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Trachycarpus fortunei in zones 9 and warmer


JMBreland

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In preparation for the palm segment of the "Ornamental Grasses and Their Cousins" garden tour at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, I'm realizing that I don't really have a clear answer why Trachycarpus fortunei, windmill palm, tend to not do well in zones 9 and warmer.

It is known in palm circles that windmills prefer cooler climates, love clayey soils, and appreciate some shade in zones 8 and warmer, so I realize heat is a factor. Yet, I don't believe that is all of it. I have seen healthy specimens in warm locales. Dr. Wilcox suggested that nematodes are the culprit. For the southeastern US, the areas that are zones 9 and warmer are coastal areas and peninsular Florida. The soils there are sandy and such soils support high populations of nematodes. So, naturally, one would be tempted to conclude it's the heat. I want to know how windmills perform in the zones 9 and warmer areas where the soils are not sandy, such as Houston and New Orleans.

I suspect that planting a windmill "high" with the root initiation zone a few inches above the soil line in sandy soils helps improve its performance. All the healthy specimens I've seen were sitting high above the soil line. Do you share the same observations?

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Jeremy Breland
itinerant public garden horticulturist
A native of the US Gulf Coast: USDA hardiness zone 8b-9b; AHS heat zone 8-9, Sunset climate zone 28; Trewartha climate classification: Cf-humid subtropical; Hot and humid summers with occasional droughts, warm and wet winters punctuated by cold snaps.

Currently in New Orleans, LA, zone 9b, heat zone 8

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Yes. I have around 40 or so windmills left in a small field on the edge of a creek foodplain, partial shade from live oaks. The soil is a sandy top horizon with a clayey-sand soil about 16-18 inches below. The windmills roots hit that second horizon and took off and I always suspected it was because of the high water table.

I have been told by a few contractors that they are the some of the nicest windmills they have seen in Florida. I have some others planted in full sun in typical sandy Florida soil and those windmills are notorious for up and dying and looking sickly at times with the others in a different location looking fine.All of the variables (water, fertilizer, etc) are the same for all fields. All of these are planted normal along the soil line.

So I tend to lean more towards soils than anything else. I find the high planting interesting... maybe a nemacide application would help as well?

Edited by bbrantley
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I'm here in California in Zone 9b (last winter 9a) and we only have one trachy, but they are grown all over the Bay area near me and are commonly found in the nurseries. I'm inland, so dry except for winter, and temps inland during the summer are generally hot with low humidity--quite different from your sandy soils and hot summer humidity. Our ground in this area has some clay, although our soil here drains fairly well. Our trachy sits in the sun most of the day (mid fence line situated between two houses and near other palms and trees). It's probably my least favorite palm in our yard and doesn't always look nice IMO. Tips and fronds typically have browning on them, probably needing more water than we give it and our low summer humidity and winds probably contribute to the browning. It's on a drip system and we play around with its needs by adding hand watering during the summer/fall. We think it helps but haven't seen any improvment we would call dramatic. It flowers pretty regularly. I think our neighbor's trachy (believe it's also a fortunei but not sure) looks better than ours and seems to maintain stiff fronds that hold up better in the windier location it's in (corner apex of 4 neighbors yards). Both palms are along the same fenceline however and not very far apart. Apart from drying fronds can't say it has any health issues though. The neighbor's trachy has a fairly thick hairy trunk, ours has been skinned. Don't know if that plays into the frond difference between our two.

If it's not sandy soil and fast drainage maybe a bigger factor is your hot, humid environment stressing the palm and the degree of air circulation? With all the extra trunk protection they have I can see why naturally they do better in colder climate zones. I have heard that nematodes are a problem in your area of the country.

Zone 9b (formerly listed as Zone 9a); Sunset 14

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Have a hard time growing them on the beach sand here (cold 9a) . Just 40 miles to the north they grow great in red clay (Warm 8b).

Princeps and Waggies seem to do better in sand.

