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Palm trees:

When thinking of trees for a Pacific Northwest garden, palm trees probably don't come to mind. After all, palms grow in the tropics where the weather is mild and sunny year-round, right?

Well, not quite right. A few varieties of palm trees will do just fine in the Rogue Valley, in spite of our frosty winters. "I've seen palm trees survive in minus 6 degree weather," says Dieter Trost, co-owner of Southern Oregon Nursery in Medford. He's referring to the windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei. He says this variety does the best in the Rogue Valley's climate. "We've had great luck with windmill palms-they seem to be the toughest," he adds. And if you look for them, you'll notice palms planted all around the valley. One of Ashland's oldest motels is named - you guessed it - The Palm Motel.

This hardy, fan-leaf palm can grow at least 20 feet tall in the Rogue Valley (in warmer, year-round climates this variety can grow 30 feet tall). Windmill palms feature dark trunks thicker on top than on the bottom with individual leaves spreading 3 feet across, giving the tree a full bushy look.

The other palm variety that does well here is the Mediterranean fan palm, Chamerops humilis, named for its large, fan-like leaves. Shorter and more compact than the windmill palm, they can eventually grow to be 15 to 20 feet tall, with some growing almost as wide. "If you don't want to plant them in the ground, windmill palms do well as container plants," explains Brandon Downey, who works in sales at Ray's Garden Center in Ashland.

Mediterranean palms form clusters of white flowers in the spring, and both types grow new leaves (often called fronds) in June and July. "They both thrive in our hot summers," Trost says, adding that palms do their best when planted in full sun.

Palm trees will perform best when planted in well-draining soil, protected from heavy winds and watered regularly for their first few years. During the hottest weeks this means twice weekly dousings. When established, watering once a week is sufficient, says Trost. "Any less and they might struggle to grow." In heavier clay soils, water less frequently. A fertilizer specially formulated for palms is available at most nurseries; follow label directions for use.

One advantage of having palm trees in a garden is their relatively small, dense root systems, so nearby plants and trees are not crowded by them. "That's why they perform well when planted closely together in a row, as their root systems are not invasive," according to Trost. He notes that individual palms can be a striking focal point in a garden, too.

So when thinking about this year's garden, you might want to consider adding a palm or two for a different look or to enhance a tropical garden. Then even on wintry days your tropical dreams will be positively realistic.

Palm trees: