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  • How long does a palm tree take to grow?


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    one milisecond one milisecond

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    At least 20 years under normal conditions of growth

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    The perfect mature age of a palm-tree is ten, twelve, or more years.

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La Palmeraie gb

Can you grow palms in Europe? Is the most heard reaction. Everybody knows the “coconut tree” but what do we really know about palms? There are around 4000 palm species worldwide, all of which belong to the Palmae or Arecaceae family (both names are used). Most of the palm trees are native to a tropical or subtropical climate, but there are also hardy species. Here’s an introduction to the world of palms.

Is a palm tree a tree?

The name palm “tree” suggests that this plant is closely related to the the well known and commonly spread deciduous trees. But is the palm tree actually a tree? In order to be able to answer that question we need to go deeper into the botanical background.

In the world of plants, plants are divided into two large groups; flowering plants (angiospermae) and gymnosperms (gymnospermae).

The flowering plants

In this group we find all the plants that produces seeds within an enclosure, in other words, fruiting plants. Within this group we distinguish dicots and monocots. More about this last group later on.

The gymnosperms

Like flowering plants, gymnosperms produce seeds but these are not enclosed. In this group we find conifers, spruces, Cycads,…

The monocots

A large group of plants. The monocots or monocotyledons include many plants whose seeds are of major economic importance, such as major grains (rice, wheat, maize, etc.), but also forage grasses, sugar cane, and the bamboos, palms, bananas, gingers and their relatives, turmeric and cardamom (Zingiberaceae), asparagus, and the onions and garlic family. In many monocotyledonous plants, the food reserve is stored in the endosperm. Inside the seed there is only one cotyledon (embryonic leaf) hence the name “mono”cotyledon. When germinating, first a kind of protective sheath, the coleoptile, emerges above the ground, protecting the emerging shoot.

Comparison between palm trees and hardwood trees

When we compare palm trees to deciduous trees, we see following main differences. (The comparison concerns only generalizations, these differences do not always occur in practice.)

Palms (monocots)
– long narrow leaf, striate (parallel) leaf venation
– adventitious roots (early development of roots derived from the shoot to compensate the roots limited ability to grow sufficiently due to the lack of cambium)
– vascular bundles scattered, lacking a lateral meristem (cambium)
– no secondary growth

Hardwood (Deciduous) trees (dicots)
– broad leaf, pinnate leaf venation
– secondary growth in (and thus highly developped) root system
– vascular bundles in a ring, lateral meristem (cambium)
– secondary growth

So, our first question is answered, the palm tree isn’t really a tree. One of the most typical differences is the lack of secondary growth. Palm trees utilise an anomalous primary growth form described as establishment growth. The axis undergoes primary thickening, that progresses from internode to internode, resulting in a typical inverted conical shape of the basal primary axis.

Palm tree anatomy

Roughly, a palm consist of roots, a trunk and foliage (crown). Below we will review these parts more closely.


As mentioned above, palms roots lack secondary growth. All roots develop directly from the stem basis on a root initiation zone which can be above and below ground. These roots will mainly go straight down looking for groundwater and are not agressive or destructive. No plant can exist without water. Palm trees in very dry areas therefore indicate the presence of groundwater or were planted by men and are regularly watered. In addition, older palm trees, which already have developed some height, will form aerial roots just above the ground at the stem basis which can make it increase slightly in thickness or give it a bulky impression. An important function of these roots is the anchoring in the ground to support the palms weight.

Phoenix roebelenii stem

Trunk (or stem)

Like all monocots, palms do not have the ability to increase the width of a stem (secondary growth) via the same kind of vascular cambium found in non-monocot woody plants. This explains the cylindrical shape of the trunk (almost constant diameter) that is often seen in palms, unlike in hardwood trees. However, many palms, like some other monocots, do have secondary growth, although because it does not arise from a single vascular cambium producing xylem inwards and phloem outwards, it is often called “anomalous secondary growth”. The trunk is in fact only composed by old dried petiole bases tightly stacked on each other and has no bark as hardwood trees do have. Before a young palm gains in height, a certain trunk diameter must first be achieved. Therefore, a young palm grows much slower than an older one. Some species have a stem covered with fibrous threads between the petiole bases. Some of these species may loose these fibres on the older parts of the trunk; like the Phoenix.


Palms always develop one new leaf or “frond” at a time. When the frond isn’t unfold yet, we call it a “spear”. Only when the frond was completely formed it will unfold and immediately have its final size. As mentioned earlier, a palm tree does not have the species-specific leaves immediately after germination. The first leaves do have much more in common with grass leaves. At this stage, many palm species are similar to each other and harder to recognize with certainty.

Four kind of leaf shapes can be distinguished;

from left to right: palmate (or fan shaped), pinnate (or feather shaped), bipinnate (or twice pinnate), entire

Inflorescence Trachycarpus fortunei photo:

The leaves or often shiny or covered with a wax layer and ribbed. This to prevent from dehydration. The petiole often is covered with spines.


