Proper Palm Pruning, Not “Hurricane Pruning”

With preparations for the storm in mind, you may think you need to “hurricane prune” your palm tree. Well let me stop you before you do more harm than good. While in the past people thought by removing almost all palm fronds, leaving only the youngest few, you would create a more wind resistant palm. However, new evidence suggests that thought is not correct and “hurricane pruning” actually weakens palm trees and they could become more vulnerable to damage.

Proper Pruning Techniques

So what are some better pruning techniques when it comes to palms? First, only completely dead fronds should be removed. While yellow leaves may be unsightly, they are an indication of something going on. These leaves should be left on as they are still helping to support the palm through mobile nutrients, such as potassium (K).

A healthy palm tree should actually have a 360 degree canopy of leaves. However, often they are overpruned due to nutrient deficiency symptoms. Never remove any leaves above the horizon of three to nine (on a clock).

One other thing to consider when pruning palms are the flowers and fruit. It is fine to leave them or prune them. If you have a palm that produces fruit that you do not want littering the yard, it is actually easier to trim off the lighter flower stalk rather than waiting to prune a heavy fruit stalk.

Hiring a Certified Arborist

Please keep in mind, if you cannot safely prune a palm tree or any tree safely, it is best to hire a Certified Arborist to complete the task. These professionals are trained in proper pruning techniques, safety, and are up to date on the latest recommendations through continuing education classes. You can find a local Certified Arborist by visiting the International Society of Arboriculture online.

For more information on proper palm pruning check out:

Pruning Palms, UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

Pruning Palms, UF/IFAS EDIS

6 Comments on “Proper Palm Pruning, Not “Hurricane Pruning”

    • Hi Jim,
      For established palm trees in the landscape excessive pruning above the 9-3 horizon can have negative affects on the palm. Most importantly it reduces the palms photosynthesis ability. Repeated overpruning may also result in a narrowing of the trunk. Only completely dead fronds should be removed. If you are hiring landscape professionals to maintain your palms, you may want to ask that they only remove completely dead fronds and certainly not cut above the 9-3 horizon. For more information on pruning palms and the impacts of overpruning check out: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP44300.pdf.

      The only time excessive leaf removal is appropriate and beneficial is for transplanting palms. For more information on leaf removal when transplanting palm trees check out: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP00100.pdf.

  1. What do I do for palms that show the yellowing in the leaves?

    • Great question Cheryl! Palms with yellow leaves may be displaying symptoms of a nutrient deficiency. It is not recommended to prune these fronds. Even though they are yellow and may be considered unsightly, if it is a nutrient deficiency, they are still helping to support the overall health of the palm through mobile nutrients. Pruning the yellow fronds does not solve the problem. You should wait until the fronds are completely brown and dead before pruning them. If you would like to try to key out the problem here is a link https://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/palmprod/palm-problems-key/palm-problems-key-leaves/.

      For more information on nutrient deficiencies in palms I recommend this short article from UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/fertilizer/palm-nutrition.html as well as http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep273. Finally, to ensure you are fertilizing your palm appropriately, make sure you use a formula with 8-2-12-4Mg and that 100% of the N, K, Mg, and B sources are in slow-release or controlled-release form and that all of the Mn, Fe, Zn, and Cu sources are water soluble as in the article by Timothy Broschat, titled Not All Landscape Palm Fertilizers Are Created Equal (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP51600.pdf.) You are welcome to contact our Master Gardener plant clinic to discuss the specifics of your palm at 863-519-1041.

  2. There should be one * for this article. The “Tall” coconut trees that are heavily laden with nuts should be lighted up prior to storm season. I routinely “harvest” when the first storm starts to spin each season. My tallest is close to 30’+. Removing the nuts help prevent the storms to topple the mature trees. I do completely agree about not taking leaves off higher then 3-9 o’clock. – it is equally disturbing to what HOA prune palmettos to the last 4 to 5 fronds.

    • Hi Jacquie,
      Thank you for your interest of properly pruned palms. For coconut palms the flowers or the fruit can be pruned at any time and certainly if the fruit are in a public place and may pose a risk for dropping where people frequent, they should be removed. For more information about coconut palms, check out: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg043. For more information on pruning palms, including coconut palms, check out: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep443.

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