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What happens when you cut the top off a palm tree?
Updated: 24 March 2020
Driving around town I see lots of palm trees that have been incorrectly pruned, some have even been topped. Topping is the term used for when you cut the top off a palm tree.
A palm tree will not grow once the top has been cut off. They are what is known as a monocotyledon plant which makes them more closely related to grass or flowering plants than trees.
If you cut the bud off a plant before it flowers, it can no longer produce a flower. Palm trees work in a similar way with their leaves (fronds) are part of an ever flowering bud. If you remove it, the palm tree will not continue to grow. The stump will dry out and die.
At this point your will need to look at getting your palm tree removed as the trunk will only become unstable in time.
Do palm trees ever stop growing?
This is one question that fascinates me personally about Palm trees. Do they just keep growing until they die or do they stop growing after living a particular number of years?
Palm trees generally grow in tropical/ subtropical and warm temperate regions, hence you can expect them to grow pretty tall because of the perfect environment in which they can thrive. But, it is important to note that palm trees come in various shapes, sizes and heights. Palm trees come in about 2600 different sub-species, so depending on the type of palm, their height at maturity can vary greatly. Some commonly found palm trees include; Date Palm, Mexican Fan Palm, and Coconut palm, which usually form the canopy in forest.
Generally Palm trees live between 40 and 90 years, again depending on the species. The Mexican fan Palm for example can live for up to 100 years when in ideal conditions. Palm trees also range in height between 65 feet to 180 feet, although some palm trees, like the wax palm can tower up over 200 feet.
From all the studies and researches carried out, Palm trees pretty much grow through majority of their life span, their growth is usually halted by environmental conditions or the deterioration of the trees ability to transport water to where it is required at the top of the tree through its vascular system.
Other factors like mechanical damage from lightning, wind and storms or once they begin to reach maturity and their growth slows, and insects or disease can set in further halting their ability to grow.
How long will it take for Palm tree to reach full height?
As stated earlier, palm species, their life span and height differ from one tree to another. To determine how many years it takes a palm tree to achieve maximum height, a number of factors have to be taken into consideration such as environmental factors, fertility of the soil and exposure to adequate sunlight which is a vital component in the continuous growth of Palm trees.
Under ideal conditions, King Palms grow about 2 feet per year, a Mexican Fan Palm can grow 4 feet per year, Queen palm can also grow 2 feet per year. Getting your palm tree trimmed each year will help consolidate it’s energy keeping it healthy and allow it to grow faster.
The amount a palm tree grows per year, will ultimately determine their final height. Due to a number of factors, it has been difficult to put a general number on the amount of time required for Palm trees to achieve maximum height. Foxtail Palms for example will reach its full height in 20 years or less. Lady Palms takes 10 years or less. Other Palm species will continue to grow through the duration of their life span. Generally though, the most rapid growth happens in the first 25 years.
How much do Palm trees grow each year?
This is another widely searched question about palm trees on the internet. Some people require answers like this because they plan on growing palm trees indoors. The major factor that determines the growth rate of these Palm trees is its species. Different species have different rate of growth under ideal conditions. For some species, they could have an annual increment of 3 feet which spans over long years resulting in very tall trees, while others could take the same amount of time to grow only 10 feet. Hence it is crucial to know the sort of species of Palm tree you are dealing with and research it well before moving to plant in your house.
There are factors that deter and favor the growth of Palm trees, the factors comprise majorly, sunlight availability, rainfall, competition, just to name a few. Where an appropriate supply of these factors are available, growth is sustained and promoted, but when there are deficiencies in their availability the growth rate of the trees are wayned. Therefore if you are looking at getting a palm tree for indoors, it would be wise to consult a local nursery to get professional information about the species to obtain.
As mentioned earlier, the growth rate varies according to species, for Queen Palm it was observed that under ideal conditions they have a growth rate of 2-feet per annum, this would be categorized as having a medium fast growth rate. Mexican fan Palm was observed to undergo an increase in height of 4-feet per year, this plant is a really fast-growing and hence is highly used in recreational parks.
The King Palm is also regarded as fast-growing plant because it grows at a rate of about 2-feet per year, although the growth rate can substantially increase if it is allowed maximum sunlight exposure and not restricted by shade of any sort. Foxtail Palm is also fast-growing with a rate of about 2 to 3-feet growth per annum. Other species of Palm trees in the same manner have their ideal growth rate provided all factors for growth are available.
What’s the difference between a regular tree and a palm tree?
When Palm trees are mentioned, our attention is usually shifted towards those towering trees found majorly at beaches, and that’s absolutely right but there are also various other species found across the tropics. Palms are well cultivated plants among humans like a lot of historical, cultural, religious and social significance.