David Simms zone 9a on Highway 30a

200 steps from the Gulf in NW Florida

30 ft. elevation and sandy soil

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Found this great thread that covers the same topic:

http://www.palmtalk.org/forum/index.php?/topic/22769-trachycarpus/

Jeremy Breland
itinerant public garden horticulturist
A native of the US Gulf Coast: USDA hardiness zone 8b-9b; AHS heat zone 8-9, Sunset climate zone 28; Trewartha climate classification: Cf-humid subtropical; Hot and humid summers with occasional droughts, warm and wet winters punctuated by cold snaps.

Currently in New Orleans, LA, zone 9b, heat zone 8

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I had a Trachycarpus fortunei in Houston for 25 years. It croaked one summer rather rapidly due to an unknown cause. The palm was in clay soil and was in afternoon shade. I never did notice any heat problems and the palm was carefree. Looking around Houston I see ones that look nice and others that look beatup. I don't belive that these palms look their best in Houston when in full sun or in a windy location. Mine looked attractive with morning sun and and a somwhat wind proteded location. We have spells that can last a couple of weeks in Houston with temps in the upper 90s and lows of 80. More usual are mid 90s and upper 70s for a couple of months in mid summer.

Ed in Houston

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Thank you, Ed. That's exactly what I'm looking for. Houston is a solid zone 9, but thanks to its clay soils, windmills do well.

  • Like 1

Jeremy Breland
itinerant public garden horticulturist
A native of the US Gulf Coast: USDA hardiness zone 8b-9b; AHS heat zone 8-9, Sunset climate zone 28; Trewartha climate classification: Cf-humid subtropical; Hot and humid summers with occasional droughts, warm and wet winters punctuated by cold snaps.

Currently in New Orleans, LA, zone 9b, heat zone 8

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Sorry for taking a little while to submit a proper response to your posts, westcoastgal, David, and Brantley.

Westcoastgal, as you might have figured from subsequent posts, humidity is not an issue with windmills. Since you're in a drier area of the bay area, you might have better success with yours if you plant one in partial shade. The best looking windmills around here are in partial shade.

David, your observation about waggies and princeps is interesting. I'll have to order a few of those to trial at the zoo. I know for a fact that windmills are not salt-tolerant and not happy in windy locales so they don't do well on the immediate coast. I've seen some really sad plantings on the beach in Pensacola. Makes me almost want to cry.

Brantley, your observation is very interesting. It's possible that the clay horizon provides a low-nematode environment where the roots can remain healthy and grow fine feeder rootlets without disruption from nematode feeding.

Jeremy Breland
itinerant public garden horticulturist
A native of the US Gulf Coast: USDA hardiness zone 8b-9b; AHS heat zone 8-9, Sunset climate zone 28; Trewartha climate classification: Cf-humid subtropical; Hot and humid summers with occasional droughts, warm and wet winters punctuated by cold snaps.

Currently in New Orleans, LA, zone 9b, heat zone 8

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  • 1 year later...

I have T. fortunei that were put in with original house landscaping as very small (maybe 2ft.) trees in 2000. Our soil is basically pure sand. They can be a little finicky in this soil and hot climate I think. A couple in the front yard that died within the first 2 years. Interestingly, we tried replacing those that died with more, but those died too (think there maybe was toxic chemicals in the soil from the construction of the house). Anyway, they have grown quite a bit now. And as older trees, they seem to be a little more susceptible to getting yellowed/brown leaves near the bottom (maybe as their roots grow deeper into the poor soil).

2004

56b3aa268c388_2004-Copy(2).jpg.0c17b18e1

2008

56b3a9c204e62_MemorialDayFun016.thumb.jp

2015 (this one gets the most sun)

4b5d0d.jpg

During 2014 ice storm (of course it remained undamaged)

622b6b.jpg

Here's the tallest growing of all of ours (2015). Right before this picture was taken, we had a large, rapidly growing oak taken out right on the other side of that fence. In the last several years, the canopy of the palm started to get buried in the oak. It really seemed to like the shade though, and a little while after we removed the oak, the palm just stopped growing, and a few months later, about half of the lower leaves turned brown. It looked like it was going to die. We trimmed those brown leaves, and it surprisingly isn't losing anymore, but doesn't seem to be growing basically at all. I think it suffered being transitioned to full sun. It would seem that windmills benefit from some shade.

