Popular in warm southern climates, palm trees are fairly low maintenance, but when an overgrowth of dead fronds hangs down, you should remove them. If the tree's not too tall (some palms can grow over 50 feet), this is a job to can take care of yourself.
Do not attempt to remove dead palm tree fronds during the summer months, or even before cooler weather. These are actually beneficial to the tree during the cold season as they insulate parts of the tree. Instead, remove the fronds or "skin" the tree during the spring when there is no more chance of frost. Skinning the tree involves removing the stalks that were left after pruning. It leaves the trunk smooth and manicured.
Tip: Some palms are self-cleaning and do not require pruning. Know what type of palm you have before you begin.
Step 1 - Assemble Your Tools
Removing the dead palm fronds is not an easy job. It requires the use of sharp knives and even a chainsaw for the tougher branches. Make sure the chainsaw chain is sharpened and that you have the required gas and oil mixture. Also sharpen any other knives you are going to use.
The most important tool is the safety gear. Gloves, strong boots, and leg chaps will keep you from getting seriously injured, and don't forget your protective eyewear.
Tip: When pruning a palm be very careful to not damage the trunk. Use a ladder or lift truck to reach the dead fronds on tall trees, instead of climbing it with spikes. A damaged trunk will weaken the tree and leave it susceptible to insects and diseases.
Step 2 - Lay out Tarp
Lay a tarp on the ground to make the cleanup of the old fronds easier and to protect any flowers or other nearby plants.
Step 3 - Cut Fronds
With your safety gear on, approach the palm tree and begin cutting. Start at the bottom and work your way up from there. This will help you to avoid all the thorns and sharp fronds. Be very careful when reaching in and removing dead fronds, as some palm tree leaves are very sharp and contain tiny hairs that can irritate your skin. Remove only fronds that are brown and pointing down. Removing too many green fronds will weaken the plant, and if done year after year can lead to the decline of the tree. Leave all fronds that are growing upward or horizontally.
To cut properly, grab the upper portion of the frond and hold it out straight. Slice through the frond with your utility knife or pruning saw. Cut these off as close as you can to the tree, but leave some of it. If you have to use a chainsaw on the thicker branches, keep both hands on the saw and try to get a straight angle to the trunk. You might have to remove a lot of dead fronds. This is fine as they will all grow back shortly when the growing season starts.
Tip: Removal of the flowers and fruit is also recommended. These both take a lot of energy to produce, so getting rid of them allows the tree to use that energy for growth instead.
Step 4 - Skinning the Tree (Optional)
After you have cut the dead fronds off, you can spend some time skinning the tree. To do this, take a sharp knife to remove the base of the frond that was left after pruning. Cut close to the trunk, taking care not to damage it. The most common shape of the cut palm tree is a diamond shape. This is an optional step and can be skipped if you are happy with the appearance of your palm after pruning.
Step 5 - Clean Up
Place the dead fronds in a wheelbarrow and cart them to either a fire or to the local landfill. Contact your local city office for the codes or permits necessary for burning or disposing of dead palm tree fronds before you proceed.
Tip: It can be difficult to safely prune very tall palm trees. Use a tree specialist if you are unsure of your abilities.