A tree trimming may be just what the arborist ordered for your palm—just be super careful
For people living in warm or coastal climates, palm trees are a popular landscape addition. These trees provide shade and make you feel like you’re on summer vacation all year long. But these trees grow “beards,” where the fronds (what you might call leaves) turn brown. The brown fronds may then come loose and litter your yard or become obstacles in the road without proper care. Here’s how to trim a palm tree to help it look its best.
Why Do I Need to Trim Palm Trees?
You don’t always need to trim palm trees. Unlike other plants that you may trim for cosmetic reasons, palm trees are usually trimmed just to minimize safety hazards. The fronds can become fire hazards, especially when the trees are close to homes and garages. They can also fall and become road obstacles or may damage nearby structures in high winds.
Many palm trees also benefit from pruning for their own vitality. Dead or dying fronds, flowers, and fruits on palm trees can take away nutrients from the main plant.
How Much Does It Cost to Trim Palm Trees?
Tree trimming services cost about $100 to $1,500 per palm tree. The rate is less expensive for shorter palm trees, but the cost rises as the height of the tree goes up. Climbing up tall palm trees can be dangerous, and cutting away fronds requires precision and care.
Improper cuts can create wounds in the trunk that invite diseases and pests. Pruning too much or cutting from the crown of the tree can put stress on the tree and may even cause it to die off.
Prepping to Trim a Palm Tree
First, understand that pruning should be done with care because you can harm your palm tree if you are too aggressive. While tree maintenance promotes tree health, palm trees don't need much pruning, so only undertake this project if absolutely necessary. Don't just do it for appearance's sake or you risk harming or even killing the tree.
With tools in hand, it's time to inspect the tree. You're only looking to trim the fronds (the leaves of the tree) and its flowers or fruit.
Finally, only do this project in the early spring if you can help it. Normally, you would prune most trees during the winter, but dead fronds or flowers on a palm tree will be more obvious in the spring. Not only that, but the dead fronds can actually provide some better protection to the palm tree from less favorable winter weather.
How to Trim a Palm Tree
It’s not necessarily easy to trim a palm tree, but it’s relatively straightforward with the right tools, equipment, and know-how. After that, it’s just a matter of hard work to get it done.
1. Clean the Tools
Cleaning your tools before and after each pruning session helps minimize the risk of spreading diseases from one plant to another. Use diluted bleach, alcohol, or a commercial disinfectant and a cloth to thoroughly clean and disinfect your tools before you start cutting away dead, dying, or infected fronds. Never mix any cleaners together.
2. Climb Up to the Fronds
There are a few different ways you can reach the fronds toward the top of the tree. For trees shorter than 15 feet, you can use a step ladder, a standard ladder, or an extension ladder. Make sure the ladder rests on steady ground, and ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to help you climb up and down and to steady the ladder while you are using it.
For taller trees, extended pole saws or cherry pickers can help you reach toward the top. While some professionals may use climbing gear like ropes and carabiners, this is best left to certified experts. Not only is climbing a palm tree dangerous for you, but wearing spiked cleats for stability can damage the palm tree.
3. Prune Flowers and Fruit
Some palm trees may flower or develop fruit, but these objects redirect nutrients from the main plant. You can use your hands to remove the flowers and use a serrated knife or pruning shears to cut away fruit and fruit stalks. Make sure to remove flowers and fruit stalks or fruit as soon as you notice them developing.
4. Remove Dead, Dying, or Diseased Fronds
Look for brown or broken fronds, but don’t trim away yellowing fronds, green fronds, or any fronds from the crown of the tree. You can use a serrated knife, pruning shears, or a saw to remove fronds, but be sure to leave a space of about 2 centimeters between the palm tree's trunk and where you cut on the frond. If you cut the fronds too short, you can stress the tree or damage the trunk.
Once you’ve cut the fronds, you can pull gently on the petioles, or sharp brown blades, near the fronds. Only pull them out completely if they come out easily when you tug.
