If you’re looking for a low-maintenance yet visually captivating addition to your garden or indoor space, consider planting and growing a windmill palm. These trees, also known as Trachycarpus fortunei, are native to China and are well-suited to a variety of climates.
It’s an extremely hardy palm tree that features a beautiful, compact crown with large, stiff, fan-like green foliage and distinctive hairy black fibers that cover its graceful trunk.
These compact tropical plants have become increasingly popular among gardeners and landscapers due to their exceptional cold-hardiness. They can withstand cold weather as far north as the Pacific Northwest on the West Coast and New York in the East.
One of the reasons windmill palms are sought after by many is their ability to thrive in a wide range of climates. They can withstand temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Centigrade) and even tolerate snow, making them suitable for USDA zones 8a through 11.
In addition to their cold-hardiness, windmill palms can also tolerate salt, allowing them to grow near the coast.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to plant, grow, and care for windmill palm trees.
Botanical Name: Trachycarpus fortunei
Common Name: Windmill palm, Chusan Palm, hemp palm, Nepalese fan palm, and Chinese windmill palm
Plant Type: Evergreen
Hardiness Zones: 8a – 11 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Well-draining
Soil pH: 5.5 – 7.5 (Neutral to slightly acidic)
Mature Size: 10 – 40 ft. tall
Bloom Time: June to July
Flower Color: Yellow, cream, or green
Native Area: China and surrounding regions in Asia
Windmill Palm Care
Windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) are slow-growing trees that can reach up to 40 feet (12 meters) in height, although they will typically grow to around 8-10 feet (2-3 meters). They are characterized by their tall slender trunks, fan-like leaves, and hairy, fibrous trunk coverings that provide insulation against cold temperatures.
Before we dive into the specifics of growing and caring for the windmill palm, let’s first talk about the basics of plant care. Keeping your tree healthy is essential to its growth, so be sure to monitor its needs closely.
One of the most important aspects of plant care is pruning. Regular pruning can help promote healthy growth and prevent disease. When pruning your windmill palm, be sure to remove any dead or damaged fronds, as well as any suckers that may be growing at the base of the tree.
Windmill palms are adaptable to a range of light conditions, but they tend to thrive in partial shade to full sun. If you’re planting your tree in a particularly hot or sunny area, it may benefit from some afternoon shade to protect it from excessive heat and sunburn.
Another way to protect your windmill palm from the sun is to mulch around the base of the tree. Mulch can help retain moisture in the soil and keep the roots cool and protected from the heat.
These trees prefer well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. Avoid planting your palm in soil that’s too heavy or compacted, as this can hinder its growth. If you’re unsure of the quality of your soil, consider adding some compost or other organic material to improve its texture.
It’s also important to avoid planting your windmill palm too deeply. The top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding soil, and the tree should be planted in a hole that’s slightly wider than the root ball.
Like most plants, windmill palms require regular watering, particularly during their first few years of growth. Be sure to water your tree deeply and frequently enough to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. As your palm matures, it will become more drought-tolerant and require less frequent watering.
One way to help conserve water and promote healthy growth is to use a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the roots of the tree, reducing water waste and minimizing the risk of overwatering.
Temperature and Humidity
Windmill palms are surprisingly hardy, and can tolerate temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they do prefer milder temperatures and are most comfortable in climates with a moderate to high degree of humidity.
If you live in an area with cold winters, you may need to protect your windmill palm from frost. One way to do this is to cover the tree with a blanket or other protective material on cold nights.
If you’re looking to give your windmill palm an extra boost, consider using a slow-release fertilizer during its growing season. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully and avoid over-fertilizing, as this can harm the tree.
Another way to promote healthy growth is to add some mycorrhizal fungi to the soil around the base of the tree. Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the tree, helping it absorb nutrients and water more efficiently.
Types of Windmill Palm
Windmill palm, also known as Trachycarpus fortunei, is a type of palm tree that is native to the Himalayan Mountains of China. It is a popular ornamental plant that is widely grown for its attractive foliage, cold hardiness, and ease of care. Several different varieties of windmill palm exist, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are some of the most popular types:
1. Chusan Palm
The Chusan palm, also known as Trachycarpus wagnerianus, is a smaller and more compact version of the windmill palm. It is a slow-growing palm that can reach a height of up to 10 feet, with a spread of 6 to 8 feet.
The Chusan palm has a more rounded and compact crown, with smaller and stiffer leaves than the windmill palm. It is also more cold-hardy than the windmill palm, making it a good choice for colder climates.
2. Nepal Palm
The Nepal palm, also known as Trachycarpus takil, is a rare and exotic palm tree that is native to the mountainous regions of Nepal. It is a tall and slender palm that can grow up to 40 feet in height, with a spread of 10 to 15 feet.
The Nepal palm has a more open and airy crown, with larger and more flexible leaves than the windmill palm. It is also more tolerant of heat and drought than the windmill palm, making it a good choice for warmer and drier climates.
3. Dwarf Windmill Palm
The dwarf windmill palm, also known as Trachycarpus nanus, is a miniature version of the windmill palm. It is a slow-growing palm that can reach a height of up to 6 feet, with a spread of 3 to 4 feet.
