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How to care for a Washingtonia palm tree

Updated February 21, 2017

The Washingtonia genus of palm trees includes only two species; the Washington fan palm (Washingtonia robusta), which is also called the Mexican fan palm, and the California fan palm (W. filifera). These trees are native to arid areas of California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and northwestern Mexico, depending on the species. These palm trees grow up to 30 m (100 ft) tall and have lifespans of up to 100 years. They are cold hardy to around -8 degrees Celsius (-46 F), making them appropriate for gardens in southern England or coastal areas, particuarly those warmed by the Gulf Stream.

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Prepare a planting area in full sun where your Washingtonia will be able to grow to 30 m (100 ft) tall without hitting power lines or nearby buildings. Also allow room for this tree's 7 to 9 m (25 to 30 ft) spread. Dig a planting hole at least twice the size of your young tree's rootball. Combine a ratio of 4-to-1 native soil to organic compost.

Water your new palm thoroughly with 15 to 19 litres (3 to 4 gallons) of water to drench the soil after planting it. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, until the tree shows signs of new growth, which will be evident when small green fronds emerge from the growing tip of the tree. After two to three months, after the root system becomes established, limit the amount of water you give it because it is a desert plant. Reduce water further during winter.

Fertilise your Washingtonia every month with a water-soluble fertiliser or granular, time-release plant food once in early spring. Choose a balanced plant food with an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10, giving it equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Control insect pests such as aphids, spider mites and mealy bugs by spraying your palm with insecticidal soap as soon as possible after you notice these creatures. Aphids can be green, pink, brown or black. They are normally about 1.5 mm (1/16 inch) long and favour the undersides of leaves. Spider mites announce their presence by spinning webs similar to spiders. Although the insects are tiny, watch for the webbing, which is the indication they exist. Mealy bugs are also small but are visible due to their fuzzy white appearance.

Prune brown fronds from the "skirt" at the base of your Washingtonia's foliage regularly because they are a fire hazard. Use a sharp tree saw or pole pruner and begin cutting on the top side of each frond as close to the boot as possible without cutting into the trunk.


Watering this palm tree with warm water is beneficial. Special fertilisers designed for palm trees are available at garden centres.

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Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Shovel
  • Water-soluble fertiliser or time-release fertiliser
  • Insecticidal soap
  • Pruning shears or tree saw

About the Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens" and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to "Big Island Weekly," "Ke Ola" magazine and various websites. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Arts from San Jose State University.

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