8a83bf.jpg

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On 12/2/2014, 2:16:20, Alicehunter2000 said:

Have a hard time growing them on the beach sand here (cold 9a) . Just 40 miles to the north they grow great in red clay (Warm 8b).

 

Princeps and Waggies seem to do better in sand.

I've noticed that too. Destin Commons used to have 3 planted near one of their main entrances (the one on the road leading to the Mid-Bay Bridge) that were there for years. They did somewhat ok, but their canopies were always about half the size of a healthy one. Besides those, I really can't think of any I've seen near the beaches that are very old or healthy for that matter.

Edited by Opal92
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They really do not mind heat or sun, if they have water. They love water.

Our summers here are very, very hot, but they are growing just fine.

My largest one, in full sun, in warm mediterranean.

P9010200.jpg

 

Edited by Cikas
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Another example...

rsz_pc090154.jpg

rsz_pc090161.jpg

rsz_pc090166.jpg

rsz_pc090167.jpg

rsz_pc090168.jpg

They just need alot of water. They are not drought-resistant at all. Also they like soil with alot of humus.

rsz_pc090158.jpg

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There are some nice looking ones in houston, but some look awful, and are in area in which they are neglected.  Windmills just aren't used very much at all in houston.   I've found that they are heavy feeders and the wind really shreds them here.  Some of the nicest ones are on the Riverwalk in San antonio which is 9b. 

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While traveling I've noticed some perfect Trachycarpus in Lousiana near Baton Rouge. I think they have clay soil which helps them survive in the heat. Clay doesn't warm up like sand. 

Los Angeles, CA and Myrtle Beach, SC.

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Zone 9. Here are 2 older and a new T.fortunei var. wagnerianus with some other palms and cycad

DSCN8518.JPG

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Carambeí, 2nd tableland of the State Paraná , south Brazil.

Alt:1030m. Native palms: Queen, B. eriospatha, B. microspadix, Allagoptera leucocalyx , A.campestris, Geonoma schottiana, Trithrinax acanthocoma. Subtr. climate, some frosty nights. No dry season. August: driest month. Rain:1700mm

 

I am seeking for cold hardy palms!

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On 12/3/2014, 7:01:37, Ed in Houston said:

I had a Trachycarpus fortunei in Houston for 25 years. It croaked one summer rather rapidly due to an unknown cause. The palm was in clay soil and was in afternoon shade. I never did notice any heat problems and the palm was carefree. Looking around Houston I see ones that look nice and others that look beatup. I don't belive that these palms look their best in Houston when in full sun or in a windy location. Mine looked attractive with morning sun and and a somwhat wind proteded location. We have spells that can last a couple of weeks in Houston with temps in the upper 90s and lows of 80. More usual are mid 90s and upper 70s for a couple of months in mid summer.

 

Ed in Houston

Interesting - I had exactly the same thing happen to 3 of my mature WIndmills.  My yard's in central Austin in black clay, with lots of partial shade.  I planted these guys as 3-gallon pots in three different parts of my yard.  Each one grew like a rocket for the next 18-21 years, each reaching about 10-12 feet of trunk.  Then each one abruptly died in different years, at different times of year.  Same pattern each time - spear leaf turned brown first, then the next youngest leaf, and so on.

I've been baffled about this for a while.  Summer heat was no problem, they grew fast all season since they weren't in full sun (those that I see in fun sun in central Texas usually look pretty sad).  No standing water problems.  I never stripped the burlap from the trunks or did anything else unusual to them.