Young palms do not bloom. This will only happen at a certain age. The exact duration differs from species to species and varies between several years up to 50 years. Most palms bloom annually. The pollination of palms occurs through the wind, so no colorful flowers are formed in order to attract insects. The inconspicuous, short living flowers are formed on a inflorescence just below, inside or from the crown spread widely out. The flowers can be monoicous or dioicous depending on the species and sometimes even of the season!

After successful fertilization palms form so-called stone fruit or drupe. The spread of these seeds differs from species to species; the well-known coconut floats well on water for spreading through the sea. Other species a spread by consumption; simply think of dates of the Date palm by exemple.

Use of palm trees

The palm tree has been cultivated by humans for almost 5000 years. This began in the Middle East with the Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) but soon expanded to other regions with other palm species. Furthermore, for consumption, we know fruits like the awarra, coconut, moriche, palm peach and salak. Palm oil is widely used for food preparation, soap and fuel. And wickerwork is made from rattan of Calamus Rotang. Coconut mats are made of coconut fibers. In Hindu culture, strips of palm leaf were used as paper. However, this is very perishable in a tropical climate, so that most of the manuscripts written on it are lost. And there are many other purposes for which the palm is cultivated by humans. But in our climate we mainly find them for decorative use.

© La Palmeraie

An Introduction to Palm Trees

Not only in Florida, but all around the world, there is an abundance of palm trees. There are some 20,000 plus different varieties of palm trees in all. Fortunately, for ease of maintenance, these 20,000 palm tree species can be further subdivided into a few major types of palms. This is done based on such characteristics as their trunk shape, leaf structure, flower buds, cold tolerance and so on. Most palms grow in warmer climates but some varieties can even withstand sub-zero temperatures.
Some of the More Common Varieties of Palm Trees
Here are some of the most common palm tree varieties:

  • Royal Palm
  • Bismarck Palm
  • Cabbage Palm
  • Sabal Palm
  • Christmas Palm
  • Fishtail Palm
  • Key Thatch Palm
  • Pindo Palm
  • Canary Island Date Palm
  • Paurotis Palm
  • Pygmy Date Palm
  • Sentry Palm
  • Windmill Palm
  • Yellow Butterfly Palm

Palm Tree Root System
People often assume that since palm trees have such a rugged exterior that they are a very strong tree. This can be misleading because of their smaller root structure. Their roots do not grow deep like most other species of trees. A palm tree root ball actually grows very little as the size of the palm tree itself becomes larger. This makes palms popular because their roots don’t expand out and damage foundations, driveways and sidewalks like some other tree roots often do.
Single trunks are the norm for most palm trees but some do grow out in a clustering manor that appears like they have multiple trunks. Palm trees also have a single growth point at the top of their trunk called the ‘terminal bud’. Damage to this part of the tree can result in the palm tree dying out.
Choosing and Maintaining Your New Palm Tree
If you are like most people when you want to plant a new palm tree you will go to a nursery and choose a palm that has already started to grow in a container. In order to keep that palm healthy after planting it you need to consider several factors.
They are as follows:

  • Plant in Nutrient Rich Soil: Unfortunately most natural soil is sadly lacking in nutrients. Since palm root balls do not grow very big you have to provide them with nutrient rich top soil where you place them. This is essential when planting any palm. Do not put fertilizer in the newly dug hole either. Wait 3 to 4 months to fertilize.
  • Watering Your Palm: Even young palms require a lot of water. You should plan on watering your new palm trees at least 2 times per week for 5 to 6 months. If your soil that the palm is placed in is very sandy you may need to make it 3 times a week for watering. After the new palms are 6 months old then you should water them 2 times a month in the warmer months and once a month in the cooler months.
  • Pruning Your Palm Trees: Palms are a variety of tree that does a good job taking care of themselves. Most of the time palm trees will lose their fronds naturally. Only remove severely yellowed or brown palm fronds. This is because slightly brown and yellow palm fronds will still feed the palm tree they are on nutrients.

If you remove a severely brown or yellowed palm frond never cut it too close to the trunk of your palm tree. This could cause a wound in the tree which may severely damage it. Be careful to never remove more palm fronds than the tree can produce in a year too. Experts believe for each old frond there is a new one waiting to bloom.
Common Palm Tree Pests and Diseases
Like any other tree palms are susceptible to insect damage, disease, fungus and bacteria.
Here are some of the more common palm tree pests that you need to be aware of:

  • Cabbage Palm Caterpillar
  • Giant Palm Borer
  • Palm Budworm
  • Palmetto Weevil
  • Royal Palm Bug
  • Thrips

Here are some of the more common diseases that will threaten your palm’s health if they contract them:

  • Bud Rot
  • Fusarium Wilt
  • Ganoderma Butt Rot
  • Lethal Yellowing

How Weather Impacts Your Palms (Cold and Storms)
Of course the biggest worries with any palm tree are cold weather and excessive winds. Severe frost and freezing temperatures can actually damage a trees delicate tissue. Wrapping a blanket around the trunk of your palm trees in cold weather will help lessen the cold weather’s impact on them. Make sure to take the blankets away immediately after the weather warms back up.
Palm trees handle even the strongest winds very well if you don’t over-prune them.
Ask Us any Questions You May have About Your Palm Trees
At Aardvark Tree Service, we are always more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the palm trees in your yard. Our arborists have expert knowledge on all the different varieties of palm trees found in and around Port Orange, Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet and the surrounding areas. So give us a call at 386-233-5069 with your palm tree questions and concerns.

