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How often do I trim a palm tree?
A frequent question we get is how often should a palm tree be trimmed? Although there is no hard and fast rule for palm trimming there are some best practices that should be observed when maintaining palm trees.
As palm trees grow at different rates depending on the climate and species, palm trees should be pruned when old branches/ fronds have dried and turned down or just when they start to fruit in spring.
If you’re looking for a time frame I would say anywhere between every 12 to 24 months.
This would all depend on what level of maintenance you are after, but each year palm trees flower, which then turns into fruit. This fruit later drops and makes quite a mess. If you don’t mind raking up the mess created by your palm trees at least once a year every year, then you can get away with trimming your palm trees every other year.
If you run a tight ship and want them looking good all year round, then I recommend you get them trimmed every year.
What happens if I never trim a palm?
Other than being an ugly eye-sore, your two biggest issues are fire hazards and falling branch dangers. Having dead palm fronds can become very hazardous for people and property around those palms. It’s not such a big deal when the palm tree is small, but if the dead fronds are falling from a height, they can definitely generate quite a lot of velocity as they’re coming down and I have the potential to really hurt people.
Dead fronds left unchecked or maintain on all palm trees can become a hazard for fire. So it is recommended that they are removed every two years at the latest.
Can you cut the top off a palm tree?
If you cut more than just the leaves/fronds, and remove the whole top part down to the trunk, it will not grow back. This is due to the fact that palm trees are actually more closely related to grass they are trees. They are what are known as monocot plant/ tree which means they do not have any woody stem on the inside, but living tissue all the way through.
The top part is what you could consider the bud of a flower that continually flowers (but in a palm trees case it shoots out leave and not new flowers. If the whole head of a palm tree is removed, a new one will not grow back. You will be left with a large tall stump which will immediately begin to die.
You should never cut all the leaves of a palm tree. At the very least you should always leave one or two leaves at the very top. As discussed above, the best practices for palm tree pruning though are not to cut anything above the horizon line.
When is the best time to prune palm trees?
Spring is the best time to prune palm trees. The reason being growth slows down in the winter months for all trees and palms are no different. As their growth slows, so does their ability to maintain current fronds. Over the winter frond die-back is accelerated and by the time spring comes around your palm will be ready for a tidy up.
This is also the time of year flowing begins on palm trees. Those flowers are very large pods which then turn into seeds the begin dropping onto the floor. You’re best getting to your palm trimming job done before the seeds start to fall as they can make quite the mess.
So anytime between the start and middle of spring really is the best time to prune the palm tree.
Advantages of palm tree trimming
This does not only count when your palm trees happen to be in the way of a beachside view, this is also relevant for palm trees in your backyard. They really do liven up your garden and homes when they have been freshly pruned.
Dead fronds on a palm tree will come loose and fall after some time especially on windy days. This can become quite hazardous when someone is walking under the palm tree. I’ve also seen some horrible damage caused the cars from falling palm fronds.
Reduced fire hazard
Palm fronds on a tree are the perfect kindling for starting or spreading fire. There’s also the issue of kids/ teenagers and lighters. I have seen more than once the aftermath of teenagers lighting up the dead fronds on a palm tree. The tree looks ugly for years after, not to mention the danger of having an intense fire raging in your front yard. This happens time and time again when dead fronds are left unattended on palm trees within reach. Save yourself the headache and keep on top of palm tree trimming.
Should I just trim the dead branches?
It’s always a good idea to not only trim the dead branches off a palm but also some of the live ones also. By trimming some of the lower green ones while you are at it, you will keep you tree tidy for longer. Those lower green branches will soon die, so why not get in early?
There is a general rule of thumb that says don’t trim palm tree above the horizon line. This means only trim branches that are below horizontal. This will result in a much nicer and healthier-looking tree. You don’t want to end up with an oversize pineapple at the top of your palm trunk.
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Expert advice when pruning palm trees yourself
Use a pruning saw
If you looking to carry the palm pruning job yourself, the best tool to use would be a hand pruning saw. These come in many shapes and sizes and an extension saw would serve you best so to avoid working on a ladder.
When you are pruning a palm tree you will be looking up while cutting. This results in fine shavings raining down on your face while you cut. Eye protection is a must as the last thing you want to do is be blinded whilst working at heights or with palm branches falling from heights.
Palm trimming and removal can be a messy job, as palm trees are highly acidic. I suggest you wear gloves during the pruning process as to avoid getting the sticky acidic paste on your hands. It’s pretty hard to get off and I’m not sure how healthy it is to have it in direct contact with your skin in the first place.
Working with trees at heights is a little more dangerous than people think. It’s not like screwing in a light bulb, you have branches falling and swinging around. It is quite easy for the ladder to go from under you. Don’t risk serious injury just to save a bit of money. If you think it is a little too tall for comfort, I suggest you get a professional in to do the pruning for you.
Wash hands & equipment after
All palm trees are very acidic but some more than others. After you have been working with a palm tree you need to wash all juice that made contact with your skin off. Regular palms are not too bad like cocas palms and Date palms, but others like Foxtail palms can be very hazardous to your health and your tools.
When to trim palm trees?
The best time of year to trim a palm tree would ideally be in winter. This is to avoid infection from pests and fungus. Although palms are not prone to a lot of pests and disease, it is always a good idea to lean on the side of caution and use the cooler months when most pests and fungal diseases are dormant to carry out your pruning.
An added bonus of this is that most tree trimming services are fairly quiet in winter so you are very likely to get a better deal in winter as bids are more competitive this time of year.
How to trim palm trees
It is important that you do not over trim your palm tree. Palms are unique in that they have a single “flowering bud” at the top of the tree that perpetually generates new foliage throughout its life.
If you were to remove too many leaves in one go you could run the risk of starving the palm to nutrients it gets from the sun through photosynthesis. This could lead to a thin stunted patch on its trunk when can affect the long-term stability of the tree.
When trimming, use sharp tools and only prune dead branches and all live branches hanging below the horizon line. Palm fronds are growing on an upward trajectory, no matter how slight should be left.
A lot of people try to do 2 years of trimming in one go, but as discussed above this can have adverse effects on their palm tree.
Author: Ben McInerney – Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.
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