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Many desert palms are ideal for San Diego

Only in San Diego can we actually be talking palm trees at Christmas time!

The palm tree is so iconic in this town that I thought it warranted its own discussion. There are quite a few that are very drought tolerant but can still give you a tropical look, especially when a few different varieties are used. Please note that while all of these can take heat and low water, some of them can not take the cold that many of our inland cities see in the winter. Please refer to my source, the fabulous Phil Bergman of Jungle Music Palms and Cycads for the complete article.

Here is just a “short list” of palms that are fairly readily available in San Diego, but there are many, many, more that will grow here and can be found at specialty growers like Jungle Music. Each Palm has a link to Phil’s wonderful local photos- see if you can identify any of these from around town!

Chamaerops humilis, Mediterranean Fan Palm. This medium sized clumping palm is ideal as a focal point. It is fairly slow growing but can reach 25′. It works especially well in raised planters or as an eye-catcher along a driveway.

Phoenix reclinata, Senegal Date Palm. This is another clumping palm that gets much taller, about 40′. The clumps often lean gently outward, so it needs a large space. It works well as a single focal point in the front of a house or as a large focal point near a swimming pool.

Phoenix dactylifera, Date Palm. This is one of my personal favorites. It has a wonderful upright form with a wide sweeping fan on top- very graceful. If you are familiar with the Ikea/Costco mall in Mission Valley, the parking lot is lined with these palms.

Dypsis decaryi, Triangle Palm. This one I put in the category of just for fun. The trunk has a distinct three-sided triangle shape, creating a unique three feathered look to the

Phoenix canariensis, Canary Island Date Palm. This is the big daddy of palm trees. Many of my clients have called this the pineapple palm because the top is often trimmed into that shape. These are elegant and huge, perfect for an estate garden. They are street trees in some parts of Coronado near the hotel Del.

Butia capitata, Pindo Palm. My bias for plants in the green-blue color range is probably fairly obvious by now, and this palm is a wonderful example. It looks incredible with other plants in the same color range, such as Scenecio mandralascae (blue chalksticks, or blue iceplant) or Agaves. It is known for the downward curve of the fronds.

Brahea armata, Mexican Blue Palm. Here is the other stunning blue palm. (Note the Blue Chalksticks as a groundcover in the photo). This palm is slow growing, which makes it more expensive by the trunk foot (palms are typically sold by the number of feet of brown trunk they have) but this palm is intended to be short.

Arecastrum romanzoffianum, Queen Palm. Queen palms are not my favorite of the palm varieties, but they are inexpensive and quick growing, making them ideal for many residential uses.

Washingtonia robusta, Mexican Fan Palm. This is the palm that lines the streets in California and dangles in the foreground of photos of the Hollywood Sign. They act like beacons pointing you to the ocean in Pacific Beach and stand out in silhouette all over town. That said, this is another palm that is not my favorite. They are so well adjusted here that they can easily set seed in our wild canyon areas and choke off small drainage-ways. Consider a different palm if your yard borders a canyon or mesa open space.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at