Pruning Palms

For the most part, palms are pretty low maintenance trees. Most species never ever need to be pruned… but then, most species are not used frequently in landscaping. Only about a dozen or so palms frequent the public landscaping, though the basic principles apply to your own, possibly different back yard palms as to the large public trees. The basic rule, prune only when necessary, sounds simple but is rarely followed. Economics, danger to the public and misconceptions rule most public palm pruning practices.

Rare species in cultivation, but this Copernicia macrogossa shows that sometimes palms look best if not pruned, even if they do form a large peticoat

I attended a palm conference about 5 years ago at the local arboretum. I was expecting my usual group of palm-nut friends to attend, but was surprised to find the placed packed with professional gardeners and landscapers- not a one of the local palm nuts came, as this was not that sort of meeting (not about the rare and ‘cool’ things we have in our collections). This was about the practical care of landscape palms, including proper pruning practices. Everything the lecturer said made a lot of sense, but in reality I have hardly ever seen any of his recommendations followed.

Palms produce a leaf at a time, and once a full crown of leaves is achieved in a mature individual (for some palms this is just 4-5 leaves, while in other species, this can be over 120 leaves), every new leaf formed is followed by an old leaf dying. This number, unique to each palm, is the ideal number of leaves for that palm to have to grow optimally. Any less leaves than that number and the palm will grow sub-optimally, or slower. Sub-optimal numbers of fronds can weaken a palm, too, and make it more vulnerable to wind damage, parasites and fatal infections. For some reason there is a myth going about that pruning palms will speed up their growth rate. This is actually the opposite of what happens and I have no idea why this myth persists. In an ideal world, we would ONLY prune the dead or broken leaves off each palm.

Actinokentia often only has 3-4 leaves at a time, while Phoenix loureirei will hold up to 100 at a time

Green palm leaves, or fronds, are the palms sole source of food (from photosynthesis). Fertilizer is NOT food, but a source of micronutrients the palm uses, along with water and sunlight to make its food. When green leaves are removed, the palm cannot make the ideal amount of food it needs to survive. Fortunately most palms are quite tolerant of this ‘abuse’ and can deal with sub-optimal amounts of green leaves… up to a point. So there should be good reasons to prune palms ‘prematurely’ as well as pruning in general.

•1. 1. Most palms are pruned to remove dead leaves that can be a source of hiding places for pests.

These Livistona australis and Brahea armata peticoats of dead leaves are great places to hide all sorts of unwanted animal life

•2. 2. To decrease the potential hazards of fire (dead frond burn extremely easily- this is an actual adaptation palms have developed, though, in nature. The dead palm leaves burn off rapidly, removing the potential pests, but burn so rapidly little if any damage is done to the healthy green leaves at the top).

•3. Dead fronds will burn nearly instantly and can be fire hazards near homes

3. To decrease the potential hazard to humans (dead palm fronds can fall at any time)- some are quite heavy and some have sharp spines/edges (the legal ramifications are many). This potential hazard often requires pruning of healthy green fronds as well, as some large palms have leaves that protrude out into public walkways, and some are heavily armed so that even ‘brushing’ by one can result in serious injury.


Note the sharp spines at the base of these Phoenix canariensis and Phoenix theophrasii leaves- right at eye level! Photo on left by diehrdsouthrnr

4. To decrease the weed potential of some palms- King palms (Archontophoenix ) and Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) are extremely prolific seed/fruit producers and their dropped seeds can lead to troublesome weed problems below, as well as cause dangerous pedestrian situations with thousands of ‘marble-like’ seeds to walk through. Seed production and falling rotten fruit can also potentially damage automobiles and gum up the bottoms of people’s shows, subsequently ruining carpeting or staining floors and sidewalks. During the expensive process of removing inflorescences (flowers), some leaf pruning is done simultaneously to save money.


Queen palm seeds fall in massive numbers if the infructescences are trimmed off, leading to a ‘lawn’ of seedlings sometimes

5. Removing inflorescences can also improve the strength of the palm as it can save its energy for growth and health and less on seed production.

•6. 6. Palms are often pruned to clear visual paths for safety reasons (so one can see signs, traffic, pedestrians etc.)

