Cold damage to palm trees in West Central Florida is a common issue that can occur when temperatures drop below freezing. The most common type of palm tree in our area is the native sabal palm, also known as the “cabbage palm,” which is known for its tolerance to cold temperatures. Cabbage palms are rarely damaged by cold here, but palms more suited for South Florida can have problems.
When temperatures drop below freezing, the water in the cells of the palm tree can freeze and expand, causing the cells to burst. This can cause damage to the trunk, leaves, and fruit of the tree. In severe cases, the tree can die. The damage is usually most severe on young, newly planted trees that have not yet had time to establish a deep root system. The extent of the damage from cold temperatures can vary depending on the duration of the freeze and the specific type of palm tree. Many times the damage does not become evident until weeks after the freeze event.
One of the best ways to protect your palm trees from cold damage is to provide them with proper care and maintenance. This includes watering them deeply and regularly, especially during dry periods. Proper fertilization with a quality palm fertilizer and mulching can also help to improve the tree’s overall health, making it more resilient to cold temperatures. Another important factor in protecting sensitive varieties of palm trees from cold damage is to be aware of the forecasted temperatures, especially during the winter months. If a hard freeze is forecasted, take steps to protect your trees, such as covering them with frost blankets or other protective materials if possible.
Species of palms we see damaged by severe cold temperatures in Hernando County include:
Queen Palm- Technically Hernando County is a bit too far north for these fast growing tropical palms. They survive most winters with no issues, but if our temperatures dip into the teens they may be damaged. Look for vertical cracks in the bark with sap leakage.
Pygmy Date Palm (Roebelenii)- These are the common palms that come in groups of three. They are only cold hardy to 30 degrees, so they suffer some leaf damage most winters. The brown, damaged leaves can be pruned off in the spring and most recover the next summer.
Bismarck Palm- These are the huge palms with blue-green foliage and they are South Florida palms. There are some here in Hernando County, and they are impressive, but they lose at least a few leaves every winter.
Foxtail, Christmas and Coconut Palms- These are true tropical palms and if planted outside they will most likely die over the winter. Your best bet is to place them in a protected spot in the yard, cover well on cold nights and hope for the best!
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert
Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.