When pruning palms, you may have heard of the 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock rule. With this guideline, you remove fronds (leaves) that hang below the 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock position. The point of pruning should be primarily to remove dead growth. Palms need their leaves to photosynthesize and produce food for the plant. Removing too many leaves will result in less food for your palm tree. Remember that overpruning will weaken the palm tree and increase risk for the palm to get damaged by wind, insect, and disease. If you hire a professional landscaper, let them know you want a rounded canopy. Watch this video on pruning cabbage palms.
As hurricane season approaches, people may inquire on how to prune their palm trees. Often palm trees are overpruned, and that makes them more vulnerable to damage during an extreme weather event. What some call hurricane pruning or hurricane cutting, where most of the fronds are cut off can cause serious damage to the palm. The fronds are best left on the palm because they help to protect the palm during high winds.
Palms are categorized as self-cleaning or not self-cleaning. Self-cleaning palm trees naturally lose their fronds when they are dead. Examples of self-cleaning palms include cabbage palm, foxtail palm and Christmas palm, whereas palms such as date palms hold on to their fronds. For the palms that do not automatically lose their fronds, you can prune the dead ones with a pole saw. For a complete list of palms see Ornamental Palms for South Florida.
Palms are often thought to be low maintenance in the landscape, and this is true to some extent. Nutrient deficiencies and palm diseases are sometimes seen and need to be corrected. Take pictures of your yellowing leaves and send them to your local UF/IFAS Extension County Extension office to diagnose the problem before pruning them. Potassium is a common nutrient deficiency in palms and is mobile in the plant. Leaving the older and yellowing palm fronds on the tree allows the palm to relocate and reuse these nutrients. See Potassium Deficiency in Palms. Another increasing threat to palms is lethal bronzing disease. Once a palm has lethal bronzing there is no cure and the palm must be removed. To prevent the spread of this disease, clean your pruning tools between cuts on different palm trees.
Want to learn more? Check out horticulture classes offered by UF/IFAS Extension Orange County at www.ocextension.eventbrite.com. Read about Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/. Follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GardenFlorida/, Instagram https://www.instagram.com/oc_extension/ and visit our website https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/orange/home-lawns-landscapes-and-gardens/florida-friendly-landscaping/.