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Over-Pruning Harmful to Palms

This is how a palm should look.

Florida can have beautiful palms, but most palms are extremely over-pruned, and also lack nutrients. Over-pruning harms palms.

You should know this about palms:

Removing living fronds removes the palm’s food source.

Plants produce food in their fronds by taking energy from the sun and changing it into sugar. Removing living fronds, especially too many, takes away the palm’s food source. This is doubly harmful because when the palm’s food source is removed, it has to use up its stored food to produce more leaves. This is very stressful to the plant.

Provide proper palm fertilizer.

Palms in Florida can lack many nutrients and the symptoms show up in the fronds. When the lower, older fronds are not evenly green it is because they are lacking nutrients. Removing these lower yellowing, browning fronds makes the lack of nutrients worse and can kill the palm. Fertilize palms three times a year (February, May and November) with an 8-0-12-4Mg fertilizer that has all the micronutrients in the sulfate form. Use this fertilizer for the entire landscape within 50 feet of the palm, including grass. In August, apply 0-0-16-6Mg fertilizer. For more information see: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep261 If you can’t use the right fertilizer, don’t fertilize and don’t prune. Turf fertilizers can kill palms.

Wrong and harmful pruning

Palms need their fronds for shelter.

The fronds help protect the growing bud of the palm and they help to support and guard the fronds above them. Removing too many fronds leaves the bud exposed to cold and wind. The so-called “hurricane cut” is wrong and harmful to the palm.






Acceptable pruning

Never remove fronds above the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock horizontal line.

Removing fronds above this line is harmful to the palm in several ways. It removes food from the palm and causes it to use up stored food. It exposes the palm bud to cold and wind and it makes nutrient shortages worse. It is also very stressful to the palm and makes it much more likely to die.  If a palm is lacking any nutrients it should not be pruned.   Anyone that prunes palms above the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock horizontal line is doing you a disservice.


Improper pruning can introduce a disease that causes the whole top to fall off.

Any injury to the top third of the trunk such as removing fronds improperly or shaving the trunk can introduce thielaviopsis. This is a trunk rotting disease that is not noticed until the top of the palm falls off. This is a dangerous situation if the palm could cause injury or damage. For more information see: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp143

Prevent disease by only removing completely brown fronds.

There are fatal diseases spread by pruning tools. Removing only dead fronds prevents the spread of these fatal diseases.

It is best to leave brown fronds on the palm, they provide habitat.

Never prune palms that have a crown shaft.