How to Prune Coconut Palm Tree

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The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is one of the most recognizable plants and symbols of the Tropics. A tall-growing palm, sometimes called a "tree", its smooth, slender trunk is topped by a crownshaft bearing long, feathery fronds and clusters of heavy fruits called coconuts. Pruning centers around coconut cluster removal and occasional cutting of fronds that may be interfere with traffic, poles and overhead wiring, or risk safety of pedestrians from dropping debris. Depending on the palm height, basic safety protection and appropriately sized equipment can make pruning a coconut palm a labor-intensive but viable task.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand-held pruning saw
  • Sturdy, laced footwear
  • Thick gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Safety helmet
  • Sturdy A-frame ladder
  • High-reach lift or vehicle with hydraulic lift arm

Evaluation

  • Eaxmine the coconut palm. Dead fronds, although a bit unsightly, generally will fall away naturally not requiring special maintenance. Be aware that removing healthy green to yellow-green fronds from this palm reduces the plant's health and vigor and makes the palm look less appealing. Clusters of coconuts can pose a safety hazard and wreak damage upon vehicles, pets and people below when they casually drop. If a developing or mature clump of coconuts is present and there is concern that their drop compromises safety to those on the lawn, patio or sidewalk, scheduling removal of coconuts while still developing is a sound decision.

  • Determine scope of the pruning task. The number and location of fronds or coconuts to be pruned away determines what equipment is necessary. A very short palm trunk allows a tall man to casually reach the frond base or coconuts to be cut away; alternatively, a much taller trunk requires a large, sturdy A-frame ladder, or the use of a hydraulic lift or high-reach arm from a vehicle (such as those often used by utilities workers or arborists). Note the number of fronds, their size and location in the canopy and determine what equipment is needed. Then decide if this is a task you are capable of accomplishing safely.

  • Secure personal safety equipment and the appropriate materials for the size of the coconut palm. Keep in mind any hazards associated with the use of a ladder or high-reach lift. Make sure the legs of the ladder can be placed upon sturdy ground or the lift itself can gain close access to facilitate an efficient pruning.

Instructions

  • Put on personal safety equipment such as hard hat, thick gloves and sturdy, closed-toe footwear.

  • Situate the short A-frame ladder or base of the lift in a steadfast location away from overhead hazards such as lights or overhead electrical wires. The fronds or coconuts should be at a comfortable position, such as at waist height and at a distance that does not compromise balance or strain the back or leg muscles.

  • Grasp the frond or coconut cluster stem with one hand for support while beginning the saw cut on the lower portion of the stem that is closest to the trunk.

  • Guide the pruning saw's cut using even, pressured strokes until the stem is fully free from the tree.

  • Push or direct the frond or coconut cluster in a controlled fall to the ground below, making sure no pets or people are in the potential range of the falling debris.

Clean Up

  • Cut the frond down into manageable and lightweight pieces. Once on the ground, the frond or fruits can be cut into smaller pieces or fully dragged to the compost pile or appropriate neighborhood pick-up location. A cart or wheelbarrow for transport saves time and energy.

  • Clean the pruning saw blade of any fibers and juices. Spray the blade with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution to kill any pathogens or diseases that may be spread from the saw to another plant. This is particularly important if several palms are being pruned; avoid inadvertently spreading a plant disease among the different coconut palms with all the pruning cuts.

  • Sweep away sawdust or small remnant debris from walkways and mowable lawn surfaces.

Scheduling

  • Take note of the time of year the fronds or coconuts become an eyesore or are problematic. The coconut palm usually flowers in late spring followed by development of fruits across summer and autumn. Coconut fronds and fruits can drop year round, especially during stormy weather.

  • Anticipate this need every year and schedule it into usual yard maintenance tasks or advise your professional landscaper of your desire to add it the regular schedule.

  • In regions where strong tropical storms are expected annually, consider having the coconuts removed just before hurricane/cyclone season. Do not employ "hurricane pruning" of coconut palms as the procedure exposes the crown shaft to unnatural exposure to wind damage.

Tips & Warnings

  • To prevent the tearing of the stem by the weight of the long palm frond, consider first making a shallow undercut on the lower half of the palm frond just below where the regular pruning cut will be made.
  • Unless the coconut palm frond or coconut cluster can be easily reached with both feet on the ground, consider hiring an experienced landscaper or arborist to safely tackle the task. Likewise, if the average A-frame ladder is not sturdy or effectively provides the reach to the fronds or coconut cluster, seek a contractor with the equipment and know-how to complete the task.
  • Do not undertake pruning of the coconut canopy when the weather is windy. Even light casual breezes can cause uncontrollable lift on the large fronds of a palm. Also refrain from pruning a palm that is in the vicinity of power lines; contact the utilities company or a licensed arborist with the appropriate equipment to manage the pruning task.
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