Date Palm Trees
Q.

Date palm – should we cut it down as it is damaged?

Zone JOHANNESBURG | Sandrakie added on October 22, 2018 | Answered

Hi there, We have a date palm approximately 12 meters high in our yard - to the top of the fronds. The people that we bought the house from seemed to have tried to cut it down, so there is a big gash and a few smaller ones in the trunk ๐Ÿ˜ž - see attached pics. It also has a few small holes in it - see attached - with a fine powder residue. What I would like to know is: can we support it somehow, or is that gash too big. Is the risk of it falling over big? It is quite close to the house and I am worried that it damages the house if it does fall over - even though the gash is on the opposite side. Secondly, are those holes with the powder residue a problem? Is it a disease? I love this tree and would ideally love to keep it, but I also want to be sensible. Some advice would really be appreciated. Thanks in advance, Sandra

A.
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drtreelove
Certified GKH Gardening Expert
Answered on October 23, 2018

I believe it's a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis).

Your are being very sensible in considering the safety for your home and family. The "gash" is a severe wound that appears as if they were intentionally starting to cut it down and changed their mind (or came to their senses before crushing the house). It's unfortunate and uncorrectable; this wedge cut somewhat compromises the structural integrity of the large palm. There is extreme weight in the foliar crown which makes it top-heavy and no small matter in considering risk of property damage or personal injury if it were to fall. The cut is not so deep that I would be concerned about imminent failure, but its not a good thing at all. Palm trunks are very strong, even when partially compromised like this, and it would probably take hurricane force winds to cause a fracture.
The holes are possible rodent burrows, and may not be a big issues, although they have potential to initiate internal decay that spreads and further weakens the stem. You can probe the holes and the area of the wedge cut, to try and discover the extent of decay, but you may need professional arborist assistance for a comprehensive risk assessment.
The only way I see to stabilize it would be with an artificial support system with guywires or rigid props. Anything like this would need good professional engineering design and materials.
An arborist can also help you determine overall health and longevity of the tree an pruning needs. The lower dead fronds are natural senescence and could be removed. But in the photo I think I see drying/dying fronds in the middle and upper crown. This could be signs of a serious fungal disease called Fusarium wilt, which could have been introduced with the cutting and burrowing. I'm a US arborist and I don't know of the prevalence of this mortal palm disease in South Africa, but a local arborist should know. I mention the value of having this assessed, because if the palm has a fatal disease, you wouldn't want spend a bunch of money for long term artificial support.
I visited JoBerg in 2002 and met John Parker โ€œThe Tree Guruโ€ of Johannesburg. But he died last year. I don't know if anyone has taken over his business. Most of the tree services specialize in removals/felling, but I found this one which appears to be a tree care specialist. https://www.homeimprovement4u.co.za/directory/arbor-care-tree-specialists-34216.html

Hope that helps, let me know, Don

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