The Best Palm Trees for the UK

Growing a palm tree in your garden in a British climate may seem foolhardy. Yet certain palm trees will survive and even thrive in our often damp and cold climate.

There's nothing more tropical than seeing established palms growing in an ordinary urban English garden. However you need to choose the right tree as the combination of damp and winter cold can be fatal to many species.

Palms that Actually Grow Well in Britain

I have chosen three palms that are well suited to our climate, are easy to grow and widely available. I have grown them for years and they have a proven track record going back many decades.

The tallest palm you will probably see in someone's garden is a Trachycarpus which is a type of fan palm. There are now several species available to buy in the UK of which the most widely available most hardy proven is fortunei and wagnerianus.

Palm trees for sale

The 3 recommended palms that have a proven track record of growing in the UK are the Chasun, Dwarf Fan and Needle palms. The latter can be difficult to get hold of and tends to be more expensive due to its slow rate of growth.

Chasun Palm (Trachycarpus)
Dwarf Fan Palm (Chamaerops)
‣ Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum)

Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan or Windmill Palm)

mature trachycarpus fortunei
What Trachycarpus fortunei looks like when mature

T. fortunei is arguably the most popular and I have seen established specimens 7 to 8 metres tall although they can reportedly grow to 20 metres in height.

I won't go into too much detail here as I have covered the Trachycarpus palm tree here in much greater detail. What I will say is that if you are planting seedlings then they do take a while to get established and get going.

If you want instant impact and are looking for a trunked palm then fortunei is well worth the investment. An established specimen like this can stand temperatures down to -15c and being able to look up at the large fan shaped palm leaves is about as tropical as you are going to get.

One thing I should point out is that if you live in an exposed or windy location then the leaves do tend to get damaged and can look tatty. If this is the case plant fortunei in a position that enjoys some shelter from the wind.

T. wagnerianus does have stiffer leaves and is arguably as hardy so is a good alternative.

Trachycarpus wagnerianus (Dwarf Chusun Palm, Miniature Palm or Dwarf Windmill Palm)

a mature trachycarpus wagnerianus
a mature trachycarpus wagnerianus approximately 5m tall
trachycarpus wagnerianus fan palm leaves
A younger Wagnerianus, note the stiffer fan shaped leaves

Similar to fortunei except the leaves are much stiffer so keep their shape better in windier locations. The leaves tend to be smaller also which some people find not as aesthetically pleasing on really large wagnerianus palms.

I believe that wagnerianus is the best looking Trachycarpus, especially those specimens under 3 metres as the leaf canopy still looks good in proportion to the trunk.

Where to Buy Palm Trees

trachycarpus wagnerianus hairy trunk close up
A close up of the trunk. The trunk is naturally hairy but you can strip it down without harm to create a smooth trunk.

Palm trees are generally slow growers, especially in our climate. Once established you can expect your palm to grow 2 to 7 new fan shaped fronds a year and put on about a foot in height.

You can buy palm trees in the UK online and sizes are avaialble from small seedlings to mature trees. Online is best for a wider varietyof choice. If you are going to visit a garden centre in person you are better off visiting one of the specialist independant as the bigger chains tend not to stock many palms.

There are a number of other species although not as widely available. One thing I have found is that many people that have grown Trachycarpus palm trees say that there is quite a bit of variation in appearance of these palms even amongst the same species. No two trees ever seem to look the same.

Rhapidophyllum hystrix (Needle Palm)

needle palm rhapidophyllum hystrix
The Needle palm is the hardiest palm you can buy although it grows slower than the other palms mentioned.

The hardiest of the palms is Rhapidophyllum hystrix or the Needle palm. It is a slow grower and it does prefer a hot summer so you may want to choose this if you do live in an exposed location or get really cold winters in your part of the UK.

It has a clumping habit so whilst small will look similar to Trachycarpus but as it matures visually it will have a closer resemblance to Chamaerops humilis.

Chamaerops humilis (Dwarf Fan Palm)

chamaerops humilis mature stem
The Dwarf fan palm as the name suggessts will not grow much taller than this.
mature chamaerops humilis
Chamaerops displaying that classic palm shape.

Whilst Trachycarpus will become quite an impressive tall palm, Chamaerops humilis will remain comparatively small, only up to 2 or so metres after a couple of decades. It will produce clumps or multiple stems so can be underplanted under other taller palms.

chamaerops humilis small
This is the typical size you would expect if you were buying a plant online or from a specialist nursery.
chamaerops humilis frond
When young they look very similar to a similar sized trachycarpus.

The Dwarf Fan Palm is readily available and the cheapest to buy if you are just starting off and often sold alongside Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Date Palm). CIPD although sold commonly is not really hardy enough for UK temperatures and is likely to suffer damage and most likely die off in a cold winter.

chamaerops humilis side on
chamaerops humilis is a compact tidy looking palm.
chamaerops humilis stem spikes
Be careful of the spikes along the base of the fronds.