Can one make a "palm tree" topiary from a hardy evergreen?

Wilkes-Barre, PA(Zone 6b)

Still, it would be better to use a real palm tree but in areas too cold I thought of trying to get a conifer with a straight trunk to look like a palm or palmetto. I have seen many "lollipop" topiaries but they are usually too tight. I would think if one would allow it to grow more loosely, it could look like a small fan palm at a distance. I scoured the internet thinking someone had to have attempted this but found little. There are many evergreen that I think would be good candidates do to their habit. Canadian Hemlock could be one. I am currently working on this but it is still too small to tell. Some other evergreens can be the weeping ones, which I think could pass as "queen palm like". Maybe some hollies if already trained as a lollipop but then let free may do the trick, at least from a distance. I'd love to see something like this done with a larger specimen of conifer. Has anyone tried this?
Also I have been trying to do this with hardy yucca filimentosa. I've noticed that if the lower leaves are constantly trimmed and the plant is not allowed to bud or flower, it can get a small trunk over time. One would still have to keep the pups in check though as they will block the trunk. I have seen Adam's needles which can look more palm like than some of the hardy scrub palms. I havent yet tried this with other hardy yuccas (im in 6b).

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

Well, pardon me for saying so, but I think it would always look like a butchered conifer more so than anything palm-like. I'm afraid butchered conifers are extremely commonly around here, as people seem to blank out when planting conifers and utterly forget how large they get at maturity.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I agree, I don't think it'll look good or look like a palm tree. You might try needle palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix It's supposed to be hardy to 6b. Or saw palmetto, Serenoa repens

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

There are no shrubs that I know of the could possibly resemble a palm no matter how much shaping you did, to be honest the best thing I could recomend is a type of plant that looks like a palm and as I can grow it here in UK and can be zoned around 3-4 winter and the Australian Cabbage palm grows to about 8-10 feet if allowed.
I have cut mine down to the base before and another occasion the winter storm blew it down and on both thos occasions, the roots sent up new greenery, before you know it they are tall tree's again, they only have the one single top of fronds, (sharp leaves with pointed ends to each leaf, some winters I tie the greenery up and wrap a light fleece around it but as I get older now and have to use a step ladder to do this, then I still have survival of this type of palm, they will eventually flower and the birds love the red / black berries, also there is a rust coloured palm the same type, mine are green.
maybe this could be an idea to try.
Good luck. WeeNel.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

It's difficult to understand your first sentence, WeeNel. You surely aren't suggesting that Australian Cabbage palm is hardy in zone 3-4 winters?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I think there may be confusion about climate zones? Scotland is somewhere in zone 7-9 depending on where in the country you are, not zone 3-4 (at least under the USDA zone system which is what Plant Files uses for its hardiness listings): So not surprising that the Australian cabbage palm could survive in some parts of Scotland...but unfortunately Pennsylvania is quite a bit colder and it would not be hardy.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

I have to correct you Ecrane, our temps where I live do in fact go down to freezing and below on many occasions, but because I am coastal, that is not a regular thing, the damage is done more by the icy cold wind (reaching Gale-force at times especially in the last say 10 years, These are the conditions where I have to get out there and wrap hessian, fleece, or straw blankets around the tops of the plants and these materials allow air to circulate the top of the plants (above ground) till the weather subsides.

I agree we don't have ground freeze for months on end like Canada or places where this is the norm every year, but most of those places have a whole season of freeze, we can have it a couple of weeks, then heavy rain a week then the following week back to Gale-force winds again and these winds can just about take the skin off your face. 2 weeks later we have freeze again.

All that is some of the reason why here in Scotland we dont have a zone chart like you folks do from state to state as the weather is not settled for long enough,, we are an Island so parts of England (inland) have far warmer temps summer and winter that we have more north, I am the west coast therefore wetter, colder, windier etc, some days I can drive from home, ten mile to larger town and, the roads are frozen and getting grit thrown down, yet I left home with cold sunshine,

So Yes, I am suggesting you can grow Australia cabbage palm in zone 3-4 IF you can give it the right protection in winter or bring indoors for the winter, the roots under the soil are as tough as old boots and even the year the trunk of ours was broken way down at soil level due to gales, next spring the root gave up a new baby plant that is now about 10 feet tall, BUT it needs winter protection, and the other Rhododendrons give the protection it requires most years with the exception as mentioned.
Remember the Australian palm (Cordyline australis) is not really a palm but is from the Cordyline family, the leaved are as tough as leather with a tip like a needle, I did say the plant was palm like in appearance and given a root mulch and a fleece wrap on the top growth loosely tied in place each winter till it reaches mature hight, it should survive the winter but as these plants cost about $3-5 dollars you wont be loosing a lot unless you buy a mature plant, I planted mine from a 10 inch pot and it survived.

