Getting a tropical feel in a UK garden is easier than you might think – choosing some hardy palm trees you can grow in the UK is a good place to start.
Palm trees may hail from much warmer climes. But there are a surprising number that can grow rather well in many UK gardens.
There are a number of different hardy palms that can grow well in our climate. Some of the best options for those looking for a tropical garden feel are listed below:
1. Brahea armata (Mexican Blue Palm)
The Mexican Blue palm, Brahea armata, is, as the name suggests, native to Mexico.
It is an attractive though slow-growing palm with fan-shaped canopies of blueish-green leaves and tassel-like flowers. It will grow well in a well-drained alkaline soil in full sun, and is hardy enough to survive outdoors in a temperate climate.
However, young plants will need some protection over winter, and gardeners in chillier or wetter areas may wish to consider growing this palm in a container so it can be moved to a conservatory over the winter months.
The Mexican blue palm can be planted any time between May and September, and will flower over the summer months with its long panicles of vibrant yellow flowers, which are followed by yellowish-brown fruits.
This palm is hardy in the right spot down to around -8°C.
2. Butia capitata (Jelly Palm)
The jelly palm is one of the hardiest feather palms available for UK gardeners.
These can be grown outside in a sunny spot in sheltered spaces, and are even suitable for growing on heavier clay soils which are not suitable for most other hardy palms.
It can tolerate light frosts and sometimes even survive temperatures down to around -10°C.
Native to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, this attractive palm has graceful leaves which form a dense, full crown and create a gently weeping effect.
If you are trying to create an edible tropical style planting scheme then this is the best palm to opt for.
The orangey-yellow fruits which appear after the flower spikes are edible. They are around the size of dates and have a sweet, pineapple-like or apricot-like flavour.
3. Chamaerops humilis (Dwarf Fan Palm)
The dwarf fan palm can grow over six feet tall, forming dramatic clumps of fanned leaves.
One particular type to consider is the var. argentea variant, which grows in the Altas mountains of Morocco. It has blueish-silver leaves.
‘Vulcano’ is another good cultivar of this hardy palm to consider.
This is one other option to consider where there is a heavy clay soil, or where you are growing in partial shade.
This is also a good option for somewhat less sheltered locations, since it is rather wind resistant.
It can tolerate temperatures, when mature and in good health, of down to as low as -12°. Small yellowy flowers are sometimes born on mature plants.
4. Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm)
The Chilean wine palm is very slow-growing, but can eventually grow to around 5m in height in mild areas.
It is hardy, in a sunny, sheltered and protected site, with free-draining soil, to about -14°C. But is intolerant of cold or windy locations.
This palm has a cracked greyish trunk that can resemble an elephant’s trunk, and large leaves made up of a number of small narrow leaflets in greenish-yellow to darker green shades.
Even in cooler areas where this palm can not be grown outdoors year-round, it can still be placed in a container to move into a conservatory or indoors over the winter months.
Purple and yellow flowers in summer are then followed by dull yellow, woody fruits.
Where the fruit forms, it can be candied, and the seeds have a pleasant nutty flavour when raw, though are typically only produced after as many as 60 years.
5. Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Date Palm)
If you would like to see results more quickly then this is a faster-growing feather palm that could potentially grow well in the south in a sunnier and well-drained spot. These can form stout trunks and spread out their leaves which can grow up to 5m in length.
It can cope with partial shade as long as it is growing in a well-drained, acidic or neutral loam.
In most UK gardens, it will need some form of protection, or must be moved indoors during the winter months.
Though in the right spot it can be hardy down to around -8°C, it can also be grown in a conservatory or in a bright room indoors all year round.
6. Rhapidophyllum hystrix (Needle Palm)
This palm is interesting for southern city gardens in a sheltered south or west facing position, where the heat island effect causes hot summer temperatures.
It does need summer sun to mature successfully, but interestingly, can also cope with winter lows of down to -15°C. It grows very slowly, but can eventually form clumps of attractive leaves to 1m in height.
Even when the plant is killed to the ground in a particularly cold winter, it can still sometimes come back even from a hard freeze due to its suckering growth habit.
7. Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan Palm)
Even in areas where other hardy palms will not thrive, the Chusan palm can be a good option to consider. It can be grown outdoors year-round across much of the UK, though its foliage may be damaged by strong winds in more cold and northerly, particularly exposed sites.
This palm can survive a lot. It can be hardy down to -15°C, and can tolerate heavier soils, and even some shade. But will still do best in a sheltered post, facing south of west ideally.
This palm also grows a little more quickly than many of the other hardy palm trees on this list.
8. Trachycarpus wagnerianus (Dwarf Chusan Palm)
In areas where the leaves of the Chusan palm may be damaged by strong wind exposure, this dwarf varietal may be a better option.
This is a closely related palm that looks alike and performs similarly. But it has stiffer and thicker leaves which makes it a better choice for somewhat more exposed locations.
9. Trithrinax campestris (Caranday Palm)
The Caranday palm is another option which may work well in a somewhat windier spot.
It has blue-green leaves in fan shapes which can also be rather wind tolerant.
It is a palm that is rather easy to grow, though it should be noted that like some others on this list, it grows only slowly.
In the right setting, with sun and warmth, it can be hardy down to around -12°C in winter.
It can grow to an eventual height of around 5m.
10. Washingtonia filifera (Washington Palm)
This is the tallest and fastest growing palm on this list. It should be noted however that its height and fast speed of growth means that it may not be the best choice for a smaller garden.
If you have a large garden, which is sheltered, out of strong winds, warm and largely frost-free, then this could be another choice to consider.
It is believed to tolerate some sub-freezing conditions, but is not generally hardy below around -5°C. So this is probably only an option for certain more southern gardens.
But where it will grow, it can be a dramatic and impressive choice, immediately whisking off you and any garden visitors to the sunny shores of California, and the Southwest of the USA.
Hardy palms are not always the easiest plants to grow successfully in UK gardens. The most common problem, of course, is winter damage. If this occurs, the damaged growth should be removed in the spring, and the plants should be tended carefully and fertilised to maintain good health and air recovery.
But since palms have only one growing point at the top, palms will not be able to regrow from lower down. So if the palm does not recover before late summer, unfortunately, it has probably bitten the dust and you will need to replace it.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.