Livistona chinensis pruned to allow traffic below/beside them, and clearing a visual path as well

•7. 7. To decrease damage to nearby structures (power lines, buildings etc.) that can be affected by the leaves falling or blowing about in the wind. But despite common dogma, pruning palms does NOT improve their ability to tolerate high winds… in fact, just the opposite is true- overpruning palms leaves the remaining leaves more prone to wind damage

following a wind storm the ground can be littered with huge amounts of debris, potentially damaging cars and pedestrians below. Probably these should have been pruned off

These shots of Washingtonias in high winds (nearly 70mph) show that they have no problems with high winds despite their normal full crowns

•8. 8. Some pruning of leaves may be necessary when transplanting palms. For example, some Sabals transplant best when ALL their leaves are removed (this seems to be ONLY true for members of this genus- don’t try this with any other genera of palms). Some pruning of at least some of the leaves and parts of others is thought to decrease moisture loss from transpiration while these palms are in conditions that prevent them from absorbing water from their traumatized roots.


Sabal palmetos with hurricane cuts in preparation for moving- this genus is unique in toleratint this severe a pruning

9. Some palms are pruned for economic reasons. Date palms, if not pruned, become unmanageable, difficult to maneuver around, and don’t tend to produce fruit as reliably.

Field of date palms used for commercial production on left, and a single, unpruned palm on the right

10. Lastly, for appearance. Many find large petticoats of dead fronds unappealing. But also some find the normal mass of leaves some suckering palms produce (such as in the case of Chamaerops species) to be less than attractive, particularly when compared to the industry standard of clean trunks topped with a smaller group of leaves. And some like the weird ‘pineapple’ look of newly pruned Canary Island Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis) over the more natural look of a large drooping canopy of 150 or more leaves these massive palms can support. This pruning often involves the ‘necessity’ of cutting off green leaves which weakens the palm, but if done judiciously, is not usually a serious health concern. See more about this last situation below.

Some like the full skirt look, but most prefer the skinny, naked pole look of Washingtonias

Phoenix canariensis has a very ornamental full crown of leaves, but some prefer this ‘pineapple cut’

Rhapis palms growing like a hedge… but if pruned to reveal the stems, these plants suddenly become more elegant

Trimming branches can alsoe reveal interesting and ornamental retained leaf patterns, as seen in these Butias, the Livistona benthamii and the Sabal uresana

Some palms are self cleaning, meaning that the old leaves fall off once they die. Other palms tend to retain a ‘petticoat’ of dead palms that surround the trunk to varying degrees. And some palms I call ‘semi-self-cleaners. These are really self cleaning palms that tend to have 0-4 dead leaves hanging on at any one time before they finally fall to the ground. Examples of self cleaning palms include King palms (Archontophoenix species), Kentia palms (Howeas), Jubaeas and Chamadoreas. These palms never need to be trimmed as the dead leaves fall soon after dying. That does not keep some from pruning them, however. Palms that form a petticoat include Mexican Fan Palms (Washingtonias) (the most common of all the landscape palms), Chinese Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus), Mediterranean Fan Palms (Chamaerops), most Sabals and some Braheas. These palms develop thick masses of dead leaves that can be unsightly and provide haven for rats, owls and pigeons, so are normally pruned off. Palms that fit in the semi-self-cleaning category include Queen palms, Phoenix, some Braheas and Bismarckias. These are palms that if one never pruned will still have a bare trunk with maybe 0-4 or more dead leaves (up to 30 or more in Phoenix) hanging at any one time, but the leaves will not form a significant petticoat of dead fronds (they fall off before that point).

Archontophoenix (like these King Palms) are self cleaning palms. Also Bismarckias are, too, but when young, pruning may be necessary to keep the lowest leaves out of the way

3 more self cleaning species: Caryota sp (gigas in photo… though pruned to keep lowest leaves from public), Howea forsteriana (Kentia Palms) and Jubaeas

Pritchardia species, Majesty palms (Ravenea rivularis) and Royal Palms (Roystonea sp.) are also self cleaners

Here are some general rules to follow when pruning palms:

•1. 1. Do not prune self cleaning palms. These palms are much more likely to suffer from the premature loss of leaves, and it makes no economic sense to trim these palms as well. However, some palms that have very large heavy leaves (like Royal Palms (Roystoneas), Chilean Wine palms (Jubaeas) and exceptionally old, large King palms (Archontophoenix) can be potential hazards and subsequent legal concerns if public trees are dropping 50 lbs leaves on the pedestrians and automobiles below). So if absolutely necessary, trim the oldest leaves only, preferably as they are turning yellow (dying). Obviously a tall, old Jubaea would have to be pruned monthly then to remove the older fronds, so this might be an exception to this rule.


