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The simple answer here is that you don’t trim and prune a palm tree like you would most other trees with a yearly routine. Palm trees are one of a few trees that don’t really need pruning. The main purpose of pruning is usually to encourage new growth, but with palm trees, this is not the case. This is because all the new growth on a palm tree comes from the crown at the top. Trimming or pruning this results in no new foliage at all. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule when I recommend pruning which includes removing dead, diseased or damaged fronds. This, ideally, should be done in spring. Read on as I go into more detail about when and when not to prune palm trees and, more importantly, how.
Think about safety before pruning
Firstly, let me quickly talk about safety. If your palm tree is small, then it can probably be pruned from the ground. However, for large palm trees, you may want to get a professional palm specialist to prune the palm tree where they have access to safety equipment to work at height safely.
Reasons to prune palm trees
As I’ve just mentioned, unless you have to, don’t prune palm trees. However, here are the reasons you may want to trim and prune your palm tree.
Old leaves turn yellow and brown and die. If they don’t drop off of their own accord which they usually do when they’re ready to naturally, you can carefully cut them off. These leaves are usually at the bottom of the tree trunk.
Leaves sometimes turn yellow or brown due to environment or care problems. For example, the plant might be getting too much sunlight, and the leaf becomes scorched; or you may be over-watering the palm. See my guide on Why is my palm tree leaves turning yellow and brown? for some more examples.
Any leaf may become diseased or infected by bugs. You need to remove these leaves as soon as you notice the problem. If it’s a heavy infection or infestation, it may result in your plant looking a little bare.
Another reason you might need to prune a palm tree is for safety reasons. Maybe some of the fronds are blocking a walkway or view. However, never prune just to shape the tree. Finally, any damaged fronds that risk falling off can be removed, especially before a storm is forecasted. Again, this is more to do with safety concerns.
When and how to prune your palm
If the leaf or stalk is not diseased, wait until it is completely brown before cutting it off. Some palms still draw nutrients from old leaves, and they also add protection to the tree, especially over winter. Don’t prune anything in the dormant period in the late autumn and winter months. Unless you absolutely have to, only prune in the spring.
Sterilise a pair of sharp pruning shears or a pruning saw and cut off the leaf from the stalk with a single cut and make sure it’s around 2-3 inches away from the trunk, so there is a couple of includes of the brank still attached to the tree.
Don’t hack at the leaf, as this leaves an open wound into which diseases can enter and trust me, you don’t want that. And don’t cut into the tree trunk either, for the same reason. And never pull the leaves off. This may result in a strip of the trunk being pulled away as well. This is yet another way to create an open wound that leaves the palm tree vulnerable to pests and diseases.
You can also learn how to prepare palm trees for winter here, I also have this guide on growing palm trees in pots.