Petticoat palms (Washingtonia robusta) growing in nature reach impressive heights of over 20 meters, while their trunk remains densely covered by dried leaves. If you cultivate the distinctive palm in the apartment, these fronds are usually cut off as soon as they are completely dry. This slender fan palm grows with a single stem and forms an elephant-foot-like thickening at the base. Flowers usually only develop in older outdoor plants. The up to 3 m long, overhanging panicles set inconspicuous cream-pink flowers that develop brown seeds in late summer.


  • botanical name: Washingtonia robusta
  • Plant family: Palm family (Arecaceae)
  • Genus: Washingtonia
  • Trivialnamen: Petticoat-Palme, Washingtonpalme, Priesterpalme
  • Origin: Southwest USA and Northwest Mexico
  • Height: up to over 20 m
  • Leaves: fan-shaped, strongly incised, on a long petiole
  • Flowers: peduncle with numerous side axes
  • Seeds: small, elliptical seeds, brown to black
  • evergreen


A petticoat palm loves the sun and the warmth. It therefore needs a very bright location. The more light the palm receives, the stronger the color of the fronds. If the plant is too dark, Washingtonia robusta will lose the lower leaves. Indoor plants appreciate being given a sheltered place outdoors during the summer months.

  • Light requirement: full sun
  • as warm as possible

Soil / substrate

With normal garden soil or conventional potting soil, the permeability of water and air is not sufficiently guaranteed to provide the Washingtonia robusta with perfect conditions for its growth. It is therefore recommended to use only high-quality tub substrate or the following mixture:

  • Green plant soil or normal garden soil
  • coarse sand or grit
  • small amounts of humus bricks or coconut fibers
  • compost for at least two years
  • Expanded clay , lava granulate or pottery shards
  • Alternatively quality Palm substrate use
  • pH value: acidic, neutral

Care instructions

In the following care instructions you will find out how to treat the palm properly so that you can enjoy it over the long term.


Since the Washington palm comes from the southwest of the United States or northwest Mexico, the suspicion is that the palm does not need much water. In their homeland, however, it only grows in dry locations that have sufficient groundwater resources. The petticoat palm needs large amounts of water for its rapid growth and must therefore be watered regularly . The warmer it gets in the course of the year, the more often it has to be watered. The bale should never dry out completely . The best thing to do is to put the palm in a large coaster and pour it over and over again. This is usually necessary twice a day in hot dry periods.


For healthy growth, the petticoat palm needs sufficient amounts of nutrients in the active growth phase. That is why regular fertilization is necessary, especially with potted plants. Long-term fertilizers that slowly release the nutrients over several months are ideal . When using liquid fertilizer that is administered via the irrigation water, an interval of three to four weeks is sufficient. When Washingtonia robusta suffers from nutritional deficiencies, it shows it by losing one of the old leaves for each newly formed leaf.

Tip : If you only have limited space and want to avoid that the petticoat palm becomes too big, you should only fertilize very cautiously.


As a rule, Washingtonia robusta is cultivated in pots because of its lack of winter hardiness . Since the palm grows very quickly, frequent repotting is necessary, especially at a young age. The ideal time to repot is early spring. To check, carefully remove the petticoat palm from the pot. If roots can already be seen on the outside of the root ball, the plant needs a larger container. Plant pots and tubs must be equipped with a drainage hole so that excess water can drain off .

  • Time: March to April
  • Carefully remove old substrate from the roots
  • mainly use tall planters
  • only use high quality plant substrate
  • Fill in a drainage layer made of expanded clay or gravel at the bottom of the pot
  • Insert the root ball and fill it with fresh substrate
  • use tall planters (forms taproot)
  • water lightly

To cut

Like most palms, the petticoat palm has only one point of vegetation from which the fan-shaped leaves arise. Therefore it is not possible to restrict the Washington palm from growing in height. Only diseased leaves should be removed . A peculiarity of this type of palm is that the dried leaves in the lower area are not thrown off in younger plants, but simply hang down as a gray-brown “skirt” ( petticoat ). This petticoat is usually only cut off from indoor plants .


When growing the petticoat palm from seeds, it is important that normal flower or garden soil must never be used for germination, as this is not free from germs and eggs or larvae of insects that harm the seeds or the seedling. Instead of placing the seeds in nursery pots, it has proven useful to germinate them in a bag. Coconut source soil or coconut gum must first soak in water for at least 8 hours. Then it can be squeezed out by hand and put in a sealable plastic bag.

