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Monday, January 9, 2017

How I Protect my Hardy Palm Trees in Zone 7, New York City

It is that time of the year, palm tree protection time! With my protection method and in my climate, I do not keep my palm trees protected all winter long. I am all about very low maintenance and cheap protection.

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.

Let's start off with the palms by the pool. I have my 2 Trachycarpus fortunei (Windmill palms) and my Livistona covered up underneath.

First I put a few poles down. At 6 feet tall, I need something to support the bins on top of these palms (and it will keep the cloth from hugging the palm too closely. You'll notice I also wrapped up some of the fronds in twine to make them easier to handle when it comes time to protect them.

Here are the lights I use. IMPORTANT: DO NOT USE LED LIGHTS. One year I did use LED lights and my trachys were okay (because it was a mild winter), but my pindo palm died and surprisingly my sabal minor was badly damaged. Led lights do not generate heat, that is what makes them so energy efficent. So I go for c7 or c9 lights. Be careful handling the bulbs because they are very easy to break. As soon as you plug them in you will feel the heat so use these bulbs sparingly or else you'll overheat your plants!

After the lights were applied the bins went over my palms and the cloths covered up the gaps. This is how they will look as they handle an overnight low temperature of 11F tonight. Without protection, the windmill palms would receive some frond damage starting at 10F after such a cold and windy day. The Livistona would be completely dead. With this protection method all 3 should be nice and green for the warmer rains coming later this week! 

My loquat was given similar protection. This is a surprisingly hardy plant and unlike palms they will survive some near fatal hits because they are capable of dying back (some people have had luck after a palm tree's central growing bud is killed, but it's definitely good to avoid that when you can!).

Here's the loquat after it is wrapped in twine (can you even tell the difference?!)

The cloths are on the loquat. After this I put a garbage bin on top to help trap in heat and repel moisture and that's it. (In case you are wondering, my neighbors don't even question this anymore!)

Next up was my needle palm. This palm can absolutely handle 10F without any problems if you get it from a northerly grower that has acclimated it to cold. It looked great after a low of 13F, but I felt bad letting it go through another brutally cold night and it really does only take about 5 minutes to protect it so I figured why not! 

Simultaneously, I protected my frostproof gardenia with the same exact method. Both should sail through tonight with protection. Frostproof gardenias have proven to be easily hardy to 10F for me and even with no protection during our coldest winters they have come back from the roots. But I really don't like seeing my plants suffer so if it gets near to 10F I do help them out now.

Needle palm

Frostproof Gardenia (Can you believe a gardenia looks this good after 13 degrees!)

My solution to having too many lights for a single plant was to extend the strand halfway across the yard (I have a small yard!). 

No cloth for these, the bins went right on! 

I did the same thing as above with my Sabal Minor and Mediterranean fan palm.

I will be honest, I am worried about my Fatsia Japconia (born and raised in Newport Beach, CA) and sabal minor which are both unprotected tonight, but I think they are up for the challenge.

I'll leave you off with a photo of my Daphniphyllum macropodum. It is so cold outside the leaves are shriveled up! They will bounce back when the weather warms up.

Thanks for looking! Good luck with the cold in your gardens. I'll post some more winter prep photos soon along with a post dedicated to the plants that look good even in January! 

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