Here’s Why You Can’t Grow Tropical Palm Trees In New York

Beautiful coconut palm tree on blue sky background

When you think of tropical palm trees you probably think about warm, tropical climates that you spend your vacation in. But believe it or not, some palm trees can withstand temperatures below freezing! But some states are just too cold.

Most tropical palm trees cannot grow in New York. The cold temperatures, high winds, and length of winter prevent palm trees from growing the whole year. The temperature in NY generally stays under 40°F from December – March, which is too cold for most tropical palm trees.

Palm trees add a lot of aesthetic value to your landscape, but if you live in New York it’s pretty tricky to get a palm tree to survive. Read on to discover the reasons why you can’t grow a tropical palm, and what you can plant instead.

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Can Tropical Palm Trees Grow In New York?

We already hinted at the answer above, but let’s dive down into some details to get you all the information you need on palm trees in New York.

Although we mentioned above that most tropical palm trees cannot grow in New York, that doesn’t mean that ALL palm trees won’t survive in the state. After all, New York is more than just a city that never sleeps.

Most people refer to tropical palm trees as those big, recognizable trees you see in Florida, California, and Hawaii. Any palm tree can be considered ‘tropical,’ but there are some that are cold-hardy too. 

The cabbage palm, for example, is a tropical palm tree often seen in Florida. It’s considered ‘cold hardy’ but still needs to be in hardiness zone 8b or higher to survive according to the University of Florida.

No area in New York has a hardiness zone above 7b.

But don’t lose hope! Some palm trees are very cold-hardy and might survive in the warmer areas of the state.

The areas of New York with the highest success rate for growing palm trees will be along the Atlantic coast such as Long Island and south of New York City. These areas have a hardiness zone of 7b.

Temperature isn’t the only factor when considering growing a palm tree. Altitude, wind, soil conditions, and anthropogenic conditions also impact a palm tree’s survivability. More on that later!

If you are interested in palm trees growing in other areas, check out this article on 5 Reasons New Orleans Has Palm Trees.

For now, let’s talk about the necessary conditions for some of the most popular palm trees and see if New York fits the bill.

Growing Conditions For Tropical Palm Trees: Does New York Have Them?

Just like oak trees and maple trees, there are tons of different varieties of palm trees. Some are those tall, spindly ones with coconuts, others are so small they can fit in a pot and be kept inside.

Keep in mind that this means each variety of palm trees will require different environmental conditions. Some like arid conditions, others need lots of rain, and still, others need partial shade or full sun.

First, let’s see what New York’s climate data looks like. This includes New York City and Long Island.

  • The average high in January – 39℉
  • The average low in January – 26℉
  • Average Precipitation in January – 3.90 inches
  • Soil types (According to the City University of New York)
    • North Shore – rocky
    • South Shore- sandy
  • Elevation
    • Long Island – 401 ft
    • New York – 33 ft

We chose January because that is the coldest month in New York. If a palm tree can survive January in Long Island, it can survive the other months as well.

Let’s talk in detail about all the reasons why you can’t grow most palm trees in New York.

Temperature Requirements For Tropical Palm Trees

Coconut tropical palm trees an pristine bounty beach close to sea.

When most people think of New York, they think of the city, of the empire state building, and the statue of liberty. But the reality is New York city only covers a small portion of the state. 

The rest of the state is mostly rural and country (where I’m from, let’s go Upstate!) But for this article, we are going to cover southern and eastern New York, the warmest areas in the state.

Palm trees are tropical trees and therefore require mild, tropical climates to thrive. The most cold-hardy palm trees like the needle palm and the Windmill palm can survive temperatures around 10℉ and sometimes brief exposure to colder temperatures. 

With that being said, you might be thinking that New York fits those parameters perfectly! Not so fast…

The thing you have to remember about required temperatures is that a palm tree can survive only brief exposure to these chilly conditions

It’s not uncommon for South Carolina or Florida to have a brief cold snap, but New York’s entire winter season may have several cold snaps followed by prolonged cold temperatures below 20℉.

The average palm tree needs temperatures to be above 55℉. But again, this number varies greatly among the different species of palm.

Soil Condition Requirements For Tropical Palm Trees

The aciditymoisturetemperature, and type of soil are important factors to take into consideration for growing any plant, including palms. 

Going back to our earlier example of the cabbage palm, these trees require wet soils and commonly grow along coastal marshes according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Cabbage palm also thrives in warmer soils that range from 68℉ to 104℉. You really won’t find that anywhere in New York except during the hottest summer days.

While cabbage palms need high moisture content, needle palms can thrive in both wet and dry conditions. Almost all palms benefit from magnesium supplementation in the fertilizer.

So what type of soil grows in New York?

The most common soil found in New York is unofficially named their state soil “Honeoye.” This soil is slightly acidic to neutral, has a high moisture content, and is considered fertile.

