COLD HARDINESS 301
Most palms come from tropical and sub-tropical climates throughout the world and
rely on an extensive wet season and seasonally high humidity. With the
exception of Jubaea, Brahea, Sabal, Nannorrhops, Butia, Medemia,
Washingtonia, Trachycarpus, Livistona,
Chamaerops, and a few other species, the
majority of palms thrive in a climate that has a range of 25-80% relative
humidity. Humidity makes water vapor in the air available for the leaves
and is crucial in transpiration. Higher humidity typically results in a
higher growth rate, greener leaves, and overall better health.
With regard to cold hardiness, a palm tree can usually resist frost more
effectively if the relative humidity is higher. Cold air will reduce a
palm's immunity to disease and fungus, especially if water is left sitting in
the crown from rain or irrigation. Hot, dry air is also detrimental in
that it causes the leaves to rapidly lose their H2O reserves and can lead to
wilting. When a palm is fighting off water loss, its growth rate is
usually slowed and its resistance to disease is weakened.
Keeping tropical and sub-tropical palms in a greenhouse or conservatory during
cold weather is beneficial. Even if the temperature in the greenhouse is
the same as the outside temperature, the higher humidity in the greenhouse
provides a sort of "cushion" that protects the leaves from frost burn.
This cushion can also be achieved by planting a palm and surrounding it with
other trees and bushes creating a "thicket effect" much like a dense jungle or
Cold sinks and heat rises. During a cold snap, the frigid air originates
from the clouds and sinks down to the earth. This cold air settles onto
tropical palms and can lead to leaf burn or death if left unchecked. One
effective way to prevent this is to plant your cold-sensitive palms underneath a
larger leafy tree that is frost hardy. The larger tree will take the brunt
of the settling cold air and protect the more sensitive palm below- sometimes
keeping it up to five degrees warmer.
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooA shadehouse (left) can provide some overhead protection from
radiating cold air, while a cold-frame, or un-heated greenhouse
you ever heard of the 1,000-year-old egg
(right), maintains high humidity and retains heat from the sun.
Orient? A raw egg is buried in the
ground about 12 inches deep. It is left there for one
month, then dug up and eaten. The natural heat given off by the earth
slowly cooks the inside of the egg to create this bizarre delicacy.
This same concept can be applied to palm trees and their root systems.
Many growers who live in climates that are slightly too cold for their favorite
palms to thrive in keep the palms in containers and bring them inside during
cold snaps or freezes. While this is necessary if you live in New York, it
is not all that necessary if you live in a Mediterranean or desert climate.
Planting marginal palms in the ground is beneficial in that the palms' root
systems can quickly develop and form a larger underground mass (as opposed to a
limited mass in a container). The ground will then provide protection from
outside cold air and also dissipate the earth's natural heat. This will
typically keep the root system a few to several degrees warmer than the outside
air. As a general rule, if a palm's root system is kept warm and active,
the rest of the tree will benefit as well.