Cold hardy palm and cactus growers

jimhardyMarch 22, 2009

I am interested in knowing what got everybody started growing palms,etc in places you normally would not see them,what was your first palm(s)etc,when did you start and what are you growing now and where?

The first plant I ever tried was a Y.aloifolia from Birminghamn Al,I brought it home(St.Louis) and planted it in my front rock garden where I already had some Opuntia growing,it was a total shot in the dark and anyone whos tried these up north knows what happened,white center,mush spear pull,dead yucca.I did not realize until half way through last summer that I was actually trying a Y.aloifolia again and that it was my first try so long ago,(30yrs)I am happy to report that this one made it and should grow at least a foot this year!

My neighbor down the street a few years ago was telling me that there are cold hardy banana plants and when I looked them up on the internet I also discovered all the cold hardy palms,etc,I studied them almost every night for three months and while I was doing this I was ordering them of e-bay,also weather has been a hobbie since I was a little kid so,the two,cold hardy palms and weather interest just kinda fit together,now I have about 30 palms and 30 cactus in the ground and it looks like about 90% survived the fall/winter.

So whats your story? I would love to hear about it!

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Hi Jim! You might already know this information about me, but just in case..... I bought two Med Palms about 17 years ago from the local variety store that has a temporary garden center in the Spring & Summer. They were just 1 gallon pots and the plants were small. I kept them inside for two years. I sometimes stayed awake at night wondering what I could do to keep them alive outside and survive -30 F. to -45 F. winters. I then came up with the styrofoam box and light bulb idea and built two 4' X 4' boxes. I planted them outside the next Spring and they've been outside ever since (roughly 15 years ago). Since then I added a 1 gallon Trachy which has grown twice as fast as the Med palms (10' high now) and added a small pindo palm several years later (3' high now). I'm still using the original two 4 x 4 boxes that I refurbished and added extensions to, to become the 6' boxes. I had no idea there were crazy people like me growing palms in frigid climates until a couple years ago when I stumbled across this site. I thought I was the only "mad plant scientist" around. Looks like there's a bunch of us!


    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 12:17AM
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The first one i tried was a king palm in the ground in an open area and that was a big mistake as they are prone to wind burn. After that one a washingtonia then some chinese fortunei, queens, bismarcks, pindos, flamethrowers,
cuban royal, coconuts,kentias,bop, bananas,purple kings,
creek kings,canary island dates, cliff date , sabal minor,
texas sabals, triangles, arecas, pinanga,dypsis baroni,
foxtails,bottles,spindles, i'm sure i'm missing some but
anyways i have been in about 4 yrs and am still crazy over new species :-). If it's new i try to get my grubby little hands on it. I love growing palms and tropicals it's so rewarding ! especially when you have somebody come up to you and ask you why in the he@# your growing those in your zone. Or seeing people slow down just to look at your yard lol !!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 12:29AM
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When we bought our house back in 2000, I knew I wanted a tropical feel to the backyard as a way to escape the stress of work, and let's face it, life. I added a koi pond with a waterfall in the southeast corner, and priced some tiki bars for sale locally. When I heard the asking price of these things, I laughed and decided to build my own. It's 6 feet long and 4 feet on either side. All treated lumber and bamboo. Thatched roof, and a ceder bar top. Whole thing has layers of marine spar varnish as well. Finally, to top everything off, I wanted some tropical plants...real tropical add to the garden. I also spent hours online researching the most cold hardy types, since I wanted them to remain in the ground over the Winter. First attempted a saw palmetto, but it didn't survive. I've since discovered that they don't transplant well. Plus, we had a fairly cold season that year. Next, I ordered a trachy from an online seller no longer in business. In 8 years now, it has thrived, and is getting large. I have an established fig tree next to it, and have since added basjoos and prickly pear cactus (a variety that does extremely well here). They all grow on a south facing well, and are protected further from the west winds by an additional part of the house. I covered the trachy for about 1 week this Winter (which has been consistently cold)...otherwise, this guy just laughs at the frigid temps now. The fig looks like dead sticks in the ground by Thanksgiving, yet, comes back like a champ every Spring, yielding loads and loads of fruit. We live less than a mile from the beach, so I have driftwood, shells and such around the yard. And tropical plants, palms, and citrus in pots that spend the Summer outside. My interest lies in successfully bringing the Caribbean to the Jersey Shore. Not that hard really, and very satisfying. Free online radio stations from Key West, say, or St. Martin add to the feel. Especially when we entertain.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 10:01AM
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greenclaws UKzone8a

