There is certain amount of skill involved in pruning palm
trees, especially the taller ones like the coconut, Canary Island date, or the large skirted Mexican or California fan palms.
This is best left to professionals,with a bucket truck, climbing gear and other specialized equipment.
Even they can get into serious trouble with deadly consequences, and not necessarily from falling like in this story.
See the post on the right about an accident involving a professional palm tree trimmer.
Click the post for the whole story.
After you read it look along the side of the article-- you'll also see 2 more related stories.
If you were going to try it on some smaller trees only here's some tips you need to know.
If you aren't from an area that has these trees, I'll bet you are surprised at just how much those leaves can weigh.
Having the proper tools will make a difficult job much easier. It is important to make sure they are sharp and well taken care of.
For trees that susceptible to a fungus called the Fusarium wilt, you will have to take special precautions.
The popular Canary Island date palm is an example.
It is highly prone to this fungus.
Once the tree has it there is no cure and it dies a slow death.
This fungus actually lives in the sap of the tree. If you are pruning a a tree that has it, whether you know it or not--- then use the same tools to prune a healthy tree-- you will spread the fungus.
This deadly organism attacks trees that are stressed and in a weakened state. An over pruned tree is just that.
To combat this fungus the only recourse is to clean, and disinfect your pruning tools between trees.
If you suspect that one of your trees
has this then it will also help to prune it last.
Sterilizing and disinfecting tools after each tree is extra work but is the best practice.
For the trees, whether they have this pest or not, you should use a sealer on the newly cut leaf stems.
Do it right away to reduce the stress of your tree.
Follow these best practices when pruning palm trees and it will reduce the chances of your tree becoming infected.
A common palm tree pest is the red weevil.
Combat this insect pest the same way, by sealing the tree where the leaves just were trimmed.
This beetle is attracted to trees that are stressed.
It will seek them out before healthy ones to lay its eggs. Larvae hatch, make their way to and then begin feeding on the palm heart.
Pretty soon your tree is beyond saving.
There are a few palms that display a great pattern in their trunk after pruning.
It all starts with how the leaves grow out from the trunk. The old leaf bases are left on the tree in a beautiful design.
The Pindo palm, date palms, and some of the fan leaf varieties are great demonstrations of this.
Keep in mind that with some of the fan varieties the old leaf bases will eventually fall off on their own, even though it could be years.
The trunks underneath will show a design of the scars left of the old leaves.
Some people prefer to strip or "skin" (other name used in conjunction with pruning palm trees) the trunk of these old leaf bases instead of letting them fall on their own.
This is also done to the trees that have fibrous material wrapped around them and the ones that have spines attached to the leaf bases.
That is fine as long as the old bases are totally brown.
Care must be taken when doing this to insure you don't damage the trunk.
Make sure to wear some protective equipment like good quality gloves and long pants. The spines are usually quite sharp.
When it comes to pruning palm trees this size using a step ladder or even an extension ladder is out of the question. They are just too tall.
Even if you manage to master some of the techniques in getting up the trunks of the trees, you must do it without the use of a safety harness, at least on the climb up.
Here's a little video I shot of the expert climbers and pruners in our community. You'll see no harness and the machete is tied to the climbers shorts with a rope. That way he'll have it with him when he gets to the top.
You may find a place at the very top where you could tie yourself off in case of a fall. Remember you are up there to prune the leaves and coconuts. Don’t use one of the branches you had planned to cut.
Only trim off the leaves that are turning brown and any fruit or flowers.
The flowers will turn into fruit. Prune them now while its easier rather than later when they are full size coconuts- unless you plan on harvesting the coconuts later.
The best practice of pruning palm trees of any kind is to trim so that the fronds that are left are in the 9 and 3 positions like on the hands of a clock.
Anymore than that and you are damaging the tree because the leaves do gather moisture and nutrients out of the air.
It can leave the high up part of the trunk weakened as well, which will make them a lot more susceptible to high wind damage.
Believe it or not, when pruning palm trees, the more leaves left on, the better the tree will fair in high winds.
One of the common pruning methods is called the hurricane cut. A very deceiving name. Trees cut to this shape don't fair well in hurricanes.
Most of the guys I’ve seen doing this amazing job, don’t use any safety equipment.
It just gets in the way of them being able to move freely around the top of the tree without getting all tangled up.
A fall from these heights though will most certainly cause great injury or death!
There is group of guys that come over to prune the trees in our yard.
There’s only one in the bunch that will go to the top of our “meat” coconut tree.
You get a bit of perspective of how tall it is from the picture on the right.
His name is Willie and he is the supervisor of Casa Linda’s gardening crew.
None of the other guys will even make an attempt to go all the way up that particular tree.
It is much taller than the other ones we have.
The rope you see in the picture below isn't for his safety.
It's attached to the machete he's bringing up with him.
There isn’t just danger for the guy at the top of the tree-who by the way has to get a full size machete up there without hurting himself- but also for the other guys on the ground.
When leaves this size fall they could literally take you out.
I bet they are a lot bigger and heavier than you think. When you see them on the ground you have a whole new respect.
Anyone on the ground will also have to be cautious of the large bunches of falling coconuts.
They can bounce and roll quite far and they do come down in bunches, smashing and rolling every which way.
Pruning palm trees of the smaller variety are a breeze. With them its best to wait until the leaves turn brown, then chop those ones off.
If it is a larger tree, then get the ladder and machete out and take those dying branches off before they fall on their own.
It’s wise to prune off any that may be diseased or infested with a parasite. This way they won't get a chance to spread.
You'll notice some types of palms shed their own leaves when they are ready- like the royal palm. Only the safety of those walking below would be a reason to remove the leaves early.
Others like the California fan palm won't drop them on their own.
If you have one of these in your landscape prune off only the dead leaves.
Leaving them on gives an interesting look but can become home to insects, and rats.
On the more positive side some environmentally friendly creatures like bats or birds could also call the skirts home.
Washingtonia Palms near Twentynine Palms, California, USA. Taken February 7, 2004 by Jim Harper.
It was an interesting experience watching the crew work to get the job done and make our backyard paradise a safe place again.
What do you think about pruning palm trees?
Would you climb up there with a machete in tow?
That tall and heavy is best left to the professionals I think.
One last thing to remember if you do take om the job.
Don't prune too much!!
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