What Are Palm Fronds?

Updated: Aug. 02, 2022

If you've never grown a palm tree, you may not know how to take care of those brown palm fronds. They do require special handling!

My niece recently moved from the Midwest to the South. When she and her husband bought a house, they became first-time palm tree owners. Their tree, the focal point of their backyard, survived several hurricanes.

Now she wants to make sure she knows how to take care of their palm tree so they can enjoy it for many more years. One of her big questions involved the palm fronds. Trees just don’t make leaves that big in the Midwest!

What Is a Palm Frond?

A palm frond is basically the leaf of the palm tree. Unlike the leaves of deciduous trees, which emerge in the spring and drop off in the fall, palm fronds stay green year-round and last for several years.

Like deciduous tree leaves, palm fronds perform photosynthesis, giving the tree the food it needs to live. Some palm fronds can last for five years or longer. They come in many sizes and shapes too. Some may be shaped like a large feather, others like large fans.

Do Palm Fronds Require Any Care?

Palm fronds generally don’t require special care. They will naturally age and turn brown over time.

“Unlike trees which are classified as dicots, palms are monocots, just like grasses, and need every frond for best nutritional uptake,” says Teresa Watkins, host of the Better Lawns and Gardens Radio Show based in Orlando, Florida. “Only cut palm fronds off when they are diseased or completely brown.”

If you suspect your palm tree’s fronds are diseased, consult an arborist specializing in palm trees. They’ll determine what’s up how best to treat your tree.

According to the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service, never remove palm fronds before hurricane season. Palm trees can withstand strong storms with all their fronds intact, and may sustain more damage if trimmed before a storm.

What To Do If Palm Fronds Turn Brown?

Palm fronds don’t last forever, and eventually older fronds turn brown. Some species of palm trees are considered self-cleaning. The older brown fronds will naturally fall off the tree.

Other species of palm trees may require removing the brown fronds by hand. When you cut them off, always use a clean, sharp knife or pruning shears. If your palm tree is too tall for you to reach the fronds safely, consider hiring a professional tree service.

Before cutting, look at your palm tree and imagine it to be the face of a clock. “No matter what species of palm, fronds should be left in the hands at nine o’clock and three o’clock position,” Watkins says. “Never prune in hands at 10 to two o’clock.” Also, spring is the best season for trimming brown fronds.

How To Dispose of Fallen Palm Fronds?

Fallen palm fronds can be several feet long. They don’t decompose easily and must be disposed of properly.

According to the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service, palm fronds fall in the “maybe” category for composting. They recommend drying palm fronds and running them through a chipper before attempting to compost them. They will still take a long time to break down.

Because most homeowners don’t own chippers, Watkins recommends placing brown fronds “in lawn/debris bags or tied in bundles to be hauled away by your local utility.” Contact your local garbage service for times of the year when they pick up lawn debris. There may be a charge.