Not only should one not trim King palms, these were trimmed to the point of extinction- I seriously doubt the owners of these palms wanted them all killed, but they have been but such extreme trimming

2. When pruning fan palms and Phoenix palms never prune past the horizontal (don’t prune any leaves that are growing above horizontal) as this will severely weaken the palm. However, it is a very common and almost ‘accepted’ practice to over-prune Washingtonia and Phoenix palms, sometimes to the point of being ridiculous. Not only is it an eye sore to see these horrifically pruned trees, but leaving only several leaves at the top of the palm (sometimes called a hurricane or rooster-tail cut) allows it to be fatally damaged by winds, or cause the trunk to be narrowed at that point (and forever weakened), and forces the entire palm to feed itself on just the food produced by a few fronds. Occasionally this excessive pruning and resultant stress upon the palm will result in a dead palm which far outweighs the savings seen by getting away with pruning the palms less often (presumably the only reason I can give for such a horrible pruning practice). But even if the palm survives this excessive pruning, it is forced to use its reserves stored within the trunk tissue and after several years this gradually leads to a narrowing of the trunk, predisposing the tree to wind damage, fracture and loss of life. The pruning of fan palms (and Phoenix) at the horizontal is a compromise between attempting to prune only the number of leaves the palm can produce between pruning times and reducing the frequency of having to prune the palms at all for economic reasons.


In the first photo above, you can see the unpruned palms on the left, and the pruned ones on the right- too extreme! Though they will probably survive it. Second phots is a close up of some Washingtonias pruned far beyond the horizontal which is NOT good pruning practice. Last photo shows a row of Washingtonia filiferis hacked to only 3-4 leaves each. If one drives by this row of palms today in Simi Valley, California, one will notice many deceased and missing palms, probably some from these poor pruning practices

Unpruned Phoenix canariensis with minimal skirt; Way overpruned Phoenix canariensis. Continual pruning like this will lead to pinching of the trunk (seen in photo on right); middle photo by Yoshida

3. Do not use cleats or other damaging footwear when climbing palms. Palms are not like angiosperm trees and cannot heal over wounds made from such injuries. A hole in a palm will remain forever, and be a permanent scar as well as a source for pathogens to enter. Palms are best pruned with the use of cranes or other equipment that allows the pruner to stand next to the crown and securely prune with little danger of falling and injuring himself, as well as the palm. Uninsured palm trimmers that physically climb your trees to prune them put you at a serious liability risk.


Washingtonias pruned using a cherry picker, and the debris below (mostly cut boots with a few leaves)

4. Always use well-cleaned and/or sterilized pruning equipment. Many of the Canary Island Date palms in southern California are dying of fusarium wilt, a fungal disease spread from palm to palm by the careless use of dirty/contaminated pruning equipment.


Phoenix canariensis dying of fusarium wilt spread by contaminated equipment; compare to palm that died of natural causes (not overpruned obviously)

5. Never top palms. This may seem like an obvious rule to follow, but I am repeatedly surprised by the numbers of tall, beautiful palms that just end in a stump, usually near power lines or some other structure one obviously did not want the palm to grow taller than. These palms are often pruned by ignorant landscapers that think topping a palm is like topping any other tree, and will force the palm to stay shorter. Well, it will, but by killing it and making it a dead stump. No palms can tolerate being topped.

•6. 6. While pruning palms, always remove the inflorescences. This will help the palm tolerate some excessive loss of green leaves as well as put more of its energy into growing and maybe improve its overall health. Obviously this means NOT removing inflorescences of palms that are self cleaning, as those palms do not benefit from the loss of their flowers. Almost all self cleaning palms that are commonly used as landscape palms have relatively insignificant inflorescences in terms of size, fruit production and energy loss to the palm.

•7. Washingtonia filifera inflorescence- should be removed when pruning

7. Do not prune palms that are potassium deficient. These palms have typical yellow spotting on the oldest leaves (Sabal causarium is a common species that suffers this condition in California). Cutting off these yellowing leaves make temporarily make the palm look healthier, but it will force the leaves now left to start showing signs of potassium depletion, further weakening the palm. Instead supply the palm with extra potassium and put off any pruning for at least a year or more.

•8. Sabal causiarum leaf showing potassium deficiency- do not prune this leaf

8. Try to avoid pruning for cosmetic purposes, though that is a pretty tough rule to follow. And frankly, I like the looks of some pruned palms over that of un-pruned ones (eg. a well-pruned Chamaerops can have a wonderful ornamental appearance an un-pruned plant cannot approach). And Phoenix pruned so that some of the leafbases are left behind forming that interesting ‘pineapple’ look are a nice look, as long as they are not over-pruned (above the horizontal).

Chamaerops humilis examples, showing pruned palm, over-pruned palms and non-pruned palm

Chamaerops palm pruned carefully to look like a bonsai

The actual pruning of palms is not conceptually difficult but to prune some palms well can require a good deal of skill, care and strength as well as something like a crane or cherry picker. Trimming Washingtonia palms can be both dangerous and challenging as many of these are 50′-100′ tall and have dangerous sharp, saw-like petiolar teeth that can easily rip the flesh or catch on clothing throwing off ones balance. For pruning these trees to a smooth trunk requires an additional pulling or sawing off of the ‘boots’ (retained leaf bases). Very old palms will often start stripping themselves of these old leaf bases, and many will lose these in storms or high winds creating huge messes below. But to cut these off requires a steady hand, a very sharp linoleum saw, or chainsaw. Chainsawing off these boots carelessly can easily result in marring or severely damaging the trunks, in turn resulting in a weakened or badly injured tree. This is a job best left to professionals.

