DOUG CALDWELL: Hurricane cuts may be death blows to your palm

Too many green fronds were removed from this cabbage palm causing this classic narrowing of the trunk, called 'pencil-pointing' in the trade. It's not what I'd want near my roof during a high wind event. Doug Caldwell

Too many green fronds were removed from this cabbage palm causing this classic narrowing of the trunk, called "pencil-pointing" in the trade. It's not what I'd want near my roof during a high wind event. Doug Caldwell

There are a lot of opportunist “landscapers” wanting to offer you a bargain “hurricane cut” to save your trees when the big winds blow. But buyer beware! Never “hurricane-cut” palms.

This practice does not protect your palm. Instead it weakens the shock-absorbing capacity of the head. There is no reason to remove green fronds from palm trees unless they will whip around and damage your roof.

The green fronds serve two main functions. One is to generate carbohydrates and store nutrients to produce a vigorous plant. This applies especially to potassium. Palms require potassium, which is stored in those lower fronds. Removing lower fronds year after year can lead to death due to potassium deprivation.

The second function is the physical protection the frond bases (called “boots”) provide for the head of the palm. The head or top area is where the apical meristem or “heart” of the palm is. Cutting into or removing the boots for that “Las Vegas” look on queen or cabbage palms can result in the palm losing its head when the big wind events happen. The boots are like a girdle and help hold the head in place. A new youtube produced by two Collier County master gardeners, Pam Marker and Helga Reynolds, shows the proper approach which authentic arborists should use. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt76hXRHBoA .

Other videos at our UF Extension Youtube channel cover proper pruning of hardwoods to avoid storm damage, see: www.youtube.com/user/dougbughimself

Removing too many green fronds can contribute to pencil-pointing of the trunk. This happens because the fronds produce carbs through photosynthesis and in part, the amount of carbs produced determines the trunk thickness. If you remove too many green fronds, carb production is reduced and its as if the palm went on the Atkins diet.

You may want to remove the fruit on the coconut palms, but I think if they are green they don’t tend to break off and become cannonballs.

Scott Lowery, president of Scott Lowery Landscaping and long-time Naples horticulture icon, points out some very important considerations:

“Keep in mind, landscape companies are not allowed on ladders due to workers comp restrictions. We prune what we can reach standing on the ground with a pole saw. So therefore a tree company is called in when the palm is over 18 feet. Because of the risk of injury associated with climbing, workers comp insurance is significantly higher.

“Think of this, a landscape company sends a worker up a ladder to trim a palm because the homeowner or association doesn’t want to hire a tree trimmer. The worker falls and is, say, seriously injured or worse. The worker’s family sues the landscape company for loss of income; the landscape company does not have the tree trimmers insurance to settle with the family. Who’s liable next? The resident, homeowner or agent who hired the company. They are the ones liable because they didn’t check the workers comp on the company doing the work.”

Yikes, thanks for that reminder, Scott!

Queen palms and tall Washingtonias have a tendency to blow over. Do you have room for this to happen near your home? Royal palms tend to lose their fronds, but stay upright. Cabbage and foxtail palms and shorter species weathered Hurricane Wilma very well.

Don’t forget to strongly consider removal of older trees that may break apart and damage your home, such as laurel oaks, red maples or Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla). Fact sheets on pruning can be found in English and Spanish at our web site (below) in the commercial horticulture pages.

Doug Caldwell, Ph.D., is the commercial landscape horticulture extension educator and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service. Division of Collier E-mail dougbug@ufl.edu ; phone, 353-4244 x203. Website: collier.ifas.ufl.edu

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