Richard C. Bogren, Owings, Allen D.
Palm trees have gained increased interest in Louisiana home landscapes over the past few years, and this resurgence mainly can be attributed to the lack of severely cold weather over the past 20 years, according to an LSU AgCenter expert.
“Most people remember the winters of the early 1980s and late 1980s that resulted in considerable damage to palms around the state,” says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings. “This winter also saw temperatures go below 32 degrees for two straight weeks in early January, and palm damage around the state is considerable.”
Owings says one of the most reliable palms for Louisiana is the windmill palm.
“This species can be grown across the state and is one of the palms that can be planted in more northern locations,” Owings says. “Windmill palms are cold-hardy to 15-20 degrees and can tolerate lower temperatures for very short times.”
Windmill palms have average heights of 15-25 feet but can be as tall as 40 feet. Trunks are slender, and mats of dark brown, hair-like fibers coat the trunk on younger palms. Windmill palms like ample water but don’t do well in extremely moist soils or standing water.
“Low, poorly drained areas will significantly slow growth of windmill palms,” Owings says. “And they have high drought tolerance and moderate salt tolerance.”
Windmill palms are relatively slow growing, so consider this fact when adding some to the landscape, he adds.
These palms do their best in full sun, although plants will grow – at a slower rate – and adapt to partially sunny or shady situations.
“While most of us now realize that fall and winter are the best times to plant the majority of ornamental plants in our landscapes, the best time to plant palms in Louisiana is May through September,” Owings says. “The soil is warmest this time of year, and warm soil is one of the most important criteria for palm root growth.”
The horticulturist warns that rough handling of palm trees or severe vibrations during transportation can break the tender bud, causing death many months down the road.
“It also is important to transplant the palm as soon as possible after digging,” he says. “Never allow the roots to become dry, although this should not be a problem with container-grown plants.”
Maintenance is minimal on windmill palms once they are established in the landscape. Fertilization every couple years can aid in growth and foliage color, Owings says. You also can consider removing the oldest leaves, but it’s not a necessary practice.
“Windmill palms are tough and durable,” Owings says. “They can be used in narrow planting locations. Lawn grass will grow and ornamentals that need sunlight can be planted in beds underneath windmill palms because of their high foliage canopy.
“They make excellent focal trees and tropical accents,” he adds. “Think about windmill palms when you replant cold-damaged palm trees this year.”