How to Landscape With Palm Trees in Houston

A two-story home with the American and Texan flags flying, surrounded by tall and short palm trees

Houston, we have a problem. The problem is boring landscapes. Does your yard look the same as all the others in your neighborhood? You can transform your southwestern yard into a tropical oasis with these tips and ideas on how to landscape with palm trees in Houston.

Challenges of Planting Palm Trees in Houston

Planting palm trees in Southeast Texas can be a struggle for two reasons: the climate and the soil.

Houston is in USDA Hardiness Zone 9a, which means temperatures can drop to around 20 degrees in the winter. That’s simply too cold for most palm trees to survive. You have options, though. There are several cold-hardy species of palms that grow well in Houston.

Aside from cold winters, Southeast Texas also has a lot of clay soil, which retains water. Palms prefer sandy soil that drains quickly. Planting palm trees in unaugmented clay soil can drown their roots and quickly kill them. If you have heavy clay soil in your yard, you’ll want to add sand for these tropical plants.

Despite the obstacles, palm trees can thrive in Houston. In fact, Texas has two native palm trees that grow in the wild, the Mexican palmetto (Sabal mexicana) and the dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor).

If palms can grow in the Texan wilderness, they can grow in your yard, too. Here are five ideas on how you can enhance your landscape with palm trees.

1. Plant drought-tolerant palms beside succulents

Succulents and palm trees in front of a blue house
Image Credit: Pikrepo

Succulents are a staple of southwestern gardening. They love full sun and they’re drought-tolerant, making them perfect for Houston’s climate. Some palm trees are the same way.

Planting drought-tolerant palm trees and succulents together in your landscape creates an incredibly low-maintenance garden that’s visually stunning. The hard spines of succulents contrast the feathery texture of palm fronds.

With this landscape design, your yard will still be unmistakably Texan, with just a touch of that tropical feel.

Houston-friendly palms for this landscape design:

  • Mexican palmetto (Sabal mexicana)
  • Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis)
  • Guadalupe palm (Brahea edulis)
  • Chestnut dioon (Dioon edule) (this one is technically not a palm but a cycad)

2. Keep small palm trees in indoor/outdoor pots

Image Credit: Pikist

Planting your small palm trees in containers gives you more flexibility when it comes to cold-hardiness. Just bring your palm trees inside and keep them as houseplants during the winter.

There are lots of options for potted palm trees. You could choose a smaller variety or a slow grower, which can grow large but only after many years.

Potted palm trees are great for gardens of all sizes, even if you live in an urban area and don’t have a yard. You can arrange your container garden around your stoop or on your rooftop.

Houston-friendly palms for this landscape design:

  • Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
  • Fishtail palm (Caryota mitis)
  • Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana)

3. Spruce up your flower bed with a small palm tree

Heart-shaped flower bed with a small palm tree in the center surrounded by shrubs
Image Credit: Pixabay

Everyone loves a classic flower bed with colorful blooms, manicured shrubs, mulch, and maybe some decorative statues. Adding a small palm tree as a focal point can take your flower bed to the next level.

Palm trees make a perfect centerpiece because their fronds arch in every direction. Plant a vibrant rainbow of flowers around the palm to make it really pop. The eastern purple coneflower, Texas Lantana, and Gulf Coast muhly grass are all colorful native Houston plants that would look great surrounding your palm tree.

Houston-friendly palms for this landscape design:

  • Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) (this one is also a cycad)
  • Mazari palm (Nannorrhops ritchiana)
  • Blue Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis var cerifera)
  • McCurtain dwarf palmetto (a cultivar of Sabal minor)

4. Make a privacy hedge out of clumping palm trees

Close-up image of a large bush-like palm
Image Credit: “Chamaerops humilis” by David J. Stang, Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0

If you need a little privacy in your front or backyard but don’t like the look of a traditional fence, a privacy hedge might be for you. Clumping species of palm trees, which grow a thick layer of fronds, can create a natural privacy screen.

A palm tree privacy hedge is also an easy solution if you want some separation between your swimming pool area and the rest of your yard. Palms are good poolside plants because they don’t shed much at all and they have non-invasive roots that won’t damage underground plumbing.

Houston-friendly palms for this landscape design:

  • European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)
  • Mexican blue fan palm (Brahea armata)
  • Needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)
  • Emerald Island giant dwarf palmetto (a cultivar of Sabal minor)

5. Frame an entryway with two tall palm trees

Two tall palm trees tower over a small hut near an outdoor seating area
Image Credit: Pixabay

You can use this bold look to accentuate your front door, the entrance to your driveway, or an outdoor living space. Palm trees create a natural archway with their sprawling fronds that’s sure to make your home look more exotic and inviting.

Tall palm trees work best for this look because they create more drama, but not all tall palms will grow in Houston. Remember, you’re looking for cold-hardy varieties that can survive winter in zone 9. These types of palms typically grow 10-20 feet instead of the towering 50+ feet you might see in South Florida.

Houston-friendly palms for this landscape design:

  • Sabal palm (Sabal palmetto)
  • Pindo palm (Butia capitata)
  • Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)
  • Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis)

FAQ about landscaping with palm trees in Houston

How much do palm trees cost in Texas?

How much your palm tree costs depends on its species and its maturity. If you want to buy a fully grown palm tree of 10-20 feet, you’re looking at a price tag of around $1,000. You can find many smaller species for about $100.

If you’re looking to save money, you could purchase a fledgling palm tree. New sprouts under a foot typically run between $25 and $50 (again, depending on the species). Keep in mind, though, that most palm trees are slow growers and could take several years to reach the size you want for your landscape.

How do I protect my palm trees from freezing in Texas?

Before temperatures drop each year, you’ll need to winterize your palm trees. To winterize a small palm tree, all you have to do is cover it with a box or blanket.

To winterize a larger palm tree, you’ll need to wrap it using one of four methods: heat tape, water pipe insulation, chicken wire, or Christmas lights. Yes, Christmas tree lights. The heat from the lights can keep your palm tree warm on chilly Houston nights.

When to Hire a Landscaping Professional

Many local Houston nurseries carry types of palm trees that could never survive the winter here. It can be tricky to find the right species on your own. A professional landscaper can make sure you get a palm tree for your landscape that will last longer than one season.

A professional can also help you design a more personalized landscape. If you have certain features you would like to incorporate along with your palm trees, a landscaping pro can figure out the best way to do it.

You might not live in the tropics, but that doesn’t mean your landscaping can’t have a tropical feel. With these design ideas, you can fill your Houston landscape with palm trees, the classic symbol of a tropical vacation.

Main Image Credit:

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer, editor, and classical literature student based in Colorado. When she isn't reading or writing, she enjoys goofing off with her cats and spending time in nature.