En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - August 31, 2008

From: Mariposa, CA
Region: California
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Washingtonia palms need to be skirted?
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have five Washingtonia palms on my property that have never been skirted and look rather shabby. The interesting thing is that they have thrived (20-30 ft) here to begin with. I live at 2000 ft of elevation in the Northern California sierras and they are snowed on several times each winter. We have photos of these palms with 2 ft of snow piled on their tops. Can I have the older dead fronds in the skirt removed or are they insulating the trunks?


There are two palms that are referred to as Washingtonia palms; one is Washingtonia robusta, which is non-native to North America, and one is Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm), native to California, Nevada and Arizona.  We are hoping you have the Washington filifera, because it is native to North America. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center we support the propagation and protection of plants native to North America and their use as landscape plants in areas where they are native. 

The Washingtonia filifera is also preferable because it is shorter, has a thicker trunk and is better for planting in dry urban landscapes. However, the answer to your question would be the same in both situations, as they are very closely related. The research we did indicated that it was better to trim off those lower dead leaves, or skirts, to cut down on fire danger, and to remove a hiding or nesting place for rodents and insects. This probably needs to be done professionally, even though your trees have not yet reached the 50-80 feet to which they can grow. Trimming can be repeated every few years. 

You are correct that it is a little surprising that they are growing on your property. The best we can tell from the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, your area alternates from Zone 7b to Zone 9b. The optimal zone is Zone 9 to 11. However, plants don't necessarily grow where they can grow best, they grow where they can get away with it. Your palms are obviously getting away with it. Here are some pictures of the Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm), both trimmed and untrimmed. Perhaps this will help you make the decision. 

Washingtonia filifera



More Trees Questions

Growth in oak tree in San Antonio
April 05, 2011 - We have a very large gorgeous oak tree in our backyard here in San Antonio, Texas. I noticed a thickness high up in the tree. Thinking it was a nest of some sort, I used binoculars and saw a parasiti...
view the full question and answer

Need a native tree for full sun in Hockley, TX
October 27, 2009 - What native trees should I plant for full sun. I am building on a 1/2 acre previously used as grazing land on the original Katy prairie. I need one large shade tree, a few smaller ornamentals, and a...
view the full question and answer

Is it OK to remove soil around oaks - Austin, TX.
May 24, 2013 - I have several oaks trees (one live oak + burr oaks) from 15'-35' in height. They seem healthy. A local arborist says they were planted too deep and that the soil around them needs to be excavated t...
view the full question and answer

Need to replace a Silver Maple in Illinois.
July 10, 2011 - My father recently had a tornado take out a 50 year old silver maple. He is looking to replace it, but he is looking for something with interesting summer color; as he put it not "green." I am try...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a moist, wooded area in North Carolina
December 06, 2014 - I am looking to plant some native flowers in a wooded area in Surry County NC. The chosen location is fully shaded beside a creek. The water table typically sets about 2 feet below the surface of th...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center