This year’s loss of palm trees in San Antonio may rival what we saw in 1989

We will know soon how many survived the deep freeze

Palm tree in San Antonio
Palm tree in San Antonio

San Antonio’s landscape has once again become green. It’s taken time though, considering the shock our landscapes received during February’s historic deep freeze.

While it isn’t a true subtropical climate, palm trees have been a mainstay in San Antonio for decades. Those palms took a big hit after the winter storm dropped temperatures into the single digits and held us below freezing for several days.

It’s not the first time. South Texas’s palms also took on damage in 1983, 1989, and 2011.

Mark Peterson, a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System, has over 30 years of experience as a forester and arborist. Peterson says that survival will depend on the species of palm.

According to Peterson, the best palms for San Antonio that can tolerate freezes are Sabal minor, Sabal Mexicana, Sabal palmetto, and Washingtonia filifera. He adds that the Canary Island date palm is a good feather palm choice. Windmill palms will also likely survive. You’ll know they survived if there is any green tissue at the top. Give the palm some water, but make sure not to overwater.

Palm tree near KSAT studios (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Other species of palms didn’t fare so well. Peterson estimates that 90% of Mexican fans and date palms did not survive, while 100% of queen palms were lost. Mexican fan palms may have succumbed to the cold even south of San Antonio, due to the historic nature of the storm.

Sago palms (technically a cycad) likely lost their fronds. Peterson puts their mortality rate at about 60%.

Peterson also wrote in his blog on Garden Style San Antonio that palms in sheltered, south-facing locations had the best protection during the storm.

June 1st is a target date. If green does not show up at the top of the palm by then, you can likely conclude that it will not survive.

This means there may be some removal of tall, mature palms, which are extremely heavy. It may take a crane and a flatbed to remove the palm.

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