Palm tree maintenance

Palm tree fronds

Palm trees add an exotic touch to any garden, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a South African garden that doesn’t feature one. Although palm trees require little maintenance, they’ll flourish if you learn how to care for them properly.


Indigenous versus exotic palms

There are six palms that are indigenous to South Africa:


  • Wild Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata)
  • Makalani Palm (Hyphaene petersiana)
  • Lala Palm (H. coriacea)
  • African Fan Palm ( Borassus aethiopum )
  • Kosi Palm (Raphia australis)
  • Pondo Palm (Jubaeopsis caffra)


There thousands of different species of palm trees worldwide. Obviously, indigenous palm trees are well adapted to local conditions, but it is possible to grow some of the more exotic species successfully.


Pruning palm trees

Not all palms require pruning, particularly those with crown shafts (a collection of smooth, tightly clasped leaf bases found at the top of the trunk). Many will shed old leaves naturally, which you only need pick up from the ground during routine garden maintenance. The skirt of old palm leaves that forms around mature palms also offers a refuge for insects and lizards.


For those palms that do need to be pruned, care should be taken not to over-prune. A healthy palm that is properly pruned will have a full canopy of green leaves. Excessive pruning will leave you with a weak, unattractive palm that doesn’t provide shade. A palm tree should have a round crown, and never look like a feather duster!


How pruning affects palm trees

Pruning a palm tree is about more than just improving its appearance. Old palm leaves are often Vitamin K deficient and removing them can affect the health of your palm.


When the leaves of your palm tree start to die off, the palm redirects the Vitamin K it produces to the new leaves to keep them healthy. If you remove the old leaves too soon, the palm will simply send nutrients to the latest set of new leaves and you could accelerate the decline of an otherwise healthy tree.


Some gardeners have also observed that the skirt formed by old leaves protects the palm from cold in winter.


Fertilising and watering palms

Using the right fertiliser can stop palm fronds from turning yellowing and curling. The correct combination of magnesium, iron and manganese will give your palm tree the nutrients it needs for optimum health.


If you can afford it, opt for a slow release fertiliser. It may be more expensive, but you won’t need to fertilise as often. Cheaper formulas can wash away very quickly. As with mulching, don’t lay fertiliser right up against the base of the palm as may damage the roots or scar the trunk.

Newly planted palms should be watered every day for the first week, while mature palm trees prefer damp, well-drained soil. You can cut back on the watering during winter, but keep an eye on the leaves. If the tips of the leaves start turning brown, it’s a sign that your palm tree isn’t getting enough water.


Palm trees are popular with both landscapers and avid gardeners. They are fairly easy to maintain and, unlike some trees, they don’t have an aggressive root system. A well-maintained palm tree is an asset to any garden. If you need some advice or assistance caring for your palm tree, give Brands Tree Felling a call today.