Tonight marks the 2nd night of protection for my Trachycarpus (windmill) palms. I have protected my Livistona (chinese fan palm) for maybe 6 or 7 days now, it is a much more tender palm. I try my best not to baby my palms, but at the same time I never want to cause their suffering intentionally - plants are living things and these palm trees did not sign up for 8 years and counting in New York City!
So here's the specifics about how I get my palm trees through the winter for all of you out there who are thinking of introducing palm trees or other plants that are borderline hardy in your climate. Whether you are trying to grow coconut palms in St. Augustine, FL or Needle Palms in Boston - I think a variation of the general protection method I use will work well.
Plant Line Up:
Out of the subtropicals I grow, these are the plants I leave outside and give extra help when winter comes along (from most needy to least):
Livistona palm: Protection when temperatures drop below 25F (I know. Why am I growing this tender, USDA zone 8b rated palm tree? I promise it is totally worth it for me and I've had it for 6 winters now!)
Mekong Giant Banana: Wrapped in burlap, will likely die back completely to the ground. No heat.
Musa Basjoo: Threw a bunch of yard garbage on it as an insulating mulch and am just waiting it out (if you are devote follower of this blog, you know my Musa Basjoo banana and I do not get along!)
Windmill Palms: My 2 oldest are protected when the forecast calls for temperatures below 15F. This has happened on 3 occasions so far this winter, including tonight. My smaller windmill palm is not receiving protection this winter.
Mediterranean Fan Palm: Protection when temperatures threaten to drop below 15F.
Loquat Tree: Protection when temperatures drop below 15F.
Sabal Minor: Protecting my more "tender" minor when temperatures drop below 10F. My other minor is flying solo unless we are forecasted to be well into the single digits.
Needle Palm: Protection when temperatures threaten to drop below 10F.
Hardy Gardenias: Protection when temperatures threaten to drop below 10F. (Varieties: Frostproof, Summer Snow, Crown Jewel)
Fatsia Japconia: Will protect if temperatures are forecasted to be well into the single digits. Under a layer of snow right now.
Soft Caress Mahonia: Will protect if temperatures are forecasted to be well into the single digits
Camellias: Will cave in and protect if temperatures are forecasted to drop near 0. We've had them for 20 years in our yard without protection, but they took a beating after a low of 1F and I do not want to lose flower buds AGAIN!
As far as the protection itself here are the steps. This year it cost me ZERO DOLLARS! I had the lights, I had the bins, and I had the cloths and yarn. The strings of lights cost about 2 dollars a box if you get them after the holidays are over (BIG christmas light sales). The bins range from a few dollars for office type bins to $20-$40 if you want to buy plastic garbage bins. I usually just use broken garbage bins that we are no longer using for garbage or random bins I find lying around the house. It takes me about 10 minutes to put on the protection for each plant for the first time of the season and to put on as needed beyond that, it takes maybe 1 to 5 minutes per plant. Like I said, I really try to make this easy and low maintenance.