Palm trees call to mind tropical sunshine and delicate fronds dancing on the balmy ocean breezes. But even in the warmest climates in North America, unexpected freezes can threaten tropical plants. Caring for a palm tree in cold weather involves using both preventative measures that stack the odds in favor of your tree surviving and emergency tactics that can help save your tree when a cold snap strikes.
Plant a palm tree that is hardy for your area. The Clemson Cooperative Extension recommends choosing palms able to grow a half-zone colder than where you live.
Place your palm in a location where it will receive the most protection from the cold. Whenever possible, choose locations that receive a lot of sun and protection from the wind. Winds from the north and west cause the most damage, so whenever possible, plant palms at locations to the south and east of a barrier such as a building or evergreen screen.
Provide adequate mulch around your palms, which will insulate their roots during cold weather.
Fertilize and care for your palms correctly during the summer and fall months. Stronger palms are more likely to be able to survive and withstand drops in temperature.
Cover small palms with a cardboard box, weighed-down blanket or a mound of mulch, such as straw. Do not leave boxes or blankets over the palm for more than five days and remove mulch coverings as soon as warm weather returns to prevent the onset of disease.
Wrap the trunks of larger palms with burlap or blankets and tightly secure them. As soon as the cold snap passes, remove these coverings immediately.
Remove any damaged foliage from palms after a cold snap. Treatment with a copper-based fungicide can prevent diseases from taking hold in cold-damaged tissue.
Things You Will Need
- Blanket, burlap or other covering
- Copper-based fungicide
- Palms often go into dormancy during cold weather and the only way to tell whether they have sustained irreparable damage is to wait and see whether they recover when consistently warm temperatures return. You may not see signs of recovery until the summer.
- Provide palm fertilizer in late spring, summer and fall to keep palms healthy and encourage their recovery from cold damage.
- When pruning a palm, only remove dead or diseased leaves and never remove leaves above horizontal. Improper pruning leaves palms more susceptible to cold damage.