  • Put in seeds
  • mix with the substrate
  • Close the bag
  • store light or dark
  • Temperature: 20 to 30 degrees
  • Germination time: very long (a few weeks to several months)

You should regularly check whether individual seeds have already sprouted. These are taken out of the bag and repotted in nutrient-poor plant substrate. From now on, the seedling is placed in a bright and warm place and watered regularly.

Tip : When the first cotyledon is about 10 cm in diameter after a few months, the young plant can be repotted in a special palm substrate.


While cold temperatures are very well tolerated by the Washingtonia robusta – it even sprouts leaves from around 5 to 10 degrees – frosts below -3 degrees mean the certain death of the palm. If you have planted your plant outdoors, you must ensure that there is a heating facility and keep moisture away so that mold does not develop . It is therefore easier to overwinter the Washington palm in a winter garden or greenhouse . In winter there is a little less watering, but the palm must never dry out completely.

  • Put in winter quarters from the first frosts
  • preferably overwinter
  • the cooler the palm is, the less water it needs
  • do not fertilize in winter
  • the warmer the location, the more light and water the plant needs
  • It is essential to spray regularly with water in warm winter

After the rest phase, the petticoat palm should be slowly accustomed to the light conditions outdoors. If it is immediately exposed to the blazing sun again, the fronds can be burned. It is therefore advisable to place the palm in a partially shaded location for about two weeks before it comes to its final place in the garden.

Tip : If possible, the Washingtonia should not be overwintered in heated living spaces. The combination of warm heating air, low humidity and little light makes the palm susceptible to diseases and pest infestation.

Hibernate outdoors

Year-round outdoor cultivation is only possible in regions where the winters are quite mild (wine-growing areas). If the temperatures drop below -3 degrees, the first frost damage to the leaves can be expected. From about -8 degrees the Washington palm dies completely. Young fan palms are much more sensitive to cool temperatures than older ones. As a rule, they die off just as quickly as potted plants that remain in the field.

  • Only plant in well-protected areas in the garden
  • only put outdoors in mild winter regions
  • Place a portable greenhouse (heatable) over the plant
  • alternatively, wrap the heating coil (or light coil) around the trunk
  • also heat the upper substrate layer
  • Cover the leaves with fleece
  • absolutely protect against moisture (risk of fungal attack)

Diseases and pests

Basically, the petticoat palm is very robust, provided that the location and care are perfectly coordinated with the plant. In the warm winter quarters there can be an infestation with pests. You should therefore check the Washingtonia regularly, because the earlier an infestation is detected, the easier it is to control the pests. In addition to spider mites, aphids as well as mealybugs and scale insects also occur on the plant.


  • Symptoms: black coating on the leaves
  • Remedy: Spray the plant for six weeks, spray regularly with low-lime water as a preventive measure (the cause is usually lice, which must also be fought)

Phoenix fire mushroom

  • Symptoms: small nodules on the fronds
  • Remedy: spray with fungicide, in case of severe infestation possibly cut off whole leaves and dispose of in household waste or burn

Tip : Regular spraying with decalcified water has a preventive effect against pest infestation.

Care errors

When caring for the Washington palm, mistakes are often made that can have a lasting effect on the health of the plant, so that it dies as a result. This includes:

light mangle

  • Symptoms: soft, very light shoots, too long and too strong
  • Remedy: place in a lighter location, a little less water and cooler, never cut back shoots

Iron deficiency

  • Symptoms: yellow, blotchy leaves
  • Remedy: check the pH value. If the pH values ​​are too high, iron cannot be absorbed (above 6). If the pH is below 6, use iron chelate fertilizer


  • Symptoms: initially yellowish, then brown spots on the fronds
  • Remedy: none possible, do not cut the leaves, just take the plant out of the sun and make sure that the palm slowly gets used to the sun after the winter

Too little humidity

  • Symptoms: dried up leaf tips
  • Remedy: Increase the humidity, for example by regularly spraying with water that is low in lime

Root rot

  • Symptoms: Whole fronds turn yellow and then die off
  • Remedy: the rotten roots must be removed. They are softer than healthy roots and can be recognized by their brownish (instead of creamy white) color. Remove all rotten roots including the wet substrate and replace it with fresh soil

Lack of water

  • Symptoms: fronds dry up, but remain slightly green
  • Remedy: if at least one green frond is still present, the plant can be saved if the plant is watered immediately (no waterlogging!)


The petticoat palm is one of the robust and easy-to-cultivate plant species and is therefore also suitable for inexperienced hobby gardeners. However, only those who have enough space should buy such a palm, because this type of palm is very fast-growing and can quickly become too big for the room.

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