How to Prune a Bismarck Palm

Hunker may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning saw

  • Loppers

  • A-frame ladder

  • Extension pole with saw attachment

Tip

Focus on pruning as needed across the year. The University of Florida says there's no research supporting the idea that cutting off healthy fronds reduces the need for pruning in the future. Focus on cutting off fronds that grow at a downward angle or are already yellowing and brown. Use an A-frame ladder to better reach the base of fronds slated for removal. Make sure the ladder's footing is strong and level before stepping onto it. For fronds higher up on the trunk, consider using a pruning saw that is attached to an extension pole. Since you cannot support the frond as you cut, expect the frond to snap and tear off as you cut into the frond base with the saw. Make sure you move out of the way before the frond drops to the ground.

Warning

Bismarck fronds are large and heavy. Do not undertake pruning if you aren't physically strong or cannot safely cut fronds yourself on a ladder or with an extension pole. Hire a professional arborist or landscape crew with high-reach equipment to remove the fronds.

A young Bismarck palm with short trunk surrounded by variegated gingers

Slow growing, the Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis) develops a stout trunk topped with large, stiff, powdery silver fronds. Native to Madagascar, this tropical palm grows outdoors in the United States only in Southern Florida, coastal Southern California and Hawaii, correlating to U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and warmer. Bismarck palm needs a full sun location in a garden with any well-drained soil. This plant develops a deep taproot and demonstrates good tolerance to seasonal droughts and high summer heat. Grow it in a spacious landscape, as the Bismarck palm matures at 40 to 70 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide over several decades.

Step 1

Look at the overall shape of the Bismarck palm's canopy of fanlike fronds. It naturally becomes a rounded mass of leaves, even extending fronds horizontally and to the ground in young plants that lack a trunk or have a short one. Note if any fronds pose a hazard such as blocking a walkway, rubbing into a building facade or encroaching upon another prized plant in the garden.

Step 2

Remove fronds that pose a hazard or are already dried or light brown in color and sagging along the trunk. According to the University of Florida, there's no reason to remove healthy fronds or those that grow horizontally or upward-angled in the canopy. In fact, removing healthy palm fronds stresses the plant and slows its growth and production of food.

Step 3

Saw into the base of the frond with a pruning saw about 6 inches from the trunk. Grasp the stem petiole of the Bismarck palm frond with your spare hand and balance it as you cut; it is large, heavy and cumbersome. As you penetrate into the stem with the saw, be prepared to support more weight of the dropping frond. Balance the frond as you saw to prevent it from tearing at the base and to help guide its fall.

Step 4

Lift the cut frond away from the palm or direct its drop to the ground after the pruning cut severs it.

Step 5

Trim off any flower stalks that emanate from the cluster of frond bases in early summer if desired. Bismarck palms are either male or female based on their flowers; only pollinated female palms yield the blue-green fruits that ripen to black. Removing flower stalks improves the visual "cleanness" of the palm in some people's eyes. Keeping the flower stalks is fine, too, but they will dry to brown in fall and not look attractive.

references & resources

Jacob J. Wright

Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.