Q: We just moved into our new house in Palm Beach Gardens. The street is lined with what I am told are royal palms. They are huge! Are they dangerous if a hurricane blows through? Will they fall on my house?
A: We are heading into the most active part of hurricane season. If you and your family are new to Florida, it is a good idea to read up on hurricanes and make a plan. Check out the Florida Disaster website for a template for creating a family or business plan for the next storm. Granny Cloud said it is always when for the next storm, not if, because there will be one.
Part of the plan is planning for the landscape and outside area. Decide where and who will store patio furniture, grills, and potted plants. Pick up and store tools, hoses, trash cans, and other loose objects to prevent them from becoming projectiles when the winds rise.
Royal palms are native to Florida and usually withstand hurricanes well. However, when planted in the wrong place, they or any other tree can become liabilities. Good placement of royal palms is essential to avoid damage to structures and vehicles. The fronds of royal palms are large, up to 75-100 lbs, and they are self-cleaning, meaning they fall from the tree when the palm no longer needs them.
Though street trees are essential to a community, tree-lined streets have proven to have a positive effect on traffic, and trees foster a sense of neighborhood; there must be enough space for the roots to grow. Royal palms are large palms and grow to 50 or more feet tall. When planted in groups, they hold each up in extreme weather. Single trees are more likely to fail during a windstorm.
Research after storms has given us insight into trees and their reactions to hurricanes. Street trees are often planted in swales between the sidewalk and the road and have compromised root systems. Limited and/or damaged tree roots are known causes of tree failure in wind events. Royal palms planted in narrow medians often do not have enough room for root growth. Injured root systems from improper root pruning or limited growth areas may cause whole trees to end up on the ground, street, or nearby home during a hurricane.
Another cause of damage to palm trees is improper pruning. Removing green palm fronds does a lot of damage to the palm. Royal palms should only be pruned to remove old flowering/fruiting socks; the frond will fall naturally.
I recommend you have the trees on your property inspected by a certified arborist to determine the condition and pruning needs. Well-pruned trees and palms with all their green fronds will survive the storms better than over- and improperly pruned trees. The best way to find a certified arborist is to use the International Society of Arboriculture website.