How to Prune a Palm Tree

Close up image of a recently pruned palm tree trunk.

 

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Overview
  • Working Time: 45 mins
  • Total Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

When most people think palm trees they day dream about tropical breezes, white sand, cool drinks, and warm sun on our skin. If instead of those pleasent thoughts, you think, I have to prune the palm tree, this how to is for you.

Before starting the pruning project you should ask yourself, "Is it the right time to prune my palm?" The good news is, that unlike other trees there is no right or wrong time to prune a palm. Your palm will tell you. You never need to cut green fronds but may need to for visibility sake. Are there brown fronds, flowers or fruit? Then your palm is whispering to you, "Prune me." To be safe I'd always recommend doing a quick once over before hurricane season or if you are in the middle of a drought and you're worried about fire to make sure your palm is in good shape and doesn't need pruning. Keeping your tree free of hazards and as safe as possible is the most important thing when considering tree maintenence.

If your palm tree is small enough to prune from the ground or a small step stool then you are set to start but if you need to climb a ladder you should consider hiring an Arborist. It's more than likely the fronds will require a chain saw to cut without damaging them and you want to be safe.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pruning saw
  • Hand pruner
  • Step stool (optional)

Protective Gear

  • Gardening gloves
  • Safety glasses

Materials

  • 1 bottle rubbing Alcohol

Instructions

  1. Examine Your Palm Tree

    If you know what kind of palm you have that's great news, some palm trees don't need to be pruned. These are known as self-cleaning palms. Some popular self-cleaning palms are the Royal palm, Christmas palm, King palms, and Kentia palms. You'll just need to do some ground clean up and wait for fronds to drop.

    You will want to take a good look at your tree. See if you have any brown fronds,
    that are completely dead or dried out. If you have green fronds that are
    yellowing let them be. These are still okay; your tree is actually using them
    for nourishment.

    Now look for fruit or flowers and put them on the to prune list. These are susceptible to wind damage and a great place for pest to hide. Once you know what needs to be pruned you are ready to move to the next step.

  2. Plan the Prune

    Step back and again look at your palm tree. Look at what needs to be removed and remember to keep a full circular canopy.

    Tip

    Only plan remove old fronds, flowers, fruit, or limbs that may cause a hazard such as wind damage or fire.

    Cutting or thinning too much of your tree away is called a "hurricane cut".
    Pruning a palm like this is bad for the palm because it takes away its ability
    to get nutrients, especially potassium. You might also find yourself in trouble
    with the law, in some parts of the country it is illegal to give a palm tree
    these types of cuts.

  3. Make the Cut

    First thing, anytime you prune, you want to wipe down the blades with 70% isopropyl alcohol to sterilize your tools. Depending on the size of the frond, pick your tool, and begin low. Work upwards cutting the fronds you selected earlier for pruning, don’t get over zealous. When you make your cuts be sure to cut the fronds two inches from the trunk, taking care not to cut too close, cutting in too far may damage the trunk and allow diseases to harm the tree.

    When removing green fronds, think of your palm tree like clock. Only prune from
    nine-to-three down but never prune above that position, that is what leads to the
    hurricane cut mentioned above.

    As you remove fronds, fruit and flowers will be easier to see and remove. Cut as
    you are able and carefully remove them by hand making sure to wear gloves,
    palms often have thorns and gloves will help.

    Image shows gardener pruning a palm tree
     
  4. Clean Up

    Responsibly dispose of any waste you removed taking special note of any fruit and seeds that might be left at the base of your palm tree. These can attract pest that can infest your tree and cause disease.

    If you're unsure of how to dispose of your palm fronds call your local public works department for information. Many areas have special instructions regarding palm waste.

     Step back and admire your work. You won’t need to Prune for another year. Time for that refreshing beverage.