The single species of the genus Trachycarpus grown as a house plant, T.jortunei (windmill palm), has a slender stem that bears fan-shaped leaves with finely toothed stalks several feet long. In the wild, T. fortunei grows to about 40 feet tall, but growth indoors is slow and plants are unlikely to each a height of more than 8 feet in the home. When young, the leaves are pleated and they are covered with fine, short, gray or light brown hair. As the leaves age, this woolly covering disappears, and the pleats divide almost to the base into many stout but pliant segments, each up to 12 inches long and 1-2 inches wide. Individual segments are sometimes pleated into two or three folds. The mature leaves are up to 2 feet wide and dark green above, bluish green below, and the main stem, which does not normally branch, becomes covered with a coarse brown fiber. Eventually the leaves turn from green to yellow to brown, but they do not fall off. They should be gently pulled away or cut off when they become unsightly. The tips of leaf segments, in particular, become discolored with age and are liable to split along an inch or more of their length. This is natural and is not necessarily a sign of ill-health. An affected tip can be cut off without detriment to the rest of the leaf. The flowers and fruit produced by mature trachycarpuses are not found on indoor specimens.
Light Throughout the year, trachy-carpuses need bright light with three or four hours a day of direct sunlight. New growth will be limited if plants receive insufficient light.
Temperature These plants not only grow well in normally warm room temperatures but are also completely unharmed by temperatures down to 45 °F. If possible, stand trachycarpuses outdoors in a sheltered but sunny position from late spring to mid-fall. This will promote new growth and encourage the development of stiff, healthy leaves.
Watering Water actively growing plants moderately, giving enough water to make the potting mixture thoroughly moist, but allowing the top half-inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. In a normally warm room a trachycarpus will not have a regular rest period, but its growth will slow down or even stop whenever the temperature drops below 55°F. At such times, water only once a month, and sparingly—-just enough to make the potting mixture barely moist throughout.
Feeding Apply standard liquid fertilizer to actively growing plants once every two weeks.
Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. Move small trachycarpuses into pots one or, at the most, two sizes larger every second or third spring until the maximum convenient container size (likely to be 10-12 inches), is reached. Thereafter, topdress plants annually with fresh potting mixture.
Propagation Trachycarpuses are propagated by fresh seed sown in early spring. Seed takes up to a year to germinate, however, and the seedlings are also slow-growing—they may take several years to assume palmlike characteristics. The best way to acquire trachycarpuses, therefore, is to purchase young plants from nurseries or garden centers.
Special points Stand any plants not kept outdoors in the milder months in gentle rain, or wash them carefully under a cool shower if this is not possible, in order to free them of the accumulation of dirt and dust that collects on the leaves.
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