COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - Palm trees and Florida go hand-in-hand, but chances are a lot of palms aren't being cared for correctly. That could lead to the tree's eventual death or major damage to your home during a hurricane.
The "hurricane cut" is used when describing palm trees that have been pruned so much that only a few green fronds are left on top of the plant. Most people think that by getting the hurricane cut they won't have to have their palms pruned as often. They also may feel that this cut keeps their home safe from flying palm fronds during a storm. But we've uncovered it's just not true.
"They are designed very well to hold up without man's interference," says Doug Caldwell, Ph.D. with the University of Florida Extension in Collier County.
As a commercial landscape horticulturist and landscape entomologist, Caldwell knows trees. "Those green fronds are there for a reason," he says.
He's trying to educate everyone, from landscapers to homeowners, about the proper way to care for their palms; to protect their landscaping and their property.
"You'll see where those fronds have been over removed, that that trunk narrows to what we call pencil-pointing," Caldwell pointed out on a nearby palm. "It's kind of like going on the Atkins diet. You'll see a narrowing or thinning of that trunk, and then if it's left alone, it'll fatten up again. So you've got a weak point in that palm trunk-- and I wouldn't want that near my house."
To prevent what Caldwell calls "pencil-pointing," he says you should never cut off green fronds. They're needed for the plant's nutrition. And don't prune a palm's canopy beyond what's called the "nine to three" cut.
In an instructional video Caldwell put on YouTube, he explains what the canopy should look like using a clock. When you look at a palm's canopy in relation to a clock, it should follow the same shape as a clock when the hands are in a nine-to-three pattern.
The hurricane cut is when the canopy is in the ten-to-two or 11-to-one shape.
Besides hurting your tree and exposing your home to storm damage, over-pruning can be costly. In a 2008 memo sent out by Lee County, landscapers were warned that they could see big fines for over-pruned palms.
"When you remove those boots at the head of the palm, that's like chopping into the shock absorber in your car," explained Caldwell.
Manuel Terrero, owner of Classic Lawns, Inc., says he also knows what a tree needs.
"Too many people [are] doing the hurricane cut. It's not healthy for the tree," he said.
During his 21 years in the tree-trimming business, he's seen a lot of clients; but by trying to prune trees the right way, he's lost lots of clients, too.
"Quite a few jobs,"he said. "Big contracts you know, five or six big contracts."
Meanwhile, landscapers like Terrero and educators like Caldwell continue to spread the word about keeping Florida beautiful.
"We'd like people to recognize that green fronds are okay," Caldwell reiterated.
We asked both Lee and Collier counties how many citations or fines they've handed out for severely pruned palms and both responded that few, if any, have been fined.
Lee County says the ordinance is used to educate instead of fine. Both counties say people they've talked to have fixed their pruning techniques.
Here is some more information on proper palm tree pruning from the UF extension office in Collier County.