How to Prune a Date Fruit Palm

Overview

Remarkably tolerant of heat and drought, the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) can grow as tall as 100 feet with a frond canopy that is 20 to 40 feet wide. This native of extreme northeastern Africa grows best if soils are moist and fast-draining. The long frond leaves, each measuring up to 20 feet in length, are held horizontally to upright and will eventually be replaced after turning yellow and dying, becoming a crusty tan-brown and clinging to the palm trunk. Date palms are grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 and warmer, where winters are dry and summers long and hot.

Step 1

Put on thick leather gloves before handling any fronds on a date palm. Any time suckering shoots or emerging fronds of young plants occur at the base of a date palm, prune them away. Using hand-held pruners, cut off these ground fronds flush with the soil or trunk's knotty root ball base. Put on eye protection when bending and stooping around the fronds so the leaflets or long spices on the frond bases do not accidentally harm you.

Step 2

Look up into the canopy of fronds atop the date palm's trunk. Any dead (tan) fronds that are clinging onto the trunk as well as any sickly, yellowing fronds can be earmarked for removal. Note the height of the trunk and where a pruning cut is needed to remove these fronds. Obtain a pruning saw on an extension pole that is long enough to reach the fronds from the ground, or locate an A-frame ladder that is tall and stable enough to allow you to get to the fronds easily and safely.

Step 3

Remove all dead fronds from the date palm canopy. While wearing gloves and eye protection, hold the frond with your spare hand and cut the base of the dead frond with the pruners or pruning saw. Get out of the way of any dropping fronds as you cut them free from the palm, as the long spines on the lower part of the frond stem will inflict injury if they hit you as the frond falls.

Step 4

Stand back and look at the shape of the date palm's canopy of leaves. The goal is to maintain a balanced canopy of healthy fronds--those that are green or slightly yellowing--since they produce food for the palm to make fruits, flowers or more fronds. Consider only removing lowermost fronds that dip below the horizontal plane/line that you imagine at the point where all fronds emanate from the top of the trunk. Any fronds hanging at an angle that dips below the line can be removed.

Step 5

Cut off any emerging flower stalks, fruiting clusters or old, dead fruit cluster branches in a similar manner as the fronds. If you do not want date fruits, flowering clusters can be cut off as soon as they emerge from the trunk. Alternatively, to harvest the branched cluster of fruits, cut the base of the branch with a pruning saw atop an extension pole and capture it as it falls to the ground. Dates are ready for harvest when they turn deep red and orange after a long summer ripening.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not remove healthy, gray-green fronds from the canopy of the date palm. These leaves supply energy to the plant. Prematurely removing fronds robs the plant of food, slows its growth and can diminish its health over time. In fact, a scarcity of fronds can lead to a condition called "pencil neck", where the width of the trunk is unusually narrowed at the top because of the lack of growth caused by insufficient numbers of leaves. The spines on the lower reaches of the date palm fronds are slow to decompose. For safety, do not let these cut fronds lay around where your or kids' hands, legs or bare feet may encounter them.

Things You'll Need

  • Thick leather gloves
  • Hand pruners (secateurs)
  • Pruning saw on extension pole
  • A-frame ladder
  • Eye protection (goggles)

References

  • University of Florida IFAS Extension: Pruning Palms
  • "An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms"; Robert Lee Riffle and Paul Craft; 2003
  • Learn2Grow: Phoenix dactylifera
Keywords: pruning date palms, Phoenix dactylifera care, removing palm fronds

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.