Pruning a palm tree is a doable DIY project, but it doesn't necessarily have to be done. The idea that cutting back palms makes them grow faster is actually a myth. It's possible to go to the extreme, and kill a palm tree through too much trimming. However, this can keep your trees looking neat if you follow the proper instructions.
Step 1 - Assess the Situation
Take a good look at the palm tree first. Know what type of palm you have before you begin pruning, as some varieties are self-cleaning and can actually be damaged by pruning. Other palms have spines that can be irritating to your skin. As you assess the tree, consider what tools you need and where you will start. Make note of any flowers or fruit since both should be removed when you are pruning.
Tip: Be aware, potassium deficiencies in the soil can cause yellowing leaves in palms. It is usually on the oldest leaves. It is important to correct this deficiency rather than just prune off the dying leaves. Not addressing the problem will eventually lead to the decline of the tree.
Step 2 - Gather Tools and Safety Gear
Pruners, knives, and pruning saws are usually the best choice for tools for this type of work. Make sure all of them are clean and sharp before you start so you can get clean cuts that will minimize the damage to the plant. Safety glasses and gloves are a must when pruning a palm, as well as heavy pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
Step 3 - Begin Pruning
The best time to prune your palm is in the spring. Leaving the dead fronds on the tree through the summer and winter is beneficial and helps protect the tree from the summer sun and the winter cold.
Don your safety glasses and work gloves. Then, carefully feel around the areas of the tree that appear to be unhealthy, looking for anything that will come off easily. If something does come away from the tree with a simple tug, it's unhealthy and needs to be removed. Use your pruners or saw to remove the rest of the fronds that are visibly unhealthy and hanging down. If they are dry, brown, or diseased, they should also be pruned off.
Tip: Over pruning a palm year after year can lead to a taper in the trunk. This will leave the palm more susceptible to breaking in high winds.
Avoid any trimming of healthy leaves within the leaf bunch at the top of the tree. Leave all fronds that are growing parallel or upright to the ground as well. When you are through, the fronds of the palm should form a half circle at the top of the tree.
Use the ladder to get to other places of the tree that look like they might be in need of pruning. When moving your ladder take extra care to not damage the trunk, as a damaged trunk may not completely heal and the wound will leave the tree susceptible to disease and insects. If there are flowers or fruit, cut those away too.
Step 4 - Review the Situation
Now that you've gone through the full pruning process, take a step back and review the tree to see if you missed anything. Pruning could be a wasted effort if you miss something important. Continue according to the above steps if something has been overlooked. Otherwise, put the tools away, clean up the fronds, and enjoy the new look for your palm tree.