Palms in Chicago

Chitown33March 14, 2005

I have been growing a windmill palm for over a year here in the Chicago subrubs, and it has been successfully overwintered here with no damage. I simply wrapped some rope lights around it, and covered it with bubble wrap and layers of reemay for a total of 40 days this winter (Dec 21st-Jan 31st). It endured some cold temps, about 9F (insdie the covering, on accident), and we had a z7a winter. It is doing great, and its ready for another great growing season.

To anyone who thinks that Chicago is 'too cold' or not tropical, please think again. With simple protection, many things can be grown here such as Banans, Trunking Yuccas, Cacti, and yes, even Palms.

I hope that I can inspire people out there, one yard at a time, to show the people that yes, you in fact CAN grow alot. Thanks to a mild trend, some call it global warming, some call it a cycle, Chicago, and many other cities across the country are proving to have much warmer winters. This winter Chicago had its second zone 7 winter in the past 5 years, and 90% of the past decade were zone 6 or warmer.

Here are some pictures from the past year:

March `04 Snow!

June `04

September `04

December `04

Late Dec, Protection (Bubble Wrap, rope lights)

(Reemay covering)

Feb `05 (After winter)

March `05 Doing great

If you have any questions, or need any further information, Please do not hesistate to e-mail me at


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tadeusz5(z5 il)

Chitown33; A hearthy Welcome to the GW and the Midwest forum;
I am delighted that you are bringing some tropic's to our area of the country, and inspiring others to try growing them.
For the past 4 years I have noticed tall Palms being sold and planted for a half a year around the suburban area. Apparently there is taste and wish to have this tropical feel around , but is all this necessery when we have some wonderful and beautiful northern type climate plants that support our nurseries/garden centers here.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2005 at 6:39PM
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That is very exciting. Are you in a burb on the lake or some other microclimate condition? I'm especially impressed that your palm seems to be out in the middle of the yard, away from the warm foundation. Did you mail-order your trachycarpus? Care to share your source? It all makes me very hopeful that my musa basjoo will make it through next winter if I'm good to it.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2005 at 8:09PM
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I am in the NW suburbs, so I am not in the warmest area of Chicago, but still within the general heat island. I ordered my palm last spring from in the 5gal size. It was the size of my first picture posted with the snow. I was very impressed with its condition.
Good luck to you in the future with your plants.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2005 at 9:55PM
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arrick(Z5b LaGrange IL)

Thanks for your post! I've read other posts of people trying to grow palms in the Midwest, and with some extra effort it seems successful. It definitely inspires me to try everytime I see a post such as this one. My one worry has always been not necessarily the coldest temperatures of the winter (which can be mitigated by proper protection, positioning, etc), but the shorter growing season. Are palms adversely affected by some of our late springs or (occasionally) early winters? For example, this March has been much colder than normal for most of the midwest, and if April isn't much better, can a palm survive on a growing season maybe only 4-5 months long?

Thanks for your input! Good luck with your tropical gardening!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 10:15AM
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Well, one of the hardiest trunking palms, the one I have and the one that I would most definately reccomend for here is the Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus Fortunei). Growing season in Chicago is April 15th to Oct 15, so thats an average of 6 months. Those dates do not effect that particular palm in any way, or most palms, unless they are not hardy. If the lows dip into the 30's or even 20s but rebound during the day, it will continue to grow. In fact, trachies perfer cooler temps like 50s. When it gets much above 90, they will stop growing. For a few months in summer here they stop, and then resume growth again in early fall. The suffer damage at 10F or lower. They can take quick dips to 0F without damage, but if it is ever 0F here, usually they arent quick dips. In winter, they need highs that are above freezing. It can go into the lower teens nightly, and if temps are above freezing for awhile each day, they can take quite a long time of that, for instance, this past month which has not been a good one. However, they can go for about a week or more without reaching freezing before they show any signs of damage.
So to answer your question, growing season does not effect the palms that would survive here in any way.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 5:09PM
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cherylk(Z5-Cent IL)

I'm so glad your palm survived this winter.

Don't you think, however, that we Illinoians had an EXTREMELY mild winter compared to most?


