Dreaming of sipping a cocktail under the shade of a tall palm that is gently blowing in the wind? Elegant windmill palms can help create a tropical environment in your very own backyard!
All about windmill palms
Windmill palms take their name from the shape of the symmetrical leaves that shower from the top of the single elegant trunk. This unique form is also reminiscent of a beach umbrella, and windmill palms do provide decent shade when planted together in a line of multiple plants. The term windmill palm is used to refer to the entire genus of 12 plants as well as the most common species in the family. They can reach a height of 40 feet under the right conditions, but, typically will get to between 10 and 20 feet, growing at a rate of between 1-2 feet each year.
Origins of windmill palms
Windmill palms originate in areas of India, Thailand and China, where they commonly grow on steep hills and in rocky areas. Despite looking like they belong on a tropical island, they are actually surprisingly cold tolerant. They are also accustomed to being exposed to chilly and wet weather. Windmill palms can be grown in areas that reach below freezing on occasion. They may even cope with occasional snow. How well they recover from extreme cold spells will be impacted by relative humidity, and the duration of the cold weather and the temperature variation in the days following the cold.
Appearance and uses of windmill palms
Both male and female windmill palms produce yellow or cream colored flowers, while females produce a blue fruit as well. You might select to plant windmill plants as:
• An edging or border tree
• A feature tree
• A plant for an urn or container
• As a focal point in a grassed area
• As a patio plant
Windmill palms are second only to the Needle Palm in terms of ability to withstand cold. This ability is a result of their slow growth which preserves nutrients and energy. The bark also acts as a type of insulation for the trunk. They do prefer generally sunny positions and can tolerate high heat, well about 100F. They prefer not to be planted in deeply shaded areas, especially in coastal areas where they will need that full sun spot. If they don’t receive enough sun they will be unlikely to achieve strong growth rates. In arid climate zones it might be wise to monitor for sun stress. They prefer rich loamy soils.
Watering windmill palms
These plants are accustomed to growing in wet seasons where they receive a high volume of water. But they can also tolerate drier periods. They need good drainage. Avoid excess water on the crown, where it may be caught and causes some rot. In general aim to water three times a week in hot dry climates and once a week in cooler climates where rainfall is also occurring. If your palm is growing in a shady space, monitor it to ensure water is draining properly and that you are avoiding creating a soggy soil which your palm will not benefit from.
Windmill palms require very little care beyond regular watering. It is also easy to grow windmill palms in pots and containers. This would enable you to bring your plant indoors in the event of extreme weather; heat waves and when the temperature reaches below freezing. Repotting would need to be done between every two to four years.
Growing windmill palms in tropical areas may increase the likelihood of rot or fungal problems. Monitor the soil to ensure draining is occurring and take action if not. If your soil is too sandy for your plant to be able to establish in, add some wood shavings or mulch. If you live in a coastal area and notice browning on the leaves, this can be a result of salty moist air, while tattered leaves may be a result from wind damage.
Planting an established plant
The plants can be planted into the soil from April through August, as long as they have achieved a height of 2-3 feet tall. Dig a hole that will comfortably handle the entire root system. Dig wide but not too deep. Burying the root ball too deeply can encourage rot and lead to deficiencies. Place the tree in the hole and spread out the roots. Make sure the base is at the soil level or above, and fill in the soil. Add light layers of soil, applying some pressure in between. Place mulch 2-3 inches around the base leaving a small gap right next to the plant. Then ensure you water heavily on planting.
Planting from seed
It is also possible to plant from seed. Soak your windmill palm seeds in water to help remove the protective coating. Plant the seeds in a palm mixture soil, or make your own with a combination of mineral and organic materials. You might use perlite, sand, moss or compost soil. Plant the seed to a depth that is equivalent to the width of the seed. Keep the seeds warm, between 80 and 95F and monitor closely. You may see some growth in as little as one month, but could be waiting for more than six. Transfer the seedlings to individual containers when the first leaf is around 3 inches long.
Once the plant is established – you can tell because new leaves appear – start a regular regimen of fertilizing. You should be able to find palm fertilizer at your local garden store or nursery. Fertilize from April to August, as far and wide as the span of the leaves. Well-established palms will appreciate fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and potassium.
Although they will fall of their own accord, you may wish to remove the dead fronds. Dead fronds will be brown in color. Fronds that are yellow should be left as they are still providing nutritional support to the plant. Don’t prune windmill palms ahead of windy weather or hurricanes. This is not necessary as the plants are generally wind resistant. And be careful if you are using a ladder to reach top fronds!
The bottom line: Windmill palms will surprise you with their resilience and ability to handle a mixture of conditions that some other plants find difficult. They make a great-looking addition to your garden.