The Big D
by Tony Cerbone, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.
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Chamaerops No. 45, published online 29-01-2003
From left to right:
- Beautifully colored Sabal uresana from Mexico.
- A small Brahea armata among other Palms in the Cerbone garden.
- View of the Cerbone garden from the street, Trachycarpus fortunei and Washingtonia filifera on the left.
Photos: Tony Cerbone
Palm trees in Dallas, Texas! Most people, when thinking of the Big D, would rephrase this to
query: Palm trees in Dallas, Texas???? Many of us have preconceived images of certain places and Dallas is of
course one of them. Those kind of folks, when they think of my town, conjure up images of oil wells, cactus,
Cowboys (both those on horseback and the football variety), JR Ewing, HOT summers, big hair, and cowboy boots.
Reality: there is not a drop of oil in Dallas County. JR Ewing is fictitious, but a real celebrity,
George W., did make his millions here in North Texas. In addition, palm trees not only grow here but are natives!
Dallas is located about 300 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and has a continental climate. This
means that it is prone to wide swings in temperature because we dont have a huge body of water to help
moderate things. So averages are just that, and the reality is that it is best to describe the climate in generalities.
An extremely wet, hot, cold, or dry year can be followed by the extreme opposite the following year. Dallas
has a growing season that is a warm, humid, subtropical type, with an abundance of rain in spring, summer drought
with high prolonged heat, followed by a return of rain in the fall.
This transitional climate allows North Texan gardeners to take advantage of a unique gardening
experience. It is hot and dry enough in the summer for Southwestern natives like cactus, agaves, yuccas, Chihuahua
desert flowers, and desert palms to thrive. With our lush springs, and with supplemental water provided during
dry spells, plants from the Southeast are as pleased as punch. Fall brings spectacular fall color! This display
comes not only from native trees but also from imported varieties brought in to enhance the original prairies.
Winters have enough chill to allow more northern associated plantslike apple treesto grow and thrive.
Overall, we have four distinct seasons.
Dallas, in general, has long, hot summers with an average of 15 days per year where the temperature
will reach 100°F (38°C). This extended period of heat (accompanied by very little rain) is great for
most cold hardy palms, provided water is supplied on a regular basis. Spring and autumn are long, and are the
times when the most precipitation (38 in. / 965 mm per year) occurs. Winters are mild with brief cold spells
usually not lasting more than three days at a time. Extreme cold temperatures can occur, and that is one of
the limiting factors in palm cultivation in north Texas.
For long-term palm culture there is a way to overcome these periodic cold snaps: select the
appropriate varieties and utilize microclimates. The palms that grow the fastest in Dallas are the Washingtonias
and Trachycarpus fortunei. So, by planting these particular species within 10 ft. of a wall, fence, or some
other wind blocking structure and providing them with regular water during the summer, it is possible to achieve
long-term success here in USDA zone 8. The majority of the metro area (population five million) is zone 8a,
but using a protected microclimate and being located within the citys urban heat island means that zone
8b and 9a winter lows can be achieved. In the past 12 years winter lows have fallen between 11°F (-12°C)
and 25°F (-4°C) in these protected areas. My yard is one of these areas. My results and observations,
therefore, are not typical for zone 8a.
Ive had my garden for the past 15 years and have had lots of experience trialing very
exotic and commonly available palm species. The following is a list of what work best for me, and what my experience
with them has revealed.
Washingtonia filifera: needs full sun, and is very drought and high heat tolerant. Produces
over 25 fronds in a season. Leaves dont burn until the temperatures go below 10°F (-12°C), but
are susceptible to ice and snow damage.
Trachycarpus fortunei: does best in afternoon shade, and is very fast growing with regular
water, producing over 25 fronds a season.
Sabal minor: will grow in sun, shade, part sun, and grows to its largest size in habitat
in Dallas fertile, black, slightly alkaline clay soils.
Brahea armata: needs full sun, is a stunning powder blue color, produces about 8 fronds
a season, and has leaves very resistant to ice and snow.
Sabal x texensis (Brazoria county) and Sabal minor var. louisiana: requirements
similar to Sabal minor. Its very cold hardy, does well in heat, and is resistant to ice.
Sabal mexicana and S. palmetto: need full sun and are slow growers, producing only about
5-8 fronds a season.
Other palms that are doing well in Dallas include Phoenix dactylifera (fast-growing and
very surprisingly cold tolerant), Chamaerops humilis, Trachycarpus wagnerianus, Jubaea chilensis, Chamaedorea
radicalis, C. microspadix, Nannorrhops ritchiana, and Trachycarpus takil.
Palms that live but dont look their best in Dallas include Livistona chinensis (defoliates
almost every winter but lives through most extreme cold, though doesnt look good until the end of the
growing season) L. saribus, L. decipiens, Sabal rosei and Trachycarpus latisectus.
Palms that shouldnt be attempted in Dallas are Phoenix canariensis and Washingtonia robusta,
as temperatures below 18°F (-8°C) kill them.
My final advice
Use the appropriate recommended palms for your zone for your foundation plantings.
Experiment with other types you enjoy, knowing that you may have to modify their environment.
Protect ALL palms for the first two winters until they have had a chance to become established.
Dont over water, over fertilize or over love them to death! Palms are pretty hardy once they are
Be very cautious about introducing any palm specific pests. If you arent in a major palm-growing
area, dont introduce a pestilence along with a new addition to your palm collection.
Have fun, and try to design your palm garden with beauty and restraint, or your yard will end up looking
like minea jungle out-of-control!
So... rebuke those fire ants and killer bees and make Lady Bird Johnsons heart swell with
pride and plant your corner of the Northcentral Texas prairie with a palm! Bubba wont know the difference
between a Sabal and a Bradford pear anyway!
Dont forget to check out my website at:
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