Hurricane season starts in June and goes through November. During this time homeowners are pruning their coconut palms to lessen potential hurricane damage. This article will review proper palm pruning and who should do the pruning.
First, let's review how a palm and a tree feed themselves. A palm is a monocot plant and has scattered vascular bundles that carry both the water-conducting cells and the food-conducting cells up to the crown and down to the roots. A tree is a dicot plant that has organized bundles called phloem (inner bark) that move leaf-produced food downward to the root system, and the xylem (cambium), which conducts water and dissolved minerals up the stem from the root system.
For two reasons, it is important for palms to retain fronds: as a food source and for the attached fronds to increase palm trunk diameter. First, palms are not as efficient as trees at storing their foods for needy times, so palms are more dependent on their leaves to provide necessary food for growth. With relatively few leaves, compared with trees, removing even one green frond can significantly reduce the palm's ability to feed itself. Second, the size of a palm's trunk at any one place is determined by how long a frond at that point remains green and healthy (and this in turn is determined by the amount of water, fertilizer, and care the tree is receiving). An early removal of a frond (before it is brown) cuts down on the size of the trunk, and extreme hurricane pruning could create a weak place at which the trunk would snap off in later years during high winds.
Generally we suggest not removing any more fronds than an angle formed at 30 degrees to the vertical. In addition, it is extremely important to go ahead and remove the coconuts on the trees, as they particularly can become deadly missiles during strong winds. To make this sort of pruning last well beyond the hurricane season, you should cut the unopened flower spathes and the flowers themselves. With this sort of pruning you can probably get by with pruning your coconut palms only once a year during the period of August and September. Place your palm trimmings curbside for pickup. If a storm is reported, secure trimmings against being blown around during the storm and dispose of them after the storm has passed.
It must be pointed out that the individual who is fond of eating his coconuts is faced with a dilemma, since there is no question that he is reducing his food crop. In that instance, simply removing the coconut bunches whenever a hurricane watch is posted would be acceptable. If you use this approach, however, be sure to bring the coconuts into your home and don't leave them outside during the storm, where they could still pose a problem.
Finally, it is important that palm trunks are not injured. A homeowner can remove fronds and nuts while a palm tree is small and can be reached from the ground or a securely placed ladder. Palms should never be climbed using spikes or cleated climbing shoes. These spikes puncture and wound the trunk, allowing the entry of pathogens that can kill the palm. Pruning should be done by knowledgeable professionals using a hydraulic bucket lift “cherry picker,” pole pruner, or ladder.
(Article prepared by Kim Gabel, Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service)