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How to Prune a Sabal Palm

The sabal palm, cabbage palm, or Sabal palmetto, is a native Florida plant commonly used in landscaping. These trees are what is often described as “self-pruning,” which means that they’ll shed dead fronds when it’s appropriate. They don’t need any help from you or from your landscaper. Green fronds should never be removed from sabal palms. Excess pruning is actually very harmful to these natives and to the local wildlife, many species of which depend upon cabbage palms for their very survival. The cabbage palm should be allowed to retain its natural canopy configuration. When you look at your sabal’s canopy, draw an imaginary arc from 9 to 3 on the face of a clock. It should be full and rounded, and shouldn’t even remotely resemble the top of a pineapple.

Use a clean, sharp pole pruner to cut off any broken, damaged, yellow or brown fronds at least a foot from the trunk. Trim those off only if they’re less than 25 percent green, unless they’re a threat to your family or to your property. If a frond isn’t poking a hole through your pool screen, don’t trim it off.

Remove loose, tattered trunk covering, or boot, from the tree by hand. If it’s not loose enough to pull away easily, leave it alone. Don’t ever trim or cut it. The tree will shed the boot as needed.

Remove flower and fruit stalks when they begin forming. Production of these structures weakens the palm unnecessarily.

Mow and trim carefully around your sabal palm. Power tools such as trimmers, chainsaws and weed whackers can cut easily into the flesh of the plant’s trunk. Basal injuries invite diseases and pests to enter the tree, and the wounds are permanent. The plant will retain the unattractive scarring for life.

Mulch around your cabbage palm tree generously to a depth of about 6 inches. This will control weeds so that you won’t have to use the weed whacker near its trunk, possibly causing irreparable damage. It will also help to retain moisture for the plant.

Add fallen or trimmed fronds to your compost heap or to your wildlife brush pile.


Contrary to what some believe, pruning any palm tree will not accelerate its growth.


If the sabal palm is too tall to trim from the ground with a pole pruner, contact a professional with ladders and a lift to do the job safely and correctly. Never climb a sabal palm using spikes. These will cause irreparable damage to the trunk and weaken the plant.

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