Hi Jim! My first ever palms were a couple of Phoenix D's grown from boxed Christmas dates!! Palm trees were a rare sight in the UK in the late 70's when I worked in large office and germinated them on top of the heating vents!! They managed to get well into the divided leaf stage, but then the 3 children came along and I payed more attention to them than my palm babies, as every good mother should!!
Having lost those original ones it wasn't until my first holiday abroad to Ibiza in 2001 that I succumbed to falling under the palm spell again. I collected some CIDP seeds from the hotel gardens and now have a lovely potted one that is flourishing.
I then rescued a Phoenix D. from a DIY store thats now almost 5ft.
I bought my Chamaerops H last year and it too is growing well.
A holiday in Fuengirola led me to growing a forest of W. Robustas that were so easy from the seeds I collected, (100% germination) plus they are real speed merchants...I like that! I have 5 left and gave a way lots more to unsuspecting!! They are really doing very well.
Sabal Minors give me the hump as they are just too slow for comfort. In 15 months from sprouting they are still ony 4 inches high with measly strap leaves, if they don't shift this year they are out. I bought them because the site said easy to sprout and cold hardy, I didn't do enough research. Hell will freeze over before these guys get to a sensible size.
I'm currently trying to germinate some Butia capitata, but no luck yet.
As you may have gathered, all my plams are potted and are either in the house or the g/h, but come late spring/summer they will go outside again. I am reluctant to plant in ground here as we live in such an exposed position, they would be torn to shreds or blown away completely.
More and more properties in the UK are growing palms and other 'tropicalesque' plants especially the ubiquitous Cordylines, they are everywhere now, you also see Agaves and Phormiums as they are becoming increasingly popular these days. The big DIY stores with the garden depts are cashing in on this trend and many types of palms can now be found at resonable prices, incl Bismarcks, Trachys, Washies, Chamaerops, Phoenix sp. and Arecas. Why do I grow palms? Mainly because of the challenge, they are unusual ie non-native, they remind me of my holidays, and the idea that I can transform our wind whipped little village into a tropical oasis!!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 11:50AM
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treeguy_ny USDA z6a WNY

I found an Opuntia humifusa at a local nursery about four years ago. That got me interested in cold hardy cacti and succulents. I'm currently growing a few different yucca species, a few agaves, and a few cacti. About the same time I found that Opuntia, I heard about cold hardy bamboo and bananas. I've had M. basjoo and various Phyllostachys species in the ground ever since. Spring of 07 I planted a seedling needle palm. That little guy has made it through two winters with only mulch around its base and snow cover on top for protection. This year I'm delving into cold hardy palms much more and am adding M. sikkimensis to my outdoor bananas. Last year I decided to try overwintering 'pink china' elephant ear outdoors. I had 80% of my bulbs survive planted in a wet area with bare soil . . . imagine if I had put effort into mulching them! Here's a shot of my M. basjoo after one of its better growing seasons:

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 5:41PM
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Good question. I never thought about it before, you're making me think. Here's what I've concluded: Most people think it can't be done, but it is not impossible, so I think it is just a case of it being a cool challenge.

If you don't mind, I'm going to tack on this question: How come only guys are interested in doing something like this? Okay, I don't know for sure the gender of every person who posts on this forum, but I have a strong impression that it is only - or at least overwhelmingly - men who post on this forum to talk about zone pushing. Are women not interested in a hobby like this? Or, are they trying this too, but are posting on some other forum that has mostly women posting to it? Just wondering.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 9:32PM
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Guys and Gals,so good to hear your stories!keep them coming!
It's going to be so awesome to see everyones pics this year!
I know sometimes people talk about moving to Florida or someplace warm and I do enjoy the palms, etc there but I have to admit that what really drives me besides that I do love unusual palms or just non-native stuff,(I mean Maples are great but I could close my eyes and throw a rock and hit three or four!not that theres anything wrong with that),anyway,it's the challenge and no matter how cold winter gets(and the last 2 have been cold!)there is something so cool about walking up to my house and seeing my little friends snug in there protection,snubbing their little green spears(hopefully)at the weather outside their protective bubble!I can honestly say that I don't mind winter at all the past few years,with such a warm and rewarding persuit to keep me busy.

Gill,how about planting a T.wagnerianus in your yard? they are tough as nails!!!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 11:25PM
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dln949 has posed an interesting question. Why are there more men than women trying to grow tropicals in frigid climates? Is it because there are more of us, or are we more vocal about it? Is it because we have something to prove to others? Is it because we ejoying the thought of accomplishing something others have not tried? Is this a guy thing? Women out there! What are your thoughts? Maybe we guys just need recognition women don't need or want? Guys, what are your ideas?


