Don’t Prune Palm Trees in the Winter

How often palm trees should be cut back

Arizona is a beautiful state with the capacity to grow plants and trees from all over the world, and palm trees are among the most common, at least here in the valley. Palm trees are made for the heat and can grow in Arizona as well as they do in the tropics, without too much trouble. They need little maintenance and only need to be trimmed or pruned once or twice a year, but knowing when to prune palm trees is the tricky part.

Did You Know?

Many Arizonans consider winter the perfect time of year to prune trees because most trees come from colder climates than ours and go dormant in the winter, but you don’t actually want to prune palm trees in the winter. In fact, there are some people who suggest never trimming your palm trees, but that isn’t a practice we recommend.

There are a number of different heights and types of palm trees, but despite their differences, one thing is universally true—they look nicer and healthier when they’re properly maintained. Here are a few rules of thumb for maintaining strong, attractive palm trees:

  • Don’t prune palm trees in the winter, wait until the spring
  • Only remove the dry, dead palm fronds
  • Call a professional for anything you can’t comfortably reach from a 5-6ft  A-frame ladder
  • Trim Safely

Waiting Until Spring

There is a great reason to wait until spring to prune your palm trees: insulation. Dead palm fronds, though they are ugly and droopy, can protect the trunk of your palm tree from the sunlight and heat of the summer sun, as well as the frost and cold of the winter. Palm trees thrive in Arizona for 8-10 months of the year, but in our cold season, without their umbrella of branches to trap warm air in and protect their core from the cold, you could lose them.

Removing Dead Palm Fronds

Palm tree branches (or palm fronds) are not like regular tree branches. They don’t sprout new branches from themselves, supporting more and more weight, but instead, each branch comes directly from the trunk. With other trees, you can trim off branches and manicure the canopy to a pleasing shape, while removing the deadwood. Palm trees have leaves that taper from wide to narrow at the end of the frond, like a birds feather, so trimming any branch back will result in a “V” shaped end, which won’t look good. The fronds can be left to their own devices in general as the tree naturally spirals fronds in a manner which staggers the branches, so each one can receive maximum sunlight. It’s only the dead leaves you need to worry about cutting. With a few simple tools like a pruning saw, pruners, and a garden knife, you can remove the dried-out limbs without much trouble. The reasons you need to remove the dead branches are:

  1. Dried out branches are a fire hazard and can catch a spark quickly and spread it to other trees or structures in a rapidly expanding inferno.
  2. If left to build up, the fronds, some of them very heavy and high up, can fall or be blown off during our summer monsoon storms and other wind and rain storms. Falling branches, otherwise known as “Widowmakers” are unpredictable, but as you drive around the valley in the summer, you will probably see some dried out fronds hanging in neighboring citrus trees, over fences, or from power lines.
  3. Rodents and birds like to make nests in or behind dead hanging fronds, often burrowing into the trunk of the tree itself. This can damage and even kill the tree, which presents a whole host of other problems, such as dead palm trees snapping and falling over in a monsoon, which would be like a thousand-pound widowmaker.

When to Call in a Professional

If you don’t have the tools, the time, or the desire to prune your palm trees, give us a call. We’ll give you the information you need to know about your trees before cutting them and we’ll prune them safely and quickly. If you are considering pruning it yourself, there are a few things you’ll want to consider: You’ll need to be sure you have a ladder you can reach the fronds with, without standing on top of the ladder or leaning it against the tree. Few things are as disorienting as balancing on a ladder and working with your arms over your head. It’s easy to lose your balance and fall or get knocked off of your perch. Add to that a 10lb+ cutting tool over your head and a 30-100lb tree branch that you’re cutting off, also over your own head and you have a recipe for disaster. Please stay safe: It’s cheaper than hospital bills or funeral arrangements.

DIY Safety Tips

If you are able to manage your own palm tree cut, there are some safety tips that will help make the experience better for you.

  1. Start with the lowest branch and work your way up and around the natural spiral of the tree. This will ensure that your branches aren’t getting hung up on neighboring fronds, or dropping on your own head.
  2. The closer you are to the trunk the more new leaves you will come in contact with. New leaves at the base of the fronds start out as stiff spikes 4-10 inches long and they can, if you’re not careful, stab you, I have seen it happen and it will quickly bring your job to a halt! If you’re at the top of a ladder, it can startle you into an even more dangerous situation.
  3. Wear Safety glasses, protective gloves, heavy pants, and a long sleeve shirt to ensure that neither the fronds, the trunk, nor your tools are able to reach your skin during incidental or accidental contact.

So, while you’re trimming back your other trees and shrubs this winter, remember to wait until spring to prune your palm trees. And unless they’re small palms, it’s probably a better idea to call in the professionals here at Green Keeper Tree Care to handle all of your tree’s needs.