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Hurricane Cuts on Palms — Don't Do It

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

The leaves on these cabbage palms are growing back after a severe “hurricane cut”. Being so drastically pruned can lead to the death of a palm during a severe wind storm

The leaves on these cabbage palms are growing back after a severe “hurricane cut”. Being so drastically pruned can lead to the death of a palm during a severe wind storm

Hurricane Season is Here

In the northern hemisphere, hurricane season officially begins on June 1 each year, and continues through autumn. Somehow, the worst of it seems to come in September and October, so the season is upon us.

At the time I began this article (early September, 2022) there had been no hurricane damage. Unfortunately, the day after publication, Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico, and devastated the island once again.

If you live in a tropical or coastal area, or a new construction neighborhood with lots of palms, you will likely have guys in pick-up trucks knocking on your door wanting to give your palms a “hurricane cut”. Some of them actually believe this will protect your palm in high winds. Others know better — they just want your money. If you treasure your palms, do not allow them to do this.

This is a Sylvester Palm that has been given a hurricane cut. There are probably enough leaves left to protect the terminal bud, but why take this chance?

This is a Sylvester Palm that has been given a hurricane cut. There are probably enough leaves left to protect the terminal bud, but why take this chance?

In high wind, the leaves on all palms fold upward to protect the terminal (new) leaf bud from being ripped off. The 20-foot long leaves of this Queen Palm are doing their job.

In high wind, the leaves on all palms fold upward to protect the terminal (new) leaf bud from being ripped off. The 20-foot long leaves of this Queen Palm are doing their job.

Exactly What Is a Hurricane Cut?

The lower leaves on palms do need to be removed periodically, but only when they have turned brown. The reasons for this are covered in my article entitled, Palms: When to Prune? When Not to Prune? This severe pruning, however, makes palms vulnerable in high winds. Why? Because the leaves fold upwards in high winds (as shown in the above photo) protecting the terminal bud from being ripped off.

What’s a Terminal Bud?

The newest leaf that is emerging from the center of the palm is called the terminal bud. That bud is small, tender, and delicate until it grows larger and unfurls. Palms grow only from the top in the center of the older leaves, and if that bud is removed, the palm will eventually die.

You can see why the new leaves are called “spear leaves” or simply “spears.”

You can see why the new leaves are called “spear leaves” or simply “spears.”

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This new spear has begun to unfurl, and within a few days, will be a 20-foot long leaf with multiple leaflets.

This new spear has begun to unfurl, and within a few days, will be a 20-foot long leaf with multiple leaflets.

The two photos above were taken only a few days apart. They show the top of the same Queen Palm first with a new spear leaf, and later when the spear has begun to unfurl. Soon it will be a leaf about 20 feet long with dozens of leaflets along its center spine (petiole).

However, if that terminal bud is removed, the palm will look fine—for a while. Gradually, the lowest tier of leaves will turn brown, then the next tier, until there are no more, as in the photo below.

If the terminal bud is cut off or ripped off in high winds, this will be the eventual result as the lower leaves die off, and no new ones emerge.

If the terminal bud is cut off or ripped off in high winds, this will be the eventual result as the lower leaves die off, and no new ones emerge.

How Should a Properly Pruned Palm Look?

All palms should have leaves that form a 360° circle. When removing the brown leaves, the remaining leaves should form the shape of a circle, or at least a half-circle, as shown in the next photo.

Of course, this is not always possible, due to pests, disease, storm damage, and over-zealous yard maintenance crews. If extensive work is needed on your palms, it is best to consult a certified arborist in your area.

Imagine a horizontal line drawn across the bottom of the leaves of this palm. The overall shape of the leaves above the line should form a half-circle.

Imagine a horizontal line drawn across the bottom of the leaves of this palm. The overall shape of the leaves above the line should form a half-circle.

The Take Away From This Article

The take away is, please do not give any palm a hurricane cut; be sure to sterilize your cutting tools after each use; and never, ever allow anyone to use a chain saw on your palms.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery

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