When and How to Prune Palms and Conifers
First and foremost, there is an established rumor that pruning palm trees encourages faster growth. This is wrong. It is not true. In fact, it’s very far from the truth. And here’s why.
Palm trees are different from most trees- most notably in their basic structure. Palm trees are monocots. This means that their growth and overall structure is a lot different than most other trees, which are called dicots. On monocots like palms (and grasses and lilies for example), there are no numerous branched nodes of growth. You can’t cut off a large amount of a living structural element on a monocot and expect a new branch, stem, or leaf to grow from the node below your cut. No- once you make a cut, or injure a monocot like a palm, the effect is permanent and never heals well. To add to this, palm trees have a certain amount of fronds that they produce that suit that particular palm’s needs. Each individual species is unique to itself in this manner, and each tree relies on the exact amount of food produced by that exact amount of palm frond leaf material. If you cut off too many healthy fronds of a palm, the palm might be able to barely cope with the lack of food production it needs in time to produce replacement fronds, but the stress it puts on the palm leaves it open to weaknesses and illness. So, the only time you prune or trim a palm is if the frond is injured beyond help. And even then, trim sparingly.
Conifers are generally another tree genre that doesn’t require a lot of pruning or trimming. Like palms, they don’t grow like most trees and don’t recover in the same way that most trees do after pruning. There are two main reasons to prune a conifer- for health (removing of old, dead, diseased growth) and for size control (which is avoidable by planting a conifer in an area that’s the right size for the area). However, they are more forgiving than palms and there are times when pruning can rejuvenate a conifer tree or bush. But when and how you prune heavily depends on the species of conifer. Here are some general rules of thumb for when and how to prune common conifers in the landscape:
· Arborvitaes, Chamaecyparis, Junipers: Prune to keep their size in late spring and early summer with a good shear, and only remove new, fleshy, green growth to control size. If you go down to the old wood underneath, it won’t grow back. Carefully clip back with sharp shears or a hand pruner.
· Hemlocks and Yews: Prune in the late winter or late summer when the tree is dormant. The tree will produce branching new growth if you trim this way when it comes out of dormancy, creating a bushier and fuller growth. Hand pruners work well for this task.
· Pines: Cut off the candles in late spring to encourage bud formation for next year’s new growth.
· Firs and Spruces: Trim in late winter or late summer when the tree is dormant. To control height, trim the leader about a half inch or so above a bud on the leader to encourage branching while controlling height.
Some trees enjoy and actually do well with some neglect. Palms and conifers are two of those trees. Remember to start with a variety of each that will fit the space intended at full maturity, which will save you a lot of work down the road too.
Canada: We ship to U.S. border