Proper pruning improves the health and growth rate of palm trees. However, an amateur landscaper must use suitable tools and exercise caution when pruning palm fronds, especially large shags. Palm tree shags, also called "beards," are large groups of dead fronds that hang below the living, uppermost fronds. Improperly pruning a shag can release an avalanche of fronds, knocking you off a ladder and causing great injury. Using well-maintained access and cutting tools ensures that both you and palm tree remain healthy.
Used by both amateur gardeners and professional landscapers, the multi-purpose pruning saw is suitable for most palm tree pruning projects. The pruning saw consists of a straight handle attached to a gently curved blade. A set of extremely sharp teeth line the cutting edge of the pruning saw's blade. Although most pruning saws function like a carpenter's hand saw, some pruning saws cut only on the pull stroke. When using a pruning saw to trim palm fronds, wear gloves and cut carefully to avoid contact with the frond's sharp thorns.
The pole pruner is essentially a pruning saw attached to an extension pole. Rather than attaching to a straight handle, the pole pruner's blade attaches to the end of a telescoping pole. Many pole pruners feature an integrated, rope-operated lopping mechanism which cuts like a pair of lopping shears. Although pole pruners allow the landscaper to prune elevated fronds, dense shag or unusual angles can reduce the tool's effectiveness. Inability to stabilize a frond with a second hand adds to the difficulty of using this tool.
Professional landscapers frequently use chainsaws to prune palm trees. Chainsaws not only reduce the amount of time and effort required to prune palms but, under certain circumstances, chainsaws are safer than hand tools, particularly when working on the ground. Chainsaws cut quickly and cleanly through palm fronds, and their powerful cutting teeth relieve you of having to stabilize branches with a second hand. If using a chainsaw, you can generally maintain a safe distance from both thorns and falling fronds. The pole-mounted chainsaw, also called a pole saw, is a chainsaw mounted to the end of an extension pole.
Ladder & Rigging
Pruning all but the shortest and youngest palms requires a ladder and safety rigging. Under most circumstances, an extension ladder--as opposed to a folding ladder--is the safest and most effective type of ladder to use for pruning palms. Traditionally, arborists rig ladders and personnel to palms with ropes. However, a variety of manufactured products are available to assist with safely anchoring people and equipment at great heights, including ladder-mounted framework and hardware systems reminiscent of climbing gear.
- University of Nevada Cooperative Extension: Pruning Palm Trees, M.L. Robinson
- University of Florida Extension: Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs, Edward Gilman and Robert Black
- Pinal County Cooperate Extension; Garden & Landscape Newsletter, Dec. 2010: Palm Trees Need Good Care
- UC Davis Cooperative Extension: Palm Trees for Landscapes in Tulare & King's Counties, Nancy Gravender
- Photo Credit palm tree image by Wolszczak from Fotolia.com
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