By BJ Jarvis
Pasco Extension Director and Horticulturist
June is the official start of the hurricane season in Florida. Don’t be surprised to get a knock on the door offering to hurricane cut palms. As Nancy Reagan said, “Just Say No!”
One of the most harmful landscape practices is the excessive pruning we call hurricane cutting. Less-than-knowledgeable tree folk rationalize that removing the majority of palm fronds will reduce the plant’s resistance to wind. UF researchers have proven that not only is this a fallacy, but the practice actually increases chances of wind damage and causes additional harm. Unpruned palms, following the hurricanes of 2004, hardly showed any damage, while those receiving pruning were killed or sustained extensive damage.
In general, palms are slow growing, producing about one frond or leaf each month. Removing a dozen fronds removes an entire year’s growth. This is devastating to palms because this unique plant group stores vital nutrients in the older, outer leaves. When excessively removed, the palm is stripped of its nutrient reservoir. Removing mostly green fronds can make nutrient deficiencies worse.
Years of overpruning causes the trunk to get narrower at the top, much like the shape of a pencil. This constriction creates structure weakness, the opposite of what is really trying to be achieved.
Occasional light pruning may be warranted. However, pruning should be limited to create a canopy of leaves at a minimum of 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Remove only dead or obviously nearly dead fronds. Flower stalks, which do not store nutrients, can be removed at any time, as they produce messy and sometimes slippery seeds later in the year.
As a UF horticulturist put it, palms need a “trim, not a Mohawk.” If you must prune, hire a certified arborist. A little investment now will pay dividends later in protecting this expensive garden member.
Don’t create palm problems by overpruning. Never remove green fronds, as this shortchanges the plant of essential nutrients and causes structure damage. For more information on palm pruning, visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP44300.pdf.
–BJ Jarvis is Director and Horticulturist for Pasco Cooperative Extension. She can be contacted by email at .
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