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At one time, palm trees were not seen much around this area, except for those in Galveston or near the water southeast of Houston.
Over the past 25 years, however, more and more nurseries, garden centers and wholesale nurseries have been selling them ... and landscapers have been installing them.
But as I noted in a recent submission to a Galveston publication, people just don't seem to keep up with their palm trees' pruning needs. So, to my eye, when lots of brown or yellowing fronds are left on a tree (LEFT), what's supposed to be a refined look just comes off looking exceptionally tacky.
For the record, and by arborist rules, August is not normally a good time to prune palms. Usually, palm-pruning time coincides with hardwood tree pruning ... November through February. However, I have a different take on that: If a palm tree's fronds are brown or sickly, they can ostensibly be pruned off nearly any time of year. Just not when it's 100 degrees. And you or your pruning company first need to examine the palm for bird nests. Birds migrate and nest late spring through the summer, but they won't be there November through February.
That said, today I want to give an overview of correct palm pruning practices.
First, there is a misguided notion that there's something called a "hurricane cut," (RIGHT) intended to get palm trees ready for hurricane season. That errant thinking could actually lead to the tree's death or major damage to your home during a storm. With a "hurricane cut," the trees are pruned so severely that only a few green fronds are left on top of the plant within the 10-2 or 11-1 o'clock positions (like the steering wheel rules in defensive driving class). There are also some who think that a "hurricane cut" will reduce the need to have palms pruned so often. They also may feel it keeps their home safe from flying palm fronds during a storm. Both are simply untrue myths.
If any tree pruner or landscaper recommends a "hurricane cut," they don't pass the litmus test ... they don't know what they're doing, so keep them away from your palm trees. Palm industry experts shake their heads in disgust when it comes to "hurricane cuts" ... their research shows that most palms, unlike unpruned oaks, will withstand tropical force winds without man's interference.
Another reason to leave palm fronds between the 9 and 3 o'clock positions: palms get their nutrients from the green fronds, so the more fronds, the healthier the tree.
Now, there are a couple of exceptions to the palm experts' rule to never prune a green frond. If a green frond is rubbing against a house or other structure and can become a pathway for rodents and insects, it can be cut. And it's okay to prune a green frond hanging below the 9-3 position.
Some homeowners and landscapers will argue that they've been zealously pruning their sago palms for years without any negative effects. Well, let's be precise. A sago is not a true palm. Botanically, it's a cycad, so that debate is now closed.
On the flip side of errant pruning, are homeowners who haven't pruned their palms since ... well, since Hurricane Ike did some natural pruning around five years ago. The worst offenders, though, might be cities and municipalities who have never pruned the palms on their esplanades and easements. As an example, I give you the stretch on Interstate 45 just south of downtown Houston. Drive around with a semi-critical eye to see how many palm trees you can spot that need to have browning or severely yellowing fronds pruned. For years, gardening and landscaping books have said that palms can add a regal or classy look to landscapes. And if cared for properly, I can see why. However, right now, there are some seriously classless palms that couldn't look trashier all along the Gulf Coast. A simple pruning, and they could all look remarkably better.
Sure, you could wait until the proper pruning time a couple of months away. But, as long as you promise to keep an eye out for active bird nests, I see no problem with some cleanup pruning today.
One reason often given for a failure to prune palms is the cost. While I'm all for having professionals do the pruning on significantly tall trees, the average palm can be done by a property owner with a ladder and a hacksaw. Sure a chainsaw works quicker, but not everyone has one. And in some cases, big old loppers can be perfect for cleaning up palms.
If your palms are tall, a tree company with a cherry picker is really the only smart answer. Climbing spikes can be extremely damaging to the trunk, and those wounds may spread diseases when spikes are used from tree to tree. Also, palms should never be "topped" or have the crown cut off. The crown will not grow back on a shorter trunk, and the tree will not branch. Instead, the tree will die.
And here's a final bit of advice for do-it-yourselfers: don't simply try to pull out a dead frond. That can create cavities in the trunk where moisture can collect and create fungal diseases. Those pockets can also prompt insect infestation or harbor rodents. The basic rule of thumb for almost all palms is to leave at least a two-inch petiole (also called a boot) on the trunk. Now, when those petioles become loose, you can remove them by hand. But if they can't be removed without tools, leave them alone.
PHOTOS: Palm Tree #1 By Thomas Tolkien; Palm Tree #2 - University of Florida-IFAS