WASHINGTONIAS (Washington palms) are the popular fan palms used for street planting in California and other places where the climate permits. There are only two species; both grow in the wild in widely differing environments where they have adapted to a broad range of temperatures and other conditions. They are comparatively easy to grow as house plants. Both species have short, tapered, mahogany red trunks, and long, spiny leafstalks that carry large fan-shaped leaves cut into about twenty segments for up to half their spread. A distinctive feature of most of these palms is the fine fibers that hang from the edges of the leaf divisions.
popularly called the desert fan or petticoat palm, has an open, uncluttered look. Its gray-green leaves have a span of 2 feet or more. The spiny leafstalks are 18 inches long, flat, and mostly green in color. W. robusta, the thread palm, is taller, thinner, and faster-growing than W. filifera. Its leaves are bright green (except for a tawny patch where the leaf blade joins the leafstalk), and the leaf segments are much stiffer and much less deeply cut.
Light Washingtonias need bright light throughout the year, including, if possible, several hours of direct sunlight every day. Most growth is made during the summer months, and adequate light during this period helps produce large leaves of good color. If these palms get too little light, they may shed one or more lower leaves.
Temperature Though they prefer warm, or even hot, rooms, these plants can tolerate occasional temperatures as low as 50°F. Washingtonias can also tolerate rather dry air conditions, but they will produce larger leaves of a better color if they are stood on trays or saucers of pebbles kept constantly moist. These plants will do best if they are moved to a sheltered position outdoors from early summer to fall.
Watering During the active growth period water washingtonias plentifully as often as necessary to keep the potting mixture thoroughly moist, particularly if plants are kept close to a sunny window; but never allow the pot to stand in water. During the winter rest period water more moderately, enough to moisten the mixture throughout, but permitting the top half-inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again.
Feeding Apply standard liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the active growth period.
Potting and repotting Because a water-retentive potting mixture is essential for these plants, add one-third rotted leaf mold or peat moss to a standard soil-based mixture. For good drainage put plenty of clay-pot fragments in the bottom of the pot. Repot these palms only when their roots are active, during the active growth period. They do not like to be overpotted so do not move them into pots one size larger until light-colored roots appear in quantity on the surface of the potting mixture.
This should occur no more than once in two to three years. It is very important to plant washingtonias firmly, taking special care not to damage the main (thicker) roots, which are brittle; these plants are unusually sensitive to root damage. Propagation Commercially, these washingtonias are normally raised from seed sown in considerable heat. Propagation is not practicable for the amateur indoor gardener.
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