Palm trees are classified as monocotyledons, which simply refers to flowering plants with one embryonic leaf or cotyledon. This major distinction separates them from the other major half of the dichotomy known as dicotyledonous plants, which have two cotyledons in their seed.
The two divisions of flowering plants have a lot of distinction when considered internally, like the arrangement of their vascular system, where they are scattered in the monocots (palm trees), they are arranged in concentric circles in the dicots (regular trees).
A vivid difference is that in dicots (regular trees) there is secondary growth while monocots usually lack this ability. Secondary growth simply refers to development within in plant that leads to increase in girth of the plant root or stem rather than the length. This manifests as cylindrical stems in palm trees which hardly expands through put its life span.
A palm tree has living tissue through the whole trunk which is used to feed the leaves. A regular trees only living part is the bark and the leaves, with the inside of a regular tree is essentially dead.
Also the root system in monocot is comprised of a clump of roots that are all of similar size and do not go too deep. Dicots on the other hand have a tap root, with lateral stability roots with second and third order roots branching off these.
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How much can I prune off a Palm tree?
The leaves of Palm trees are called fronds. Removing dried fronds from Palm trees is a good practice, but pruning off too many healthy and green leaves can have a negative effect on the tree. It can cause retardation in its growth with a reduced ability to photosynthisise. It is well known now that if you cut the whole top off a Palm tree, you’ve essentially permanently ended any hopes of growth for the tree. All that will be left is a towering stump that won’t bear fronds anymore, hence care has to be taken when pruning Palm trees.
Ideally, it is a preferred practice to leave all fronds on or above the horizon line. The manner of their removal should be delicate and involve clipping them just above the portion where they connect with the trunk. Pruning palm trees on a regular basis is key to having them look goo all the time. One big prune will just make the tree look horrible and cause more problems.
Pruning shears or a pruning saw for larger palms are the best tools for the job. You can also remove dead fronds about 1 inch from the base of the main stem. If you decide you can’t carry out the pruning by yourself, you are best hiring professional arborist to help out. Their charges would depend on the Palm tree height, location on the property and number of palms being trimmed. Although every job is different you can expect to pay about $75 per palm.
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Can I stunt my Palm tree growth?
According to some studies the growth of a Palm tree can be stunted. Stunted growth simply refers to stoppage or prevention of a plant from growing properly. Stunted growth in plants usually occur as a result of deficiency in the nutrients that are essential to the plant for normal growth and development. When nutrients such as potassium and magnesium and other essential elements are inadequate, it becomes a struggle for the plant to absorb water and hence develop healthy foliage and good root system.
In reality the only easy way to make sure a palm tree does not grow to its full potential is to plant it in a pot. Like a bonsai, if you reduce the tree’s ability to grow roots, you reduce the trees whole ability to grow.
That being said the nature of palm roots mean that they will eventually break the pot they are in, so you would need to reguarlly prune the roots. My advice would be to just plant the palm trees you love and let them grow. If they get to big after 10 or 20 years, have them removed and start again.
If you read up on palm trees and plant a highly desirable species, you will have people falling over each other offering you money to buy your mature palm tree, so they can resell them for a profit.
What is the best type of Palm to plant that does not grow too high?
Often times, people search for moderately growing Palm trees that they could plant at home for indoor or outdoor landscapes. This is quite understandable, most people aren’t big fans of towering trees rising well above and covering their homes. There is a wide array of species of Palm trees that have moderate maximum height, and these types of plants are mostly acquired for planting indoors to provide decoration.
Parlor Palm is an appropriate example of moderately growing palm trees. These palms can reach 3 feet in height after a few years. At maturity and adequate development, they sprout colorful flowers that helps to beautify the environment. It is mostly grown indoors.
Kentia Palm is another widely popular option. It is also mostly grown indoors and can reach maximum height of 5 feet at maturity. Hence they serve as a great choice for folks searching for Palm trees with moderate height.
Lady Palm grows up to 14 feet. The tree is slow-growing, so it takes a lot of years to achieve this height, but is still a good recommendation for people searching for Palm trees in this category.
Areca Palm also popularly known as Butterfly Palm is another beautiful plant. This plant can grow up to 8 feet in height.
Other examples of moderately growing Palm trees that consumers would appreciate includes the Sago Palm (2ft) and the European Fan Palm which grows to about 5 feet high.
In conclusion, Palm trees should never have the top cut off them. They are a monocot with the crown bud needing great care when pruning as to not kill the tree while trying to maintain it. They are a great tree and thrive in most conditions. There is a palm tree out there for everyone, you just need to find the one that is right for you.
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 dedicating to providing users with the most accurate up to date information on everything trees.
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