I would try to avoid your other idea of trying to cut / prune an evergreen conifer into a palm shape as in my opinion that could end up looking like a spare groom at a wedding, not a nice sight, But you will be looking at long term, and lots of evergreen conifers don't regrow greenery once cut back into the wood on the stems.

Hope this clears things up a bit and some ideas come to the fore, it's never easy trying to full-fill a dream of planting when your really trying to go against nature, sometimes we do it and do it in style, other times no matter how we try, the plants we want just wont grow for us because we are trying to beat nature, sometimes it knows better than us gardeners.
Good luck. WeeNel.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Perhaps you are using a different zone system than the USDA zones which are what are shown in the map I linked to? Since LJinWBPA is in the US where USDA zones are the most common system used I think it's worth reiterating that C. australis is only hardy to USDA zone 8 and will not be hardy in USDA zones 3-4 (and would be a very long shot in zone 6 where LJ lives).

The map I linked to shows Scotland falling between USDA zone 7 & 9 depending on where you are. Zone 9 can get down to freezing sometimes (or even a little below) and zone 7 can go as low as -18C, so even in zone 9 it's possible to have freezing weather, and in zone 8 & 7 it's not surprising at all to have some freezes. But just having freezing temperatures sometimes during the winter doesn't mean it's anywhere near the same as USDA Zone 3 which can get down to -40C, and zone 4 can get to -34C. The ground in USDA zones 3-4 will also spend a good portion of the winter frozen and those areas spend a lot more time during the winter with sub-freezing temperatures than you do (and probably quite a lot farther below freezing too). The ground freezing and the frequency/duration of sub-freezing temperatures (as well as the absolute cold temperatures) will all impact plant hardiness.

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

I think the closest you are going to get to the palm-look is going to be with a weeping something or other.
That will not be really palm-like, just a tree with an arching canopy.

Can I ask what else will be around it? What else goes with a palm, but accepts your cold winters? I am sure a fair amount of summer annuals can look tropical (Look at the giant flowers on some petunias!) But what are your ideas?

Anything that is more palm-like, that is narrow to linear leaves or leaflets in that arching sort of pattern, is pretty much more tropical than your zone, not even marginal ("Surviving with protection").

Suggestion #1:
Put something in a pot that you can bring in during the winter. If it is really big this may mean several guys moving it into a garage, and setting up lights for it. A pretty massive undertaking. Or use something smaller. It won't be as large a focal point, but would at least be moveable.

Suggestion #2:
Keep it as a house plant, near a window where it can be viewed from the part of the garden where you want a palm.

Suggestion #3:
If you think a weeping something might work, yes, there are weeping conifers, but there are also other weeping plants. How about give up on the palm, and accept the weeping whatever, and work with that, not try to make it something it is not. Weeping cherry, for example can be really nice in bloom and in leaf.

OK, here are some Palms and Palm-like plants that will handle some cold weather. Worth trying, but I think you will have to provide winter protection for any of these. Wrapping as described by WeeNel may work if you are in a windy area, or have prolonged temperatures that can damage plants. I have found that making a tent out of plastic, a mini-green house works in non-windy areas that are just a few degrees too cold once in a while.
My info comes from the Western Garden Book.
Yes, Cordyline australis deserves to be an option. Survives down to -9*C.
Chamaerops humilis- Has survived brief, not prolonged temps as low as -18*C.
Yucca, any of several species. OK where winters regularly get down to -18*C.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Sorry, been out of action for a few weeks, we have had flu bugs here, tummy bugs not to mention floods in places and huge storms, so been busy with other stuff,
ecrane and LJinWBPA I do apologise profusely with regards to the zones and temps given as comparisons a few weeks ago, you are both correct when you said we work on different temp systems here in UK than you guy's in USA, I am sorry that I did forget that fact.

I still believe that with care, shelter and perhaps grown in a pot that can be moved while prolonged low temps are a problem, you will be able to grow the Cabbage Palm, I have relatives in North Ontario who can (MOST) years see this plant through given proper care, IF it fails, they leave it sheltered and the following year, the plant sends up new stems from the Fleshy base roots.

I would suggest that as this appears to be a real problem for LJ perhaps you are pushing the boundary's of nature and growing ideas a bit too far and would perhaps forget about a palm type of plant, or look-a-like, but go for something that is different from the norm and is proven one that CAN grow in your conditions,
Hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas and let 2013 be a good year to you and yours. lets pray for some peace in the world and better weather conditions for all.
Best regards and Happy Gardening. Weenel.

