Palms a dramatic addition to local landscapes _lowres

**FILE** Rows of Palm trees are seen in Elysian Park in Los Angeles in this Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 file photo. The tall, skinny palm trees that have come to define Los Angeles will be replaced with native species as they die of old age and disease. The City Council on Monday, Nov. 13, 2006 agreed to replace the trees with oaks, sycamores and other native species that provide more shade and are native to Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

If you always thought it was folly to plant anything in the heat of the summer, you may need to adjust your outlook. Experts say summer is the ideal time to plant one of the most dramatic contributors to local landscapes — a palm.

“Palms are natives of warm environments around the globe, and so they like to be put in the ground when the soil is warm,” said John Benton, of Bayou Tree Service. “Their roots will flourish.”

Not every home or public environment is right for a palm, nor is every palm right for the home or public landscape.

“Cold hardiness is one of the most important factors to consider,” Benton said. “Many palms, like the popular Queen palm, are barely cold hardy at all and will suffer even in some of our milder freezes. Others have acclimated and adapted a bit and can do better than others when the temperature declines.”

Other considerations are the height of the palm and span of the fronds as it matures. These are factors that will impact where the palm is planted.

“We have had to transplant palms when they get tall enough that the fronds start rubbing on the roofs of houses, so palms should be planted well away from a house,” he said. “Some people buy palms when they are young because they like the low-profile of the fronds; they don’t think about the fact that many can grow 8 to 10 inches a year here and eventually cause roof damage.”

In recent decades, palms have become popular landscape elements in many public projects, including on Canal Street and along South Claiborne Avenue.

“I think they have been chosen for their dramatic and majestic appearance,” Benton said. “But you don’t need to install a Medjool date palm to get the look of a tropical or subtropical environment at home. There are plenty more that work better in residential applications.”

One aesthetic factor for homeowners to keep in mind is whether they prefer the look of a palmate or pinnate frond. Palmate are those fronds that are wide and flat and resemble a fan. Pinnate fronds look like feathers, with long, narrow leaflets lining a central spine.

Benton said one or more of the palms described below may be ideal for your home or office. If you decide on a larger variety, he cautioned, choose a reputable tree company to install it properly to ensure the best outcome and protect your investment.

If you like palmate (fan-shaped) leaves:

Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei):

  • Good for smaller areas because they are slow growing and have smaller crowns but can grow to 40 feet
  • Fronds are about 3 feet in diameter and held out about a foot or two from the trunk on petioles with sharp teeth
  • More cold hardy than some others
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 8A-11

Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis):

  • Moderately slow growing and suited to smaller areas
  • Reaches heights of 8 to 20 feet
  • Trunk often covered with old leaf bases
  • Fronds held somewhat upright on trunk do not droop
  • Can grow in clumps
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 8-10

Chinese fan palm (Livistonia chinensis)

  • Fronds 4 to 6 feet wide on trunks that can reach 30 feet
  • Leaf bases tend to cling to trunk for a while before fronds fall off
  • Fronds tend to droop and create the look of a fountain
  • Grow at a moderate rate
  • Tolerate part shade
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 9-11, but hardy in Zone 8 if grown in a sheltered location

Palmetto (Sabal minor)

  • A Louisiana native most commonly seen growing in swamps or low, moist areas
  • Also known as dwarf palmetto
  • Grows only 6 to 8 feet tall but requires a lot of room because of the spread of the fronds
  • Can take a good bit of shade
  • White flowers on stalks appear in late spring and early summer
  • Can take a little more cold than some others
  • Works well as an underplanting beneath taller palms or trees
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 8-10

Washingtonia palm (Washingtonia robusta)

  • A true giant, this palm can grow to 80 feet in the course of its lifetime
  • Consider ultimate height when planting
  • Also known as Mexican fan palm
  • There are the 100 foot tall specimens seen in images of Los Angles, some dating to 1875
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 9-11

If you like the pinnate (feather like) fronds:

Canary Island date Palm (Phoenix canariensis)

  • Huge spread as individual fronds can be up to 15 feet long, accounting for a diameter of 30 feet
  • Grow tall (up to 60 feet)
  • Often seen as specimens in the Garden District
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 9A-11

Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera, includes Medjool)

  • Looks similar to Canary Island palms
  • Seen locally planted in public spaces, especially downtown
  • Cultivated for its fruit
  • Leaf scars on trunk create interesting pattern and textures
  • USDA HARDINESS: Zones 9-11

Information supplemented by the LSU AgCenter web site,

R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at rstephanie