Tips from the help desk…Trimming palms, April 2022

Trimming your palms and other tidbits

by David Austin                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Residential Horticulture Agent                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Master Gardener Coordinator                                                                                                                                                                                                                   UF/IFAS Extension, Highlands County, Fl. 

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What about Palms?

Palms are not actually trees. They are monocots and are more closely related to grasses. Some other types of monocots include sedges, orchids, and bamboo. Palms have a single growing point at the top of each stem or trunk known as the apical meristem, commonly called the heart or bud. From this one point, all news leaves or fronds will form. Palms that branch are rare, and often this is caused by damage to the bud that results in it dividing. Only a few species will laterally branch.

The importance of nutrition

Palms require special fertilizers. The University of Florida recommends a slow-release 8-2-12 fertilizer with 4% magnesium. The first three numbers are percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, in that order.  Common deficiencies of palms that show up on older fronds are magnesium and potassium. According to the University of Florida, most palms in Florida are seriously deficient in these two nutrients. With potassium, older or lower fronds may have yellowing spots, With Magnesium deficiencies,  major yellowing occurs along the tips of the fronds (Figure 1). Palms should be fertilized regularly to stay healthy. Read more here about palm tree fertilization.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Palm fronds show yellowing leaves with dificiencies. of Magnesium and pottasium.
(Figure 1) Photo to the left: A magnesium deficient palm frond with yellowing of the outer leaflets.
Photo to the right: Potassium deficiency is displayed by yellow translucent spots.  photo by David Austin

More than just fertilizer

The health of a palm is tied very closely to fertilization but also to how it is trimmed. They rely heavily on making their own food in the form of carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis. This process requires healthy fronds to remain on the trees. Over-trimming is very detrimental to palms. All fronds that remain mostly green should be left on the palm. Flowers and flower pods can be trimmed off. Taking off too many fronds interferes with the palm being able to produce enough food to sustain it (Figure 2).

Some palms will trim themselves and do not need to be trimmed. These self-cleaning palms have a green crownshaft on the stem below the fronds. They include royal, foxtail, and Christmas palms, to name a few. Most of these species are not cold-hardy and are more commonly found in the warmer climates of South Florida. To learn about trimming palms read more here.


Palm trees lined up on the left are mostly without fronds. This is call hurrican cut. The middle palm is trimmed properly. The palm on the right has had too many fronds removed which is unhealthy.
(Figure 2) Photo far-left: The row of palms is hurricane cut. This is a method of trimming Sabal palms when being moved from wooded sites to prevent lack of water loss from the fronds. It should only be done when transplanting and only on Sabal palms which are often moved from wooded locations. Still, leaving a few fronds would be better for the palm’s long-term health.   Photo center: This is a properly trimmed Sabal palm and is the maximum that should be removed when trimming a palm. Photo far-right: This palm is over-trimmed. Repeated trimming in this manner can threaten the health of the palm. Photos by David Austin


                         Keep in Touch with UF/IFAS Extension, Highlands County

In Highlands County, our office is at 4509 W George Blvd., Sebring. The Master Gardener Help Desk is open Monday – Friday from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM.

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david austin
Posted: March 31, 2022

Category: Agriculture, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Home Management, Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Agriculture, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Highlands County, Master Gardener Volunteers, Tips From The Help Desk

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