Lately I've begun to suspect the Ox Beetle (Strategus aloeus), since last summer I found one of their burrows, along with the carcass of a dead adult, next to the base of a 3-year old Windmill I'd planted to replace one of the departed.  That specimen is now dying in the same way.

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  • 4 months later...
On February 4, 2016 at 9:40:02 PM, Cikas said:

They really do not mind heat or sun, if they have water. They love water.

Our summers here are very, very hot, but they are growing just fine.

My largest one, in full sun, in warm mediterranean.

P9010200.jpg

 

 

On February 6, 2016 at 11:56:31 AM, Brad Mondel said:

While traveling I've noticed some perfect Trachycarpus in Lousiana near Baton Rouge. I think they have clay soil which helps them survive in the heat. Clay doesn't warm up like sand. 

@Cikassuggests it could be water availability since clayey soils hold more water than sandy soils. Anyone's observed windmills performing well in sandy soils with high water table? Brad suggests it has to do with soil temperatures. I have heard that planting one near where its roots can grow underneath something such as pavement helps improve its success in hot climates. Observations? Thoughts?

Jeremy Breland
itinerant public garden horticulturist
A native of the US Gulf Coast: USDA hardiness zone 8b-9b; AHS heat zone 8-9, Sunset climate zone 28; Trewartha climate classification: Cf-humid subtropical; Hot and humid summers with occasional droughts, warm and wet winters punctuated by cold snaps.

Currently in New Orleans, LA, zone 9b, heat zone 8

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  • 1 month later...

Here's my little Trachy, today, about 10 years in the ground.  It's grown decently, though I wonder whether leaves are lasting as long as they should.  An Acoelorrhaphe wrightii (paurotis) that's a bit visible to its rear, has vastly outstripped it in growth, going from seedlings to flowering from 2003 to 2016.   The site is partially shaded by a laurel oak and gets some extra water from runoff from the roof (and a nearby drain spout).

For a comparison, a Google Street View, dated April 2016 from Stark Street, Mt. Tabor, Portland, Oregon.  The trachy was an end-of-the-season clearance bargain, almost free, from Fred Meyer supermarket about 1998.  It was planted at the base of a slope on the logic that the site would be somewhat protected from cold, and would be reasonably moist with no irrigation.  It will have received little or no attention other than clipping old leaves.  \

Trachycarpus Aug 2016 (1 of 1).jpg

Trachycarpus Tabor Heights Apr 2016 copy 2.jpg

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Fla. climate center: 100-119 days>85 F
USDA 1990 hardiness zone 9B
Current USDA hardiness zone 10a
4 km inland from Indian River; 27º N (equivalent to Brisbane)

Central Orlando's urban heat island may be warmer than us

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I'll throw my two bits worth in FWIW. I know this topic specifically addresses zone 9 & warmer, but here in 8b PNW troubles can arise too. Far fewer for sure, but I have lost two to drought (yes summer is nearly always very dry in the PNW). My soil is rocky, sandy & gravelly so a poor start for palms in most cases, especially T fortunei. With adequate water in the formative years after planting, roots are eventually able to find (in my case) a moisture source. I rarely water these and have not done so at all this year. We've had more than average summer rain this year although still not a great deal. If rain wasn't forecast for next week, I'd be tempted to water these palms. Thanks for checking these out.

Cheers, Barrie.

 

 

T.fortunei001.jpg

T.fortunei002.jpg

T.fortunei003.jpg

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  • 1 year later...

20171231_164728.thumb.jpg.45fe8e2c636841

 

I know you said 9a+ but this one is in a humid subtropic area that's practically a glorified sand bar. Seems to do fine on neglect, but makes me wonder if maybe it's a combination of effects that kill windmills. 

LOWS 16/17 12F, 17/18 3F, 18/19 7F, 19/20 20F

Palms growing in my garden: Trachycarpus Fortunei, Chamaerops Humilis, Chamaerops Humilis var. Cerifera, Rhapidophyllum Hystrix, Sabal Palmetto 

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