Washingtonia robusta on left and Washingtonia filiferi on right, showing their natural loss of leaves. The W robusta is more likely to keep a full peticoat, but eventually these fronds will be lost naturally as one can see near the top. The W filiferi is a semi-self-cleaning palm having lost all but the most recently deceased leaves near the top of the palm

Pruning some palms can also require a lot of care and skill, not just to get the trunks clean, or even carved to look like a sculpture, but to avoid being seriously injured by the sharp leaf base spines or petiolar teeth. One Phoenix leaf can have 20 to 50 of these deadly skewers pointing in all directions making pruning the leaf off near these spines a real challenge. These are not only a danger to ones skin, but eyes can easily be jabbed and blinded by these deadly spikes. Again, this is a job probably best left to professionals. Remember to use only clean/sterile pruning tools when cutting Phoenix leaves!

Phoenix theophrastii showing the typical dangerous Phoenix leaf-base spines, and spines on fallen Phoenix canariensis leaf; last photo shows Chamaerops leaves and the incredibly sharp petiolar teeth

Phoenix theophrastiis, pruned and unpruned; these palms not only have deadly spines along the leaf bases, but the leaves themselves are extremely hazardous as each leaflet ends in a sharp, stiff barb; look of trunk after trimmed back- fairly ornamental and worth the effort

The pruning of other palms simply requires a sharp pruning saw and a steady hand. Cutting off large, heavy fronds should be done initially from below, and then finishing above. The initial bottom cut keeps the falling leaf from tearing off a long strip of tissue down the trunk prior to making a clean cut of the leaf (similar pruning recommendations exist for cutting branches on other trees as well).

Notes on other palms:

Queen palms do not need to be pruned as they are semi-self-cleaning palms. However un-pruned Queen Palms tend to have at least 2-4 dead leaves hanging now and then and some consider these leaves unsightly. But cutting these palms back to a rooster tail as is commonly done in landscaping is a horrific and unsightly practice. Queen Palms are potentially beautiful palms and cutting them like this makes them weak, anemic-looking and gives them a bad name. Just don’t do it!!

Queen palm with some dead fronds that probably should be pruned off. But the Queen on the right is unecessarily pruned severely

Chamaerops palms can be difficult palms to prune as they have incredibly sharp spines along their wispy petioles that can do severe damage to face and arms if one is not careful. And these palms quickly develop into painful thickets if one does not keep up with the pruning regularly. A thicket look, if what one is going for, is fine, but most prefer a more kempt look for this species. Just be careful. As these are suckering palms, one need often also prune the suckers themselves off. The palm tolerates this well in most cases. Cut the trunk/suckers back as close as possible to their origins or one will end up with some unsightly dead stumps.

Unpruned Chamaerops can be a dangerous challenge to begin pruning; pruned palm with tyical mass of new growth below that requires continuous work; very large Chamaerops specimen pruned back to only 3 trunks, though it is constantly making more

Sabal palms can handle more pruning abuse than most genera- first photo shows where boots (leaf bases) have simply been pulled off the trunk; close up of pruned leaf bases, and group of Sabal palmettos given rooster-tail pruning to almost 3-4 leaves only… though this is still not recommended, these palms tolerate this surprisingly well

Trachycarpus palms are relatively simple palms to prune and offer few challenges, but sometimes one may one to remove the fuzzy trunk fiber, a very slow, tedious process that can easily result in damage to the trunk. This is another job probably best lef to professinals

Some palms like this Trithrinax brasiliensis require special consideration when pruning as not only does if have sharp spines along the petioles, but the trunk itself is heavily armed and dangerous, make close pruning difficult and painful

Palm pruning is sometimes a necessary evil, and if done properly and judiciously can leave the palms looking attractive as well as healthy. Many palms can live over 100 years, but their lives will can easily be ‘cut short’ so to speak by sloppy or unscrupulous pruning. Be careful!

When it comes to keeping your palm tree in good shape, there are many things that you need to do. Taking good care of your tree encourages healthy growth and also adds beauty to your property. Also, when you have well-manicured palm trees in your yard, this creates an excellent impression to your visitors, and they will know that you are a responsible homeowner. Therefore, you need to do everything within your powers to ensure that your palm trees are in top condition. To start with, you need to ensure that you prune and trim your palm trees on time. But why prune your palm trees? Well, by pruning, you remove the dead fronds and also excess weight which makes your tree presentable. Also, through pruning, you can remove diseased fronds, and this keeps your palm tree healthy.

After pruning, you will realise that your palm tree is becoming hairy. Once the wounds heal after pruning, the step will grow hairs to protect the stem and to ensure faster healing. These hairs can make your palm tree very unattractive, and this is where palm tree cleaning comes in. What is palm cleaning? It is a simple procedure of shaving the palm tree step to keep the step smooth and attractive. If you have seen those healthy palm trees in 5-star hotels, you will realise that they are flawless and without marks. It is only possible when you clean your palm tree. But why clean your palm tree? Well, read more to find out.

