjoy the widest selection of tree-like palms in their landscapes. In Corpus Christi and Houston, consider growing all the palms listed for Southeast Texas (USDA Zone 8). If soils are kept dry during the winter months, Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), and Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti) make small, slow-growing specimens. In addition, many more species of sabal palm (Sabal spp.) and windmill palm (Trachycarpus spp.) grow. Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis) and ribbon palm (Livistona decipiens) add an elegant touch to gardens with their large fan-like fronds that drop off the trunk, unlike those of the desert and Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia filifera and Washingtonia robusta). Small-size courtyard gardens should display robust specimens of the hardy bamboo palm and related hardy parlor palm (Chamaedorea radicalis).
- North Texas, the vast interior of central and north Texas in USDA Hardiness Zone 7, includes the cities of Abilene, Lubbock and Odessa.
- If soils are kept dry during the winter months, Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), and Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti) make small, slow-growing specimens.
Although occasional warm winters coax some plant enthusiasts to try permanently growing queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) and foxtail palms (Wodyetia bifurcata), they succumb to freezes and look beat and tattered when temperatures drop below 30 degrees. Prolonged Arctic cold along the Texas Gulf Coast will fully kill these two palm species, too.
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.