California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)

Today we got to work at a really nice place in Wickenburg trimming California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera). I had trimmed these trees twice before with climbing spikes (that was 3 years ago and again 2 years ago). Last year they were not trimmed, so there were a lot of spent seed stalks and dead fronds hanging down on the trunk. The setting was beautiful and they are majestic trees. My favorite! I have two seedlings about three feet tall that I grew from seeds off these trees. Washingtonia fan palms readily hybridize, but I know the mother was a real Washingtonia filifera!

California Fan Palms take more cold than Mexican Fan Palms (Washingtonia robusta) before being damaged. They also send out their seed stalks later in the year. Most people want their palms trimmed after ALL the seed stalks are out but before the seeds mature. With Mexican Fan Palms, this is traditionally June 15 or later – in the Valley. For our area, a little later might be better! For California Fan Palms, July 15 is the traditional date and later is definitely better. We have had trees shoot a late stalk in November! But August and September are our busy months for trimming these palms.

The ANSI A300 Pruning Standards state that no live healthy fronds shall be removed above horizontal. This applies to ALL palm trees. So, when you see a tree with most of its fronds cut off – maybe only 3-5 sticking straight up “carrot-topped” you know that either the person doing the trimming didn’t know what they were doing, or the customer insisted. We do a lot of education with people in Wickenburg and I can say my customers are getting used to more beautiful looking trees!

California Fan Palms grow more slowly that Mexican Fan Palms – slow enough that a trim according to the standards will last a whole year. Perhaps a frond or two will die and drop down along the trunk, but very few. Mexican Fan Palms grow fast enough that at the end of a years cycle there will be numerous dead fronds whether they are “carrot-topped” or not. If you need your Mexican Fan Palm looking great all year, you need two trims!

Here are some pictures of our job today. We had an interesting time getting the lift into place. Try that with a bucket truck!

Our first two trees - Before...

During - if you think that looks fun, try it from climbing spikes!

After - this is how a nicely trimmed palm should look!

In the picture above, Shannon has one more seed stalk to take off on the pool side of the tree. We like to talk to the person on the ground for a second opinion on whether there are any more stalks or if any more fronds need to be taken off. The perspective makes a big difference!

The picture above also shows another palm species that grows well in our area (in front of the base of the lift) - Windmill Palm Trees (Trachycarpus fortunei). They are supposed to get up to 40ft tall, but I’ve never seen one over about 15ft. They withstand temperatures as low as 5 deg F! They are very nice in small groups and you won’t have to worry about them getting too tall to trim!

Check out the feet on the lift straddling the pool!

Finally - my turn to do some trimming!

I was enjoying photographing Shannon doing the trimming but he was nervous working above the clay-tile roof of the pumphouse. If you look at those things wrong they break! So, I got my turn doing some of the cutting. What is it like to be up in the bucket of the lift? Shannon enjoys working in it whenever I give him the chance. The lift sways a little bit, especially in a wind but I am very used to it now – I hardly notice. Here is what you would see looking down:

If you fell would you be able to hit the pool?

We had a lot of cleanup to do after all the fronds and stalks were on the ground! The pool man stopped by just as we were starting the job and we told him he might as well forget it! He said he would come back another day. We only had a couple fronds hit the pool, but quite a bit of sawdust floated in.

I usually don’t work on Saturdays, but tomorrow I have something interesting going on. I have been looking forward to it for quite a while. I will be giving a short class/demo on proper trimming techniques for a homeowners association. We cleaned up all the trees last winter and they need a little more work this year. They want to save some money so they are going to do all that they can by themselves. Anything that is too high – we’ll get the call. I want to explain some good techniques and I hope to be able to photograph them so I can post them for you to see too! Stay tuned…

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