As mentioned above, one reason you clean your palm trees is to keep them beautiful and attractive. The hairs can look disgusting, and that is why you need to have them shaved immediately the grow. The shaving should be done a few months after pruning to ensure that the wounds from pruning have completely healed. When your palm tree is clean, you enjoy both beauty and added value to your property.

Another reason why you need to clean your tree is to prevent pest and rodents infestation. A shaggy palm tree acts as a suitable habitat for rodents. The rodents and birds will build their nest around, and soon they will invade your house and cause a lot of disturbances. The rodent can get very pesky, and you do not want them in your home. Keep your palm tree clean and forget about rodents.

Another reason why you need to shave your palm tree is that an unshaved tree is a legitimate threat. The hairs are always very dry and can catch fire any time and end up destroying the whole tree and of it is near the house, am sure you know the damage that can happen. Those are just some reasons to have your palm tree cleaned.

For professional services, consider – Palm Tree Cleaning. They are your authority when it comes to palm tree care. They will help you with both pruning and palm tree shaving. They have the right tools to do safe and professional palm tree shaving, and you can only expect the best from them. Once they prune your palm trees, they will advise you on when to do the shaving, and they will avail themselves to do the cleaning. The best part is that they offer affordable services and so you need not worry about burning a hole in your pockets. Give them a call or see their site to book an appointment.

Using small palm trees to create a tropical paradise


Let’s talk about some great small palms we have here in South Florida. Some can grow to 20 feet; you may not consider this small but when you understand that some palms can grow to 60 to 80 feet, 20 feet is considered small by comparison.

Living in South Florida is all about creating a tropical paradise around our home and/or business. Let’s face it; that’s why we live here. Most of these palms can be used as focal points and, when bigger, make real statements. You can even use them as a total package because of their different colors, leaf shapes, sizes and textures.

Some will be native palms while others are tropical. Some are called palms but are not even palms like the Ponytail palm (Beaucanea recurvate) which is actually in the asparagus family. With its palm-like foliage and large fat base, this one can be used either as a specimen plant or a garden accent plant. It can get large but it’s really, really a slow grower.

Now for the palms: Probably the most-used and one of the most popular in the landscape is Phoenix roebellinii, also known as dwarf date-palm, or pygmy date-palm. The palms usually are seen in clusters of 2 and 3 groupings, but they are sold individually as well. Usually seen on lanais or in landscapes, they are also great as container plants. They are slow growers but eventually can reach your screen roof. But that will take a long time.

Florida thatch-palm or Caribbean thatch-palm (Thrinax radiata) can be seen in the median along roads in South Florida. It is being used more and more because it is a native palm, drought tolerant and adapts easily to the crazy weather we can have here sometimes. I really like this one. A very handsome palm, nice fan shaped foliage and great markings from old palm fronds on its trunk mixed with palm fiber.

Christmas palms (Adonidia merrillii) are numerous around town lining roadways, small gardens and as container plants. Usually, they come in clumps with three trunks but are also sold with single and double trunks. They are called Christmas palms because their seed berries turn from green to red every year around Christmas. I think they are really cool because they look like miniature royal palms. Many of us cannot have the majestic royal palm because of its enormous size, so the Christmas palm is a good alternative. It is also self-cleaning, meaning the old fronds fall off when ready without major tree work. They say it’s deer resistant, but I’m not betting on that because things can change in South Florida minute to minute.

Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) is used almost exclusively as a privacy hedge because it has very dense weeping fronds. It can grow to 20 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. Arecas are a clumping palm with many different trunks coming from the same root ball, making it very thick and lush. It is another self-shedding palm, but remember, at least once a week you or your gardener will have to pick up fallen fronds on the lawn. Some people trim up the bottom trunks for a more Asian look, almost like bamboo. Unless you under-plant them, you will lose some of your privacy.

Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) is different from other palms because it grows in layers with its pointed umbrella-like leaves and lives in your darkest areas — yes shade. It will grow in sun, but it will lose its dark green color. It reaches a height of about 6 to 10 feet. Lady palms also are great for container plantings.

These are just a few small palms available in our area. Stay tuned for more to come on Florida’s favorites.

Don’t forget to help save the monarch butterfly — plant milkweed and keep butterflying!

Mike Malloy, known as Naples “butterfly guy” sells host and nectar plants for butterflies as well as tropical plants at the Third Street South farmer’s market every Saturday morning.

Christmas Palm

Christmas palms at the Naples Botanical Garden.
Photo by Scott Zona, some rights reserved.

Palms are one of those iconic Florida plants. They are great for adding tropical flare to the landscape, but if you have a small planting area, finding a palm to fit can be a challenge. Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii) is one of the few palm species that will do well in a small site.

The common name, “Christmas palm,” comes from the clusters of bright red fruits that adorn these trees in late fall and winter, giving the plants the appearance of being decorated for the holidays. Christmas palms are also sometimes referred to as Manila palms.