Honeoye can sustain some palm trees, and you can always try to supplement your palm tree with magnesium such as Jobe’s Fern & Palm Fertilizer Spikes. These are mostly for indoor palm plants and have a time-release for continuous nutrient supplies.

Necessary Elevation For Tropical Palm Trees

Tropical palm trees

As you can imagine, most palm trees are located at or near sea level. They’re found on islands after all, right?

However, New York isn’t too far behind islands and coastal areas in terms of elevation. The average elevation of New York is only around 33 feet, with the highest point being on long island at 401 feet (Jayne’s Hill).

In most areas of southern New York and Long Island, they pass the test for the necessary elevation for palm trees. 

Some palm trees like the windmill palms are native to the Himalaya Mountains and can thrive at high altitudes. However, most palms enjoy being closer to the sea than the summit of a mountain.

Wind Conditions Can Affect Tropical Palm Trees

Wind can be a huge factor for palm survivability. Having those big fan-like leaves or long slender leaves means they catch the wind more regularly than a streamlined leaf.

Part of New York is situated directly on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. As such, tropical storms have the potential to land on the coast and travel inward. 

Since New York City and Long Island are the two preferred locations for growing palms, this is an important factor when deciding whether a palm can survive in New York or not. These two areas are very close to the coast and are more affected by wind than Albany, for example.

City Life Can Be Rough On Tropical Palm Trees

When you’re on vacation in a tropical area and see palm trees lining the streets and sidewalks, you can be sure those trees aren’t as comfortable as trees in a natural forest. 

Anthropogenic effects can range from car pollution to cigarette butts to littering plastic bottles. All of these can affect the soil conditions including water levels, PH, and nutrient levels.

In a 2011 study, they tried to identify how people affected the growth of palm trees. As you might well guess, the more disturbance done by people, the less likely the palm trees were to germinate or grow from seed.

With a population of more than 8 million people, anthropogenic pollution plays a big role in the plant life in New York City. 

Another downside to city life is the water stress that gets put on the soil. Spillways and waterways attempt to guide water in what would have been a natural direction. This doesn’t always work.

Some soils get waterlogged and other soils become far too dry to support such tropical plants as palm trees.

Now that we know what kind of climate palm trees need, let’s move on to the hardiest palm trees and see if any can survive in a city that never sleeps.

Cold Hardy Palm Trees That May Grow In New York

Leaves of palm trees covered with snow, unusual weather on the adriatic coast in january 2017

Some palm trees can survive cold temperatures and even snow. Crazy, right? Five species of palm trees are pretty cold-hardy, some even surviving through -15℉!

Don’t get too excited, just because it can survive -15 doesn’t mean it will thrive. Let’s check out the five hardiest palm trees and see if they can survive in New York.

Needle Palm Tree

Needle palms are native to Florida and are endangered in the wild. Their name wasn’t given randomly. The leaves of the needle palm are pretty sharp!

These prickly palms make an excellent addition to northern landscapes to bring a tropical feel. They can survive in a variety of conditions, making them a perfect match for beginners.

Hardiness zone: Needle palms aren’t considered the hardiest palm out there, but they can survive the most extreme low temperatures. You can find these trees in hardiness zones as low as 5 and as high as zone 11.

Sun: Needle palm can tolerate full sun or shade, but it prefers shaded areas such as beneath a tree.

Soil conditions: In the wild, needle palms grow on shady slopes with moist soil, but they can adapt to dry and even drought conditions once they are established. 

Height: When mature, needle palms are more shrub than a tree. They grow to a maximum height of six feet and have a six-foot spread as well.

Can grow the needle palm tree grow in New York?: Yes.

European Fan Palm Tree

This cold-hardy palm tree can be grown as a shrub or as a small tree. European fan palms may also go by the name Mediterranean palm, but rest assured they are the same tree. They can even be grown indoors if you like a tropical look in your house!

All ‘fan’ palms have similar leaves that fan out like, well, a fan. They’re the branches you see in the movies that people would wave at pharaohs and kings and queens to cool them off.

Hardiness zone: Although the European fan palm is considered cold-hardy, New York is a little too cold for this palm. It can survive in temperatures of 10℉ or more. This coincides with a possible zone 8, but more comfortably a zone 9 or higher.

Sun: European fan palms thrive in full sun or partial shade. They need at least 4-6 hours of sun tanning to be healthy happy trees. If you notice your palm starting to thin out with fewer leaves and more stems, it’s probably getting too much shade.

Soil conditions: In terms of soil conditions, the European fan palm can withstand nearly any PH level. They do well in sandy soils but require good drainage as wet soils can rot the roots.

Height: Since these palms can be grown indoors, they can be as small as you like. If you let them grow to their max, they’ll reach a size of about 15ft and have a spread up to 20ft. 

Can grow the European Fan Palm Tree Grow In New York?: Yes if planted in a pot and brought inside during the winter months.

