How to Trim a Palm Tree in 3 Steps

A tree trimming may be just what the arborist ordered for your palm—just be super careful

D.P. Taylor
Written by D.P. Taylor
Updated June 28, 2022
tropical home with palm trees in front yard
Photo: Nikita/ Adobe Stock
Difficulty

Challenging

Consider skipping the DIY.

Time to complete

4 hours

30 minutes, if all you need is a stepladder. 4 hours, if you have to scale a tree.

Cost

Up to $25

Keep it wallet-friendly

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Serrated knife
  • Pruning shears
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Heavy protective clothing
  • Ladder
  • Helmet
  • Climbing rope
  • Carabiners and clips
  • Climbing spurs
  • Hitch pulleys
  • Harness
  • Rigging plates

SUPPLIES

  • Disinfectant (to sterilize cutting tools)

Nothing beats having a palm tree in your yard. Just imagine the sun on your face and the sound of waves, and you’ll feel like you’re on a tropical vacation all the time. But what happens when the fronds turn brown and it looks like the tree has seen better days? It may be time to prune it.

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.  

DIY at Your Own Risk: We strongly advise against attempting to complete this project if you’re inexperienced with ladders or working from tall heights. Palm trees can grow up to 70 feet high, and falling from a ladder or climbing equipment can cause serious injury. If you need an excuse to hire a pro to tackle the job so you can get back to pruning the roses, this is it.

  1. Climb the Tree

    First, wear safety glasses, gloves, and heavy clothing to protect yourself. 

    Hopefully, your palm tree is short enough that all you need is a stepladder, in which case you can skip this step. For taller palm trees, you’ll need climbing equipment to navigate the tree safely, such as rigging plates, harnesses, hitch pulleys, and more. We recommend hiring an arborist to do this if you’re inexperienced or nervous about climbing.

  2. Look for Dead Fronds and Flowers

    You'll want to target dead fronds and flowers that have turned brown and are withering away. Don't trim green fronds since it will weaken the tree, and never cut off the crown as this will kill the tree.

  3. Cut Carefully

    man on a ladder cutting down palm tree leaves
    Photo: Aleksej/ Adobe Stock

    Carefully cut the dead foliage using your pruning shears, making sure not to remove any healthy greenery. Do this until you have removed all of the dead fronds and flowers on the tree. Always disinfect your pruning tools before moving on to the next tree or plant.

  4. Dispose of Palm Tree Trimmings

    Now that you’ve pruned your palm tree, you’ll need to dispose of the trimmings. Call your local waste disposal site for specific details, as they can vary based on where you live. But you will most likely be asked to put your trimmings in separate trash bags for organic waste only and drop them off at your local waste disposal site for recycling. This keeps them out of the landfill and out of your lawn—it’s a win-win! 

    There may be palm tree trimming pickup services in your area as well—be sure to look into your local options.  

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.

However, 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. 

Additional Questions

Do palm trees have to be trimmed every year?

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.

What do you cut palm tree branches with?

A serrated knife will work for cutting off palm tree fronds if they're small enough. For larger fronds, you will need pruning shears.

Can you trim a palm tree with a chainsaw?

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.

How can I tell if leaves are healthy or damaged?

You can tell if palm tree fronds are healthy by looking at the color. 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.

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