The dwarf windmill palm has a more compact and symmetrical crown, with smaller and more delicate leaves than the windmill palm. It is also more adaptable to container gardening than the windmill palm, making it a good choice for small gardens and patios.
Consider which variety will best suit your particular climate and garden layout before making your selection. Whether you choose the Chusan palm, the Nepal palm, or the dwarf windmill palm, you are sure to enjoy the beauty and elegance of this amazing palm tree.
How to Plant and Grow Windmill Palm
I recommend planting your Windmill Palm in an area that receives full-partial sun, which is around 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. And remember that the leaves of your windmill palm are delicate, so it’s best to find a location that doesn’t receive harsh winds since strong winds may shred the leaves of your beautiful palm.
How to Grow Windmill Palm from Seed
The most common way to propagate a windmill palm is through seed. Harvesting the seeds is a relatively simple process. In the fall, look for the fruit of the windmill palm, which is a small, dark berry-like structure that grows in clusters. Remove the fruit pulp from the seeds, being careful not to damage the seeds themselves.
Once you have harvested the seeds, it is important to prepare them for planting. Soak the seeds in water for a few days to encourage germination. This will help to soften the outer shell of the seed, making it easier for the plant to sprout.
When it comes to planting the seeds, it is important to choose the right soil. Windmill palms prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. You can purchase a pre-made soil mix that is designed for palm trees, or you can create your own by mixing together sand, peat moss, and perlite.
When planting the seeds, be sure to bury them at a depth of about 1 inch. Cover the soil with a layer of mulch to help retain moisture. Water the soil thoroughly, and then keep it consistently moist. You may need to water the soil daily, depending on the climate and the amount of sunlight the seeds are receiving.
It may take several weeks or even months for the windmill palm seeds to sprout. Once they do, be sure to give them plenty of sunlight and continue to keep the soil moist. As the plants grow, you may need to transplant them to larger containers or move them to a permanent location in your yard.
How to Pot or Repot Windmill Palm
If you’re interested in growing a windmill palm in a container, here are some tips on how to pot or repot your palm tree.
Choosing the Right Pot
When it comes to choosing the right pot for your windmill palm, you need to make sure that it’s large enough to accommodate the tree’s roots. The pot should be at least 2-3 inches larger in diameter than the root ball of your palm tree. This will give your palm tree enough room to grow and prevent it from becoming root-bound.
It’s also important to choose a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom. This will allow excess water to drain out of the pot, preventing the roots from becoming waterlogged and potentially rotting.
Preparing the Soil
Windmill palms prefer well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. You can use a potting mix that’s specifically formulated for palm trees or make your own by mixing equal parts of peat moss, perlite, and sand.
Before potting your windmill palm, make sure to moisten the soil. This will help prevent the soil from drying out too quickly after potting.
Potting Your Windmill Palm
Once you’ve chosen the right pot and prepared the soil, it’s time to pot your windmill palm. Begin by placing a layer of soil at the bottom of the pot. Then, carefully remove your palm tree from its current pot and gently loosen the roots. Place the palm tree in the new pot and fill the remaining space with soil, making sure to firm it down around the roots.
After potting, water your windmill palm thoroughly. You may need to water it more frequently during the first few weeks to help it establish in its new home. However, be careful not to overwater your palm tree, as this can lead to root rot.
Repotting Your Windmill Palm
If your windmill palm has outgrown its current pot or if the soil has become depleted, it’s time to repot it. The best time to repot your palm tree is during its dormancy period in the winter. This is when the plant is less likely to experience stress from transplanting.
To repot your windmill palm, follow the same steps as potting, but use a slightly larger pot to accommodate the new growth. Be sure to use fresh soil and remove any dead or damaged roots before repotting.
Repotting your windmill palm every 2-3 years can help promote healthy growth and prevent it from becoming root-bound.
By following these tips, you can successfully pot or repot your windmill palm and enjoy its beauty in your home or garden for years to come.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Windmill Palm
One of the most common pests that can affect windmill palms is the spider mite. These tiny pests can be difficult to spot, but they can cause significant damage to the leaves of the palm.
Spider mites thrive in hot, dry conditions, so it’s important to keep your palm well-watered and to provide it with plenty of shade during the hottest parts of the day.
Another pest to watch out for is scale insects. These pests are small and flat, and they can often be found on the undersides of leaves. Scale insects can cause yellowing and wilting of the leaves, and they can also attract ants and other pests to your palm.
To prevent infestations, keep your palm clean and free of debris, and regularly inspect the leaves for signs of pests.
Windmill palms can also be susceptible to a variety of plant diseases, including leaf spot and root rot. Leaf spot is a fungal disease that can cause yellowing and browning of the leaves, as well as the development of dark spots.
This disease is often caused by overwatering or poor drainage, so it’s important to make sure that your palm is not sitting in water and that the soil is well-draining.
Root rot is another fungal disease that can impact windmill palms. This disease is caused by overwatering or poor drainage, and it can cause the roots of the palm to become mushy and decayed.
To prevent root rot, make sure that your palm is planted in well-draining soil, and avoid overwatering.
Other Palm Tree Guides from Planet Natural:
Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.