UF Palm improper pruning. (Photo courtesy of Edward F. Gilman.)

By Lynn Barber, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ agent, and Susan Haddock, commercial horticulture agent

Hurricanes provide many of us with the ‘opportunity’ to prune our landscape plants that have not been uprooted or destroyed. Under normal conditions, pruning does not have to involve a significant amount of our free time, but after a hurricane it may.

We should prune our landscape plants soon after damage has occurred. Generally, we prune to train the plant to grow in a specific direction; stimulate flower or fruit production; promote more full growth; remove diseased, deranged or dead foliage; or to prevent damage to people and property. After a hurricane, we prune for some of those reasons and to improve the appearance of shrubs that have wind damage, broken stems or damage from falling trees and/or tree limbs. A few tips to follow:

Use pruners, not hedge shears, to prune shrubs. Cutting back one-third of the plant will improve the aesthetics and health of the plant. This is called rejuvenation pruning, and cuts should be made to remove one-third of old, mature stems back to the basic framework or near ground level. However, you may need to prune more now depending on the amount of damage sustained. If you need to remove more than one-third of growth, the shrub may take longer to recover.

Tree pruning may be necessary to improve the shape or form. For assistance in pruning trees, use an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)-certified arborist, which you can find at www.treesarecool.com. Click on the tab titled ‘Find an Arborist’ to locate professionals in your area. If you choose to attempt some minor pruning on your own, refer to the following publications for tree pruning information: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/pruning.shtml. And for safety recommendations: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FR170.

Hurricane pruning on palms is a practice that harms the palm and can cause more damage in strong winds. Excessively pruning palms leaves only the fronds on the top of the palm which results in weak structure promoting breakage at the growing point and death of the palm. Fronds should not be removed above the clock hand positions of nine and three.

A full head on a palm provides wind protection by lifting the wind over nearby structures. Refer to the publication “Pruning Palms” at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP443, which provides information on correct pruning practices.

Not all palms require pruning. Dead fronds can be pruned; however, partially dead fronds (part green, yellow or brown) should not be pruned as they continue to supply potassium to the palm. Palms with a green crownshaft are self-pruning and do not require pruning because the fronds fall off naturally once they turn brown.

For assistance with horticultural questions, call us at 813-744-5519 or visit us at the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, 5339 County Rd. 579 in Seffner. Visit our Hillsborough County Extension and Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ websites. Remember to reduce, reuse, recycle and repeat.

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