Hurricane preparation for your palm

Monday, April 29, 2013

As published in the Miami Herald

How should we protect our palm trees when a hurricane is approaching?

Palm trees gained popularity in southern Florida not because of their ability to endure storms but because of their grace and tropical beauty. Preparing them for high winds begins long before hurricane season.

Hurricane-pruning, or removing almost all the leaves, is not an effective way of preparing your palm tree for a storm. In fact, hurricane pruning can be more detrimental than damage caused by a storm because it usually involves removal of some healthy leaves in order to prevent them from falling off and causing damage. Since palms store nutrients in leaves, hurricane pruning results in a weaker palm entering a storm.

Leaves will blow off the palm no matter if you trim or not. If your palm is hurricane-pruned, the palm will lose more leaves than if the palm had been left alone.

A sabal minor is a beautiful and solid palm that is adapted to our tropical storms. Its shortened height protects it from the strongest storm gusts.

Pruning palm leaves not only results in a nutrient-deficient palm, but it exposes the growing center of the palm to the full effects of the storm. A single-stem palm tree has one bud where all of the growth takes place. The bud is right below where the newest leaf, or spear, meets the trunk of the palm. If the bud is injured, the palm will not be able to grow and it will perish. If the bud is exposed during the storm due to severe hurricane pruning, there is a high chance of injury and, possibly, the demise of your tree.

Green leaves should never be trimmed off a palm since it results in a wound on the leaf base. The consequences of trimming green leaves are significantly more severe during storm season. Wet and humid weather that accompanies a storm, coupled with this fresh wound, increases chances of infections. Since the palm was hurricane-pruned, it is already nutrient-deficient and now has fewer resources to combat the diseases as effectively.

Storm protection for palm trees begins long before hurricane season. Trim the brown leaves and then leave the palm alone. Fertilize your palm twice a year, in October and March, to increase strength. Monitor your palm for nutrient deficiencies and diseases. Keep in mind that storm protection for palms does not start a few days before the storm, but is a year-long commitment.

When selecting palms for your yard, choose varieties that can withstand hurricane winds. I suggest Sabal minor or Serenoa repens: These palms are adapted to our environment and won’t be harmed during a storm. And remember that big palms make big messes. When a royal palm leaf drops, it can cause serious damage, so don’t plant these next to your home or driveway.

When the next storm comes our way, don’t take out the pole saw and start cutting. Feel confident that the maintenance and attention you’ve provided to your palm is sufficient in helping it endure the storm. And maybe move your car out from underneath it.