Wilkes-Barre, PA(Zone 6b)

I just noticed all these replies I didn't even know about them until just recently or I would have replied. Thanks for the responses.

I did try the Australian Cabbage Palm or Cordyline many times. It is sold everywhere around here as "Spikes" or "Dracena". It's mostly used as a centerpiece in planters with dusty millers and geraniums. Whether In protect them or not they look nice here til around Christmas and then they're toast. They're more for marine climates while I live in a humid continental climate in zone 6b. For my climate Needle Palms and Sabal Minor are the biggest hopes. I've been trying them for years just to say I can, but they really don't look all that palm-like to me. Mine seem to take the cold here but I tend to have trouble with diseases. Trunking Yucca it's the same thing, while the Hardy Yucca Filimentosa is ubiquitous here and looks just as palm like as the Needle Palm. To give an idea of the hardiness of my immediate area; our winters tend to be more long than severe, at least not severe to American standards. We rarely go near or below -10F and when we do like in 1994 there is usually a ton of snow on the ground. People have overwintered Rosemary around here if kept dry. Blue Atlas Cedars do great here as does Arizona Cypress, Sky Pencil Holly, Azaleas...

I think people may misunderstand the look I'm going for. I'm not looking for tropical or for a theme-park miniature golf course look, but I love the visual impact and aesthetics of palms and some trunking yuccas. A weeping deciduous tree wont cut it for me though as a kid I used to imagine the locally invasive Staghorn Sumac were palms. Anyway I HAVE seen many people limb their conifers up to a potentially palm like shape, but then trim them into tight lollipop shapes. People tend to be heavy handed with hedge trimmers around here as if their trees are going into the marines. My vision is to make a giant, evergreen topiary standard but then let the sides hang loose. I would think from a distance they can resemble a Fan Palm or even a Queen Palm... I guess growing up in a "horticulturally conservative", don't think outside the box, suburban area where people dedicate a lot of time and money to make their lawns and gardens look as sterile, boring, plastic, and ubiquitous as a McDonald's playground I have a rebellious streak in I'm just wondering if this has ever been attempted. I've seen topiary horses, dogs, giraffes, but not palm shapes...

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

You are so right when you there all sorts of topiary's growing, from horses, elephants, swans, bears, gosh there are any amount of shapes that can be trained over the years and most people (excluding Lotto winners) cant afford the cost of a plant that's already grown for about 40 years to get it grow / pruned into a beautiful swan, bear, horse ect, but the sad truth for you LJ is, there are only a few types of shrubs that can take the close sort of pruning required to form and hold the shape that is required for the animal, cube, ball, cloud, or yes, even a palm tree, these are normally Holly, Box, Yew that regrow from the wood so that when the branches are removed to form the shape required, the plant sends out new green shoots tightly growing close to the cut, therefore the cuts are hidden.
Other plants will not regrow from what is called OLD wood, so you are limited to what type of growing material you would be able to use, keep in mind, to gain any shape, will take years of pruning, wire training and lots of other tricks of the trade to achieve the right shape required, maybe you know better than most other people and have more experience that everyone else who is trying to offer there own long term experiences, but I think maybe you are being a bit adventurous with regards the type of plant you want for the shape you hoe to achieve.
best regards a loads of luck. WeeNel.

Wilkes-Barre, PA(Zone 6b)

Ok here's one attempt from a Cryptomeria Japonica:

Thumbnail by LJinWBPA
Wilkes-Barre, PA(Zone 6b)

It's still a conifer up close but from a distance it can have a palmetto like look.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

Well, it comes down to a matter of personal preference ultimately. Personally, I find the natural shape of Cryptomeria japonica to be amazingly beautiful, and I can only see this sort of treatment of a tree in stark contrast to its "perfect" natural character. But it's not in my yard, so hey, if you like it, go for it... :-)

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

I'm not trying to be unkind in any way but I still don't see palm in your picture in either shape or form, all I see is a lovely tree that has been brutalised, to my eye it's got no more look of a palm than I have of looking like a 16 year old beauty queen but hey, everything is in the eye of the beholder.

Maybe given time it will improve in looks but right now, it's like expecting a pigs ear to resemble a silk purse.

We all have to go with what we are happy with and at the end of the day, should it really matter what other people think, you are the home owner that is obviously very pleased with the outcome so you go on enjoying your garden in the way you have worked hard to achieve.
I'm sure if you looked at my garden you would find lot's to disagree with, were all different and that's what makes the world go round, and you did seem to ask for others opinions, so please accept mine in the spirit it is given, not as anything other than my own vies on the outcome of your Conifer being cut to pieces.

Best of luck, WeeNel.

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