BY CHUCK MALLOY President, s and Member, Palm Society of South Texas

Editor’s Note: All knowledge for educational purposes was my own learned through personal growing experience, botany classes in college and knowledge via Master Gardener classes over the years.


Another thing to consider when pruning palms is our south Texas bird migration. Proper pruning of the dead fronds prior to spring migration allows nesting areas for many permanent resident birds and migrant birds that come back up to the Valley to nest. For proper pruning, remove only completely dead, dry, brown fronds. Never remove green fronds unless severely damaged, and never prune palms for cosmetic purposes.

These are the reasons that this guideline should be followed:

• Nutrients are still being obtained by the tree from the dying frond.

• The skirt made by the dying fronds complements the shape of the crown giving it its signature shape.

• The skirt protects the trunk from sun damage.

• Whether to leave some fronds to form a skirt is up to the owner, and whether to have a mini skirt or a maxi skirt is a matter of individual taste. Each has its aesthetic value. Proper pruning that leaves a full crown can have other benefits. If several palms are in a hammock arrangement they can provide shade and a habitat for animals. Also, fully crowned palms at different heights will protect your property from wind buffeting from tropical storms. The palms taking a full impact from a storm will result in debris on the ground afterwards, but it’s a lot nicer to pick up palm debris than roofing shingles.

• Whichever look the owner chooses, it’s important to remove only those parts of the palm that can be removed by hand or with light tools. Never, never skin the tree.

The hooded oriole, a summer resident of the Valley, will sew its nests into the green palmate portion of the frond, on the underside when it’s green and hanging, for protection from rain and wind. I have hooded oriole nests in my Washingtonians and Bismarkias in the green part of the frond. The hooded oriole won’t build in a palm tree pruned to the shape of a shaving brush. If nests are present, pruning can be delayed until the young birds have left the nest. Beneficial insects and other critters use the skirting for nesting and hunting for food.

My palm skirts house a Mexican yellow bat, screech owls, and great horned owls in addition to the hooded oriole in the green palmate portions. In fact, some areas protect dead palm trunks for parrot nesting and prohibit removal.

It’s time to take a pro-active approach to proper palm pruning. We encourage you to share the information with city officials and business owners and help to keep the Valley’s landscape beautiful.

Remember, fire, frost and defoliation by man are the major threats to the palm. Defoliation by man is the only one that can be eliminated.

Thanks to my wife Elena for the title which inspired me to write this article.

For more information on proper palm pruning, contact a member of the Cameron County Master Gardeners at 956.361.8236 or the Palm Society of South Texas at

For Proper Palm Pruning

For more information on proper palm pruning, contact a member of the Cameron County Master Gardeners at 956.361.8236 or the Palm Society of South Texas at