Pindo Palm Tree

The pindo palmaeur(tm)s other common name is jelly palm

This palm goes by many names! Jelly, Pindo, Yatay, and Brazilian Butia Palm just to name a few. A cold-hardy palm, pindo palms can survive cold snaps of 15℉ according to North Carolina State University.

Hardiness zone: Pindo palms aren’t as cold-hardy as some of the other palms on our list. It can grow in zones 8b to 10a.

Sun: This many-named palm tree requires full sun and cannot tolerate very much shade.

Soil conditions: The fertile soils of New York City and Long Island would do well for this palm, which requires a high organic content in the soil to thrive.

Height: The pindo palm can grow as tall as 20 feet and reach a maximum width of 15 feet.

Can grow the pindo palm tree grow in New York?: No

Saw Palmetto Palm Tree

Remember our good ol’ cabbage palms from earlier? Well, the correct name for a cabbage palm is a saw palmetto palm tree. These trees are pretty recognizable and might remind you of Jurassic Park.

Hardiness zone: Saw palmettos thrive in zones 8a to 11. Temperatures must average above 10℉.

Sun: These bushy palm trees prefer the sun, but have adapted to living in the light shade by making their leaves longer, wider, and more numerous. This gives the plant access to as much sunlight as possible.

Soil conditions: Saw palmettos are not picky about their soil. They can grow in both acidic and alkaline soils and prefer any soil type except clay.

Height: Sometimes you can find the saw palmetto wider than it is tall. They can reach a max of 5 feet wide and grow between 3 and 6 feet tall. The saw palmetto is a slow-growing plant.

Can grow the saw palmetto palm tree grow in New York?: No

Windmill Palm Tree

Trachycarpus fortunei palms in bloom

The mother of all cold-hardy palm trees, the windmill palm can survive freezing temperatures and grows as far north as New York!

Windmill palms are the largest tree on our list of five cold-hardy palm trees. It is an evergreen tree that provides bountiful materials to locals such as rope, thatched roofs, brushes, and hats.

Hardiness zone: These hardy palms can thrive in zones 7b to 11.

Sun: Windmill palms prefer partial shade, but in the colder climates (like New York) they do well in full sun to keep them warm and happy.

Soil conditions: LIke the saw palmetto, windmill palms are not picky about their soil except for one condition – they can’t grow in soggy soil. It must be well-drained.

Height: Windmill palms can grow as tall as 40 feet high and 10 feet across. Their height makes them susceptible to wind damage, so be sure to plant them on the south side of buildings, away from the wind.

Can grow the windmill palm tree grow in New York?: Yes

Signs Of Cold-Damaged Palm Trees

Now that you know what kind of palm trees you can and can’t plant in New York, it’s time to discuss what the symptoms are of a cold-damaged plant. This can be helpful if you notice something off about your palm tree after a particularly cold night.

Some signs of palm tree damage to look out for after a few cold days include:

  • Leaf discoloration
  • Leaf necrosis
  • Trunk damage caused by secondary fungi
  • Canopy collapse
  • Peeling bark

You can try to help reduce cold damage by insulating your palms with some sort of mulch or straw. One great example is this Double F Farms Natural Organic Straw.

Some of these symptoms will appear days after, but others (like trunk damage) may take months to show any symptoms.

Summary

Now that you’ve invested a couple of thousand words on cold-hardy palm trees, let’s recap some important information.

Palm trees thrive in tropical climates but can survive in a wide range of conditions, including the cold. While there are tons of different species of palm trees, there are only a few that are cold-hardy.

New York provides rich soils but is lacking slightly in temperature conditions to support most palm trees. To recap, the palm trees that you can plant in lower New York City and Long Island areas include:

  • Needle Palm Tree
  • European Fan Palm Tree
  • Windmill Palm Tree

It’s not a long list, but it’s something! Go on and give your temperate landscape a tropical twist with one of these three palm trees!

References:

Anthelme, F., Lincango, J., Gully, C., Duarte, N., & Montufar, R. (2011, March). How do anthropogenic disturbances affect the resilience of a keystone palm tree in the threatened Andean cloud forest? Biological Conservation, 144(3), 1059-1067.

Broschat, T. K. (2020, October). Fertilization Improves Cold Tolerance in Coconut Palm. HortTechnology20(5), 4. ml

Oliveira, D., Medeiros, M., Pereira, S., Oliveira, M., Frosi, G., Arruda, E., & Santos, M. (2016, Apr-Jun). Ecophysiological leaf traits of native and exotic palm tree species under semi-arid conditions. Basic Areas75(2).

Sahari, J., Sapuan, S. M., Zainudin, E. S., & Maleque, M. A. (2012). Sugar Palm Tree: A Versatile Plant and Novel Source for Bio fibers, Biomatrices, and Biocomposites. Polymers from Renewable Resources3(2).

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