Native to the Philippines, these trees have been cultivated throughout the tropics for centuries. They grow quickly until reaching about 6 feet tall then continue to grow more slowly. With time, Christmas palms can grow as tall as 25 feet with a canopy spread of 5 to 8 feet and a 6-inch diameter trunk.

But Christmas palm’s main attraction is the fall and winter appearance of very showy clusters of glossy, bright red fruits.

For increased visual interest this single-trunked palm is often planted in groups of two or four. Clumping them like this causes each trunk to grow outwards in a graceful curve. When using this approach, take care to provide enough space for each plant’s canopy and root ball—sometimes this method causes competition for growth, with one or more of the plants failing to thrive.

Planting and Care

Christmas palms grow best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. With the recent history of warm winters, use of Christmas palm in the landscape has migrated north to central Florida, but these palms are only cold hardy to 30°F. Their diminutive size when young makes them a good candidate for containers, which can be moved inside and protected during a freeze. Christmas palm is fairly drought tolerant once established and it is moderately tolerant of salt spray on the foliage.

Detail of the Christmas palm’s fruit. Photo by Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

These palms are self-cleaning, meaning that once a leaf dies, it drops off cleanly on its own. This characteristic is great for reducing pruning requirements in the landscape.

While these low-maintenance palms are well adapted to Florida’s nutrient-poor soils, they occasionally suffer from boron deficiency. Symptoms of boron deficiency include small, malformed new leaves, multiple unopened spear leaves, and sideways growth.

Christmas palms are relatively disease-free with the exception of lethal yellowing. This disease, as the name would suggest, has no cure. While trees can be protected from lethal yellowing with preventative trunk injections, this is expensive as the palm needs continuous protection for its entire life.

Some gardeners choose to cut off the flower stalks before the fruits develop to avoid the mess from fallen fruits. But others love the look of the attractive red fruits; leaving them on the tree provides you with red-hot cool season color!

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Adonidia merrillii: Christmas Palm
  • Boron Deficiency in Palms
  • Lethal Yellowing of Palm

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Gardening for Fall Color

Planting A Bottle Palm – Tips On Caring For A Bottle Palm Tree

Not all of us are lucky enough to grow bottle palms in our landscape, but for those of us who can…what a treat! These plants bear their name due to the trunk’s strong resemblance to a bottle. The trunk is swollen and rounded when young, becoming more elongated as the palm matures. Bottle palm is a true palm that is native to the Mascarene Islands where warm, balmy temperatures and loose, sandy soil form the plant’s habitat. Planting a bottle palm in northern climates is not recommended, as they are not frost hardy. Southern gardeners, however, should know how to grow a bottle palm tree and make use of this unique and stunning tropical plant.

Bottle Palm Tree Info

Plants develop all sorts of amazing adaptations to help them survive. Bottle palm trees have evolved with thickened trunks topped with scaly crowns. The purpose is unclear but might have been a water storage device. Whatever the reason, the trunk makes for a standout silhouette in the garden or even as a potted plant. Caring for a bottle palm tree is a low maintenance chore due to its slow growth and drought tolerance once established.

The bottle palm is a true palm in the family Arecaceae. Its scientific name is Hyophorbe lagenicaulis. The last part of the name is from two Greek words, ‘lagen’ meaning flask and ‘caulis’ meaning stem. The name literally contains an important clue to the plant’s form.

More interesting bottle palm tree info is hidden in the first part of the name, Hyophorbe. Broken down, ‘hyo’ means pig and ‘phorbe’ means fodder – an indication that the tree’s fruit was fed to pigs.

These palms only get 10 feet in height but sport fronds that may grow 12 feet in length with 2-foot long leaflets. The trunk is smooth and grayish white topped with scraggly leaf scars from old, departed fronds.

How to Grow a Bottle Palm Tree

Bottle palm trees require warm temperatures all year and tend to prefer drier soils. They are cultivated in Florida, southern California, Hawaii and other warm climates. Northern gardeners can grow the smaller trees in containers and bring them indoors before any frost threatens.

The site conditions that are optimal to bottle tree palm care are sunny, well-drained soil with plentiful potassium, either in site or added annually as a feed.

When planting a bottle palm, dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the root ball. Add sand or topsoil to increase drainage and install the palm at the same depth it was growing in its pot. Do not hill soil around the stem.

Water well initially to help the plant develop deep roots. Over time, this tree can tolerate drought for short periods of time and it even withstands saline soils in coastal situations.

Bottle Palm Tree Care

One of the key areas of bottle tree palm care is provisions for protection from frost. Tie up the fronds gently and wrap the tree in a blanket or other insulating cover if cold temperatures are predicted. Even a light freeze can cause fronds to brown and die.

Bottle trees are not self-cleaning, but wait until the weather warms up to trim off dead leaves. They can provide further insulation during the winter months.

Fertilize in early spring with a high potassium ratio food. Watch for pests and disease, and combat any signs immediately.

Caring for a bottle palm tree is nearly effortless provided they are in good soil, bright light and get moderate moisture.

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