For years, I have used a few cities as “trip wires” for what I can try out in Memphis. If a plant species struggles or dies in such a city, it will likely do the same in Memphis, saving me some time and effort. However, if something grows in Little Rock AR for example, then I know it will grow in Memphis. Nashville is another such city for me and is also only a couple of hours away. Summers are nearly the same and winters are just a few degrees cooler on average than Memphis. It is situated in zone 7, so single digits can occur. Nashville does see plenty of 8a winters to be sure. Because of this, some palms and tropical plants can be grown there.
I have been surprised by what is able to grow in Nashville, but I have also learned a few things from it. First, I am embarrassed that I haven’t tried some of these plants sooner. Secondly, growing a plant from just a few years old “natively” in Tennessee rather than buying palms grown in Florida or elsewhere southward is much more preferable for its longevity here. A palm tree that starts in the ground at three years old in Tennessee will have a much better shot at surviving twenty years here than one field dug and transplanted here that spent its whole life never experiencing a temperature below 20F. On top of the shift in climate, transplanting a palm is a traumatic experience for the palm in itself, much less coming to a colder winter climate with shorter growing seasons.
In my own climate of Memphis, I have seen dozens of Florida grown Sabal palmettos killed in the winters of Jan/Feb 2014 and Jan 2015, while my own full term Memphis grown Sabal palmetto has done just fine. A fellow palm enthusiast of Nashville, Tommy G, has allowed me to showcase some of his palms that survived the last two winters. They saw every bit or more of the nasty ice and single digit temps as Memphis and they fared remarkably well.
I am now testing out in my own yard a clump of saw palmetto, Serenoa repens. They are said to be zone 8 palms, but came back after brutal punishment in Nashville. Hopefully, the winters of 2014 and 2015 will be known as flukes and we can return to milder temperatures in Tennessee for the foreseeable future. Obviously seeing such temps every year would cause this palm species to decline and eventually die, but once in a blue moon will only be a minor setback.
Another palm said to be zone 8, the European fan palm, or Chamaerops humilis, also came back and is doing surprisingly well. I have one in my own yard, so I am quite thrilled at the prospects of success with it in Memphis.
Sabal palmetto is a species that I have a bit more experience with. They are well known to survive zone 7 temperatures once in a rare while when very well established. These pictures of two Sabal palmettos in Tommy’s yard prove that they can indeed take single digit temperatures, and that growing palmettos locally in Tennessee rather than buying transplants from further south is the way to go. The palms are accustomed to our winters and growing seasons and become very well established here over a number of years such that when a very bad winter does occur, they can handle it and bounce back.
And this one looks exceptionally good considering what it went through. It is also a testament to proper siting and microclimates that walls can provide.
Lastly, here is a special treat to see. This is a Sabal bermudana, really more of a zone 8b to 9a palm. Yet here it is, having survived zone 7 temperatures and repeated beatings in the winter of 2015. If I had a source for one myself, I would certainly try it in Memphis to see how well it fares. Tommy very likely has one of the only Bermuda Sabals in the entire state of Tennessee. I cannot wait to see how big it gets here, provided there is a return to reasonable winters.
There are other palms well suited for Nashville. I have seen healthy Trachycarpus fortunei, Sabal minor, Sabal louisiana, Sabal ‘Birmingham’, and Rhapidophyllum hystrix doing very well, which means good news of course – they do great in Memphis!