Palm trees come in all shapes and sizes, but not all are meant for our Tallahassee weather. Luckily, some of the most beautiful palm trees for North Florida offer a wide variety of choices in frond shape, height and silhouette. Whether you chose the shorter Pindo or taller Sabal palm, be aware that palms are different from trees with their own best practices for care.
What is in a Zone and Why it Matters
Pick up any plant label and you see a hardiness zone number. The U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the United States into zones ranging from 1-13 with Zone 1 being the coldest and Zone 13 the warmest. If a palm has a temperature range of Miami’s Zone 11, planting it in Tallahassee’s Zone 8 means it will likely not survive our colder winter temperatures. The following palms are hardy for Tallahassee, ready to enhance your existing landscape or inspire a new design.
European Fan Palm
If you are looking for a smaller option that will be as wide as it is tall, the European fan palm is a fitting solution. Considered a slow-growing, clumping palm, the fronds are held out on a shorter stem, spreading outward in thin fingers. The color may range from a light green to silver, making it an excellent focal point or filler solution. The average size is 10 feet tall by 8 feet wide with an average cold tolerance is Zone 8.
The European fan palm can be grown with multiple plants close to each other, forming a mound of fronds. It can also have the fronts trimmed from the ground up, creating the look of a small palm tree. Because of the smaller size (at least compared to other palms) most landscape designers would suggest planting two or three trimmed trees close together to create a focal point.
On the list of best palm trees for North Florida, the Pindo palm is one of the most popular. With an average height of 15 feet or more, the Pindo has large, graceful fronds that arch out and away from the tree. Colors for Pindo fronds range from green to a beautiful blue-grey. Rated for Zone 8, this beautifully fronded palm is perfect for Tallahassee landscapes
You may hear “Jelly Palm” when people are discussing potential landscape additions. The Pindo is well known for the fruit it produces that can be made into jelly by industrious canners. Some Pindo owners see the yearly fruit as a bonus – and others prefer to remove the fruit before it ripens. Though the fruit is not considered harmful to dogs, it may give your family pet an upset stomach, so it’s better to avoid indulging their Pindo fruit cravings.
One of the most cold-hardy on our list of palm trees for North Florida, the windmill palm is rated for Zone 7. Able to tolerate temperatures down to the single digits, the fronds are also strong enough to handle snow accumulation. Though snow is not something we worry about in Tallahassee, it is nice to know your windmill palm will be just fine through the frost warnings.
Windmill palms have a trunk covered in a loose mat of coarse fiber, topped by distinctive fronds that grow upward and outward. The fronds are wide, made up of narrow seams with a little give at the ends. As a slow grower with a top height of around 20 feet, you may see the dark green to yellow-green frond tops when the windmill is small, later on enjoying the silvery tones on the underside as the tree matures.
Of course we are going to have the state tree of Florida on our list! Also known as the cabbage palm, the sabal is one of the few palms that have a high tolerance for cold (Zone 7), salt and drought once established. As a slow grower, it can take years for it to reach an average height of 40 feet, with trees in the wild growing taller.
Sabal palms are native to Florida and have long been a staple in urban and suburban settings. Usually grown upright, the trunk can also be trained to bend, running above the ground before turning upward. The fronds are a darker green, forming a dense canopy at the top of the tree. The “boot” or base part of the frond may be left behind when a frond dies and falls from the tree. Some sable palms will have boots halfway down the trunk, while others will be boot free.
Mexican Fan Palm
Known for being fast-growing and drought-tolerant, the Mexican fan palm is the tallest palm on our list of best palm trees for North Florida. With average heights spanning between 70-100 feet, these trees are often seen planted along highways and adjacent to tall buildings. For homeowners, the Mexican fan palm, also known as a Washingtonia, looks great in open lawns and is rated for our area as Zone 8.
The Mexican fan palm trunk starts out a reddish brown, eventually turning gray as it matures. Medium green fronds are wide, with lower fronds growing outward from the trunk and newer, higher fronds growing upward. Mexican fan palms are considered to be long living with robust canopies from 10 to 100 feet.
Do’s and Don’ts of Palm Care
One of the most important things to remember about palm trees is that they have no bark to protect their trunks like oaks or pines. You want to make every effort to avoid damage during moving, pruning, fertilizing or mowing.
- Do make sure your palm has the correct amount of sunlight. Light requirements vary with too little sun leading to weak and spindly growth, and too much sun scalding the leaves and threatening the palm.
- Do fertilize your palms during the warm months, staying away from the trunk where the roots may be burned. Be sure to use the correct mix of nutrients in the correct amounts.
- Don’t cause root damage. Palm roots tend to grow laterally, so be careful with any digging near your palms. Palm roots are fragile so remember that when you are planting, handle with care and never expose the roots directly to fertilizer.
- Don’t The best way to avoid overwatering your new palm is to ensure good drainage. You can add sand to the soil in up to a 50% ratio. New palms should be watered every day for the first week. That’s why you do not want water hanging around in heavy clay, rotting new roots.
- Do prune away dead fronds if your palm is close to a dwelling. Some pests like to make their homes in the “hula skirt” made by a collection of dead fronds laying against the trunk. On the other hand, butterflies and birds also benefit from the same habitat, so it is up to the individual homeowner how to handle the hula.
At Miller’s Tree Service, we understand the varying needs of palms growing in North Florida. It can tricky to prune palms without damaging the trunks – you will never see our crews climbing a palm tree with spikes unless we are there for removal. For trimming fronds on taller palms we use our bucket trucks, lifting our professional trim crew to the proper location along the palm trunk.
If you have questions about the different varieties of palms that will work in your yard, give us a call and one of our arborists will come out for a free consultation. We love talking about the health of your existing trees and any plans for new ones, too. Call us for the emergency of a downed tree or schedule pruning and fertilization anytime at 850.894.TREE (8733).
Download your handy palm tree guide here. Take it with you when shopping for a palm, make notes on the back!