    Bookmark   March 24, 2009 at 3:55PM
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greenclaws UKzone8a

Well for me,(and as a woman I might add!)I just enjoy growing anything and everything!! I have recently joined a similar palm forum here in the UK and have found exactly the same, it appears there are far more male participants than female, zone pushers or not. I would suggest that women are mainly are concerned with growing flowers, houseplants and pretty things, and the men tend to grow the veggies and the trees. Men are more adept at constructing shelters for overwintering the plants, adding lights and all the accompanying electrical paraphernalia to keep them warm...not many women have this knowledge I would think. As with everything, there are exceptions of course.....just a few thoughts anyway. I guess I must have a foot in each camp...but only in the plant world!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2009 at 6:39PM
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Hey Gill,take one of those feet(your cold hardiest foot foreward,I think)and plant a T.wag!,whataya think?they are pretty bomb proof and should handle the wind in your location-

    Bookmark   March 24, 2009 at 11:54PM
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Men are more into "collecting" things - baseball cards, coins, comic books, tools, electronics, Palm trees, etc.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 6:26AM
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Another thought about men being the majority of palm tree zone pushers. My wife is totally embarrased by the four large styrofoam structures in our yard from October through April. Maybe it's because women prefer a more manicured look to a yard than men, who build these crazy contraptions to keep these pampered palms alive. Heck, I don't care if I have 100 styrofoam boxes in the yard during Fall, Winter & Spring, if it looks like Paradise at least a few months of the year!


    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 10:29AM
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My wife doesn't mind the look of my boxes at all. She just hates how much it costs to heat all 5 structures. And I'll have 6 next winter!

I don't see how they can complain of what it looks like in the winter. The other trees/grass/plants look dead anyway.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 2:18PM
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Hey trishmik......I never thought of getting online stations from the keys etc...I looked online and found us1 from keywest...what stations do u listen to?

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 2:35PM
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Hey wx,I bet you end up with more than 6!
B.T.W.I hope your bananas come back for you this spring,I started out with(amoung others)2 Musa basjoo this past summer,they were about a 1 1/2' tall and grew about 5' of clear "trunk",I brought them in for the winter so I could have 12+ feet this year and because they will have nice big trunks and root systems to come back from.
If yours don't come back,I would suggest bringing them in next winter so they get some size before overwintering.
Bananas on April 19

Same bananas on Oct 16

Bananas inside in Nov

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 5:25PM
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greenclaws UKzone8a

Jim, sorry for not replying sooner to your suggestions that I try a Waggie. I have never seen them for sale here, although on a recent airport run to Manchester we passed a nursery. It was called 'Easy Tropicals' and they sell palms, but alas no Waggies according to their website that I just checked out. The DIY stores only sell the common types and specialist palm nurseries are like hens teeth in these parts. More of them down south in the 'warmer bits' I imagine. I'm OK with my palms in pots at the mo, till they get too big to accommodate during the winter that is...but I'll definitely look out for those Waggies and bag one if I possibly can....and I'll call it Jim!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 7:01PM
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It's an addiction and once that palm bug bites your
addicted !

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 9:03PM
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Very sweet Gill!
Try asking around on EPS,those guys are always coming up with killer deals on good sized T.wags! Good luck,only name it Jim if it lives and causes you no trouble (-;
Take care.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 12:16AM
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Spataro51...there are lots of radio stations on "Brien's Caribbean Radio Guide". Island 92.1 from St Martin has an interesting mix of music. I have one of those portable speakers from Brookstone out at the bar. Listen to US1, Radiomargaritaville, other stations from Florida, Island 98.5 from Hawaii, and many others. I don't always like the music, but it adds to the "feel" of being cast away somewhere. At my son's birthday party last year, a few guests were rather surprised to be hearing the local news and weather reports from Honolulu. All part of the plan, along with rum and palms.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 10:07AM
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Sounds fun trish

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 11:59PM
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I have 15 sprouts of cold hardy, i love palms , this is my first garden. I dont have idea how I take care of them, please I need basic tips for my little palms to grow .

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 11:16PM
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All the information you need is scattered throughout the pages
of this forum and seperate questions are usually
always answered quickly.