    Bookmark   March 16, 2005 at 10:40AM
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Yes, I do agree, for northen IL that is. Places in southern IL got down to -8F, some places in Indiana and Ohio -22F and -16F. And of course Embarrass Minnesota, -55F, 5 degrees warmer than the record coldest temp in MN ever. Its really hit or miss when it comes to those arctic blasts, but we just got out lucky this winter, compared to other areas. All in all, I think this winter was a bit warmer than our decade avg of -3.6F, but not a whole lot.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2005 at 4:49PM
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austinl(Little Rock, AR, 8a)

Awesome work, Kyle. You are proving that tropicals, including palms, will grow in the extreme northern part of the country provided that people are willing to give them a little extra care in terms of winter protection. Great job. I'm looking forward to seeing it grow this summer. Keep us posted!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 10:00PM
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I have several windmills(6ft) and european palms growing in Evansville, IN, along with a number of dwarf palmettos and a live oak. No problems and no protection. I may try a Pindo this spring.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2005 at 9:56AM
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iowapalmz5(Zone 5)

I have a 10 foot washingtonia in my back yard mummy wrapped with X-mas lights on the inside. I think it is still alive. The temps on the inside of the wrap have not dropped below 20 degrees even during that Thankgiving coldspell. Wish me luck.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 2:43AM
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Iowa Palms,
Wow, Do you have any pictures? My Filifera died. It got too much moisture inside the greenhouse and rotted. Anything plastic is bad for trapping moisture. What did you use to mummy wrap it? Lets hope it survives!!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2006 at 4:17PM
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iowapalmz5(Zone 5)

I'm new to the forum and I don't know how to get photos posted. I'll try to see if I can figure it out and post them. I strung the small X-Mas lights around the bottom and continued all the way up the tree. Then I wrapped the entire tree from top to bottom with black breathable landscape fabric. I then purchased some home insululation and wrapped the tree with the insulation. Finally I bought some clear plastic painters drop cloth and with some glue created a "sleeve" which I slipped over the insulation. I poked some small holes in the plastic for air. I used bungy cords to hold everything in place. At the base of the tree I put a heavy layer of mulch and then a heavy layer of leaves which is held in place by some plastic netting. It might sound labor intensive but once I figured out what I wanted to do, it only took about 30 minutes to put it together. If I can figure out the photo posting I'll get a pictue of that up as well. I can't say that the whole thing looks normal but hopefully in the long run it will be worth it. If not I'll just get another one. I was suprised on how much heat those little lights generated under the insulation. The other night it got down to 20 and under the insulation with the lights on it didn't go below 43.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2006 at 12:18PM
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Check your mail, I replied to your email.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2006 at 7:09PM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

Washingtonias are all over my hometown of Tucson, AZ, and they have freezing temps there every winter. One year it snowed on Christmas morning. Boy, did those palm trees and cactuses look surprised with snow caps. But there are only about three weeks of temperatures below freezing at night.

Mainly I just wanted to mention an article in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of "Midwest Living" magazine, called "Aloha! Palm Trees in the Midwest." It's on page 46 and also includes suggestions for warm-climate plants for midwest yards, like bananas.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2006 at 9:40AM
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Purchsing Palms for Chicago zone 5,but where to buy,any one know?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2008 at 6:00PM
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I also want to try Trachycarpus. Where can we buy it Chitown?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 1:52PM
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You can get them on eBay... I'd recommend nothing smaller than 15 gallon in this climate, however mine was planted as a 5 gal.

Here are some pictures of my Windmill from this season, I believe the fourth season in the ground.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 3:12AM
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hey, i am new to the forum and i have a mccurtain and a y.thompsoniana, both are very small, i live in an area of chicagoland that usually gets a min. of -5 to -10 excluding that 4a blast we got a couple years back, what should i do to protect them, if at all? i also have a personal rule that its a bad idea to plant anything with or without protection that is less hardy than 7a in a 5b/6a climate, would this always apply?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 7:06PM
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Hi is that trachycarpus still alive and doing well? please give us an update and another pic of it if its still thriving.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 2:33PM
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