After you’ve cleared away the visible flowers, fruit, and dead fronds, you may notice more fruit stalks or previously hidden flowers. Go ahead and remove those by hand or with cleaned cutting tools.
5. Clean Up the Waste
Palm tree waste isn’t just an unsightly mess in the lawn; it may actually attract pests. Make sure to pick up the fronds, fruits, and flowers and dispose of them in an organic waste bin. Tuck away any pointy petioles and other sharp elements so they don’t hurt waste management service employees.
If you aren’t sure how to safely dispose of palm fronds, especially palm fronds or fruits with pests or diseases, you can contact your local waste management service for advice.
With the yard cleaned up, you can relax and enjoy the clean, neat appearance of your freshly trimmed palm trees.
Taking Care of Palm Trees
Aside from their beauty, palm trees have a major benefit—they are low-maintenance plants. You’ll need to prune and fertilize about once a year, and watering is only required when the soil around the tree goes dry. Other than that, these trees aren’t very fussy. Following these best practices will keep your palm trees looking great.
Prune as Needed
While you shouldn’t prune healthy fronds or prune too frequently, keeping up on pruning away dead or diseased leaves, fruits, and flowers can help lengthen the life of your palm tree. Palms may need to be pruned about once or twice per year at most.
Fertilize the Tree
Palm trees are vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies, but palm-specific fertilizers rich in potassium, nitrogen, and magnesium can help give them the boost they need. You can apply fertilizer about once per year, especially if you notice yellowing fronds or stunted growth.
Water Dry Soil
For healthy palm trees, plant them in well-draining soil. While you’ll need to water newly planted palm trees about once a day for the first week, further watering is only on an as-needed basis. Instead of setting the sprinklers or planning to water on a certain day of the week, you’ll need to get your hands dirty. Check the soil around the palm tree, about 2 inches deep, and only water the area if this soil is dry.
DIY Palm Tree Trimming vs. Hiring a Pro
If you can easily access the fronds by climbing a stepladder, then you can most likely do this job yourself. It’s pretty easy to identify dead fronds and flowers that need pruning, and you only need simple tools to do it. Trimming palm trees yourself can cost little to nothing if you already have tools like ladders or pruning shears, but the cost can reach up to $1,100 to buy the equipment if you don’t already have it.
Tall palm trees are a different story. Palm trees can grow up to 70 feet high, and a fall from those heights would cause serious injury or death, so it’s very dangerous for an amateur to try to climb the tree. Contact an arborist near you instead for a consultation and a quote. You can also ask them if pruning can help prevent palm tree diseases in your area.
Even if you hire an arborist to trim your palm trees, you might save up to $100 by cleaning up the trimmed fronds yourself. The arborist may also offer you a better deal per tree if you need multiple trees trimmed at once.
Frequently Asked Questions
Only trim palm trees as needed, which is usually about once per year. However, don't stick to that schedule if the palm tree doesn't need it. Avoid trimming palm trees when possible.
It’s best to trim palm trees only when you notice a buildup of dead fronds. That said, leave the brown fronds during the dormant season because this organic matter helps protect the tree from the cooler weather.
A serrated knife will work for cutting off small palm tree fronds, about 1 inch in diameter. For larger fronds, you will need pruning shears. You may also use a pruning saw, and if your palm tree is especially tall, an extended pole saw can help you reach the brown fronds around the trunk.
Yes, you can prune a palm tree with a chainsaw, but a chainsaw is overkill for a job like this. You risk damaging the tree if you make a bad cut. More commonly, you’ll need pruning shears or a serrated knife to trim a palm tree, or you can use a specialized pruning saw instead of a chainsaw.
By looking at the color, you can tell if palm tree fronds are healthy. A healthy frond has a deep green hue. However, yellow fronds or yellow spots indicate your palm tree may have a nutrient deficiency. Brown means the fronds have died and should be trimmed off the tree.