What are you trying?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 10:16AM
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greenclaws what does the D stand for in the Phoenix D? I can buy a P. canariensis but was told the dates are inferior to commercial ones. Any opinions on the best dates?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 1:20AM
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Iammarcus, I think that it means phoenix dactylifera which is the species of dates that you would get at your store. I dont think Ive ever seen Phoenix canariensis being eaten for dates. Maybe it doesnt taste good, or maybe its not even edible, but if your looking for good dates then look into the cultivators in the Phoenix Dactylifera species. If you live in a zone 6 then you probably wont get dates because they have to be pretty tall and old to start producing well and that wont happen in a pot and it would require way too much protection to make it worth growing in the ground. Im trying to think of a palm that would give you fruit in a pot and the only palm that I can think of that might is maybe a butia, but even those have to get pretty tall to fruit. Lots of other tropical plants will fruit in pots though!

Also since the title of this thread also mentions cactus, I was wondering about the variations in yucca rostrata (alright so its not actually a cactus, but its close enough!). I saw some very large Y. rostratas in my area today that I never noticed before (some were approaching 2 stories high and maybe close to flowering!) but I noticed that some had much longer leaves than others (the largest leaves I saw were as long as 3 feet or more!) Does it have to do with them growing in more shade or is it some other factor? I was just wondering. Also Rostratas are very good at handling snow because I didnt see one damaged from the record amount of snow this winter unlike some other yuccas that fell over from the weight of the snow.
Thanks for any info on Y. rostratas!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 1:17AM
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GREAT QUESTION JIM! my first memory of palms was at my grandmas house seeing this very tall palms. at the time i didnt no what kind they were but ever since i was very young palms always caught my eye, though i didnt think much of it. my grandmas house is in the city of south El Monte about 15 mins. from downtown LA. i bet most no wut palm am talking about now, good ole mexican fan palm! i think i was about 12 or 13 but i remember asking my dad if we can dig one up at my grandmas house and bring it home since most got mowed anyway and if they made it to their 1st or 2nd year they ended up getting dug up and tossed in the trash, but he said no cuz they get to big & messy =( i never thought about them again. that is until i was 18. i was at my uncles house and a palm caught my eyes, the same one as at my grandmas(still didnt no the name of it.) which is weird cuz i no i came across tons of palms before now but i just notice them again. i started asking him questions about it like how long hes had it for & wut kind it was. he didnt no wut kind of palm it was and said it just grew there. i guess he sensed that i was intrigued by it so he said come back in spring and he'll help me dig it up to take to my house. this time i didnt ask, i just told my parents that i was gona plant a palm tree in the front of the house & that it'll make the house look nice lol! THATS WHEN IT BEGAN! ive been addicted ever since.i wouldnt call it a hobby of mine but a passion. & it kept me out of trouble for the most part. it kind of seems like they were suppose to be in my life in a funny way! i dont no wut i would be doing if they didnt come along & keep me busy. anyways washingtonia robusta were my first palms then phoenix canaries, brahea armata, then at 22 i tried germinating palm seeds for the first time. now 24 years old i grow (most) of my palms i have with over 30 different kinds of palms/cycads & totaling close to over 300. then finding this forum it started getting me into yuccas,cactus,agaves,bananas & now ive come to admire my native joshua trees! tune in to pics now that their starting to fruit!!! everyone on here opened my eyes to different plants. now i cant wait till spring/summer. i got alot to do & grow plus i cant wait to see everyones pics! its gona be a great year, not only does my girlfriend encourage my addiction but she'll buy me palms on my birthdays on holidays & out of the blue palm/seeds gift! wut more could a man want? besides for her to be as simple as me wen it comes to gifts lol! am slowly teaching our daughter everything i no about palms and plants so she one day might admire & love them as much as me but she definitely knows to stay away from the pokey ones & she even has her own palm! which is funny cuz shes only 2-1/2 & by the time shes in high school it'll be like 20ft tall!

im looking forward to all those pics & ill post some come spring. i hope winters almost done for all of us(fingers crossed) so we can get back to our lives lol! jk nr!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 5:11AM
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I have one big Yucca rostrata and 2 small ones. They all survived this past brutal winter unharmed. The 2 small ones are in exposed pots no less!

There is natural variation in leaf size, but I believe an established specimen with free root run will produce longer leaves.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 7:45AM
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Thanks for the help xerophyte_nyc! Rostratas seem bullet proof even in NYC's wet zone 7. They definitely are known though because I see them in tons of garden centers and its probably the second most common yucca (First one is definitely Yucca recurvifolia).

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 3:48PM
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TT, zone 5b MA

x -

Wow, Y. rostrata out all winter this year (our winter has been the worst I can remember...) unprotected in exposed pots! We still have about a foot in snowcover up here.

I was wondering when it would be safe to put out my garaged rostrata... Can they take cool spring rains in a really free-draining mix in a pot (mostly perlite and turface for mine)?



    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 6:22AM
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