DEP Pruning Guidlines

Interim Sea Grape and Saw Palmetto

Pruning Guidelines

Native salt resistant vegetation helps to preserve and build beaches and dunes.  The root systems of plants retard erosion of sand while leaves, limbs and stalks act as collectors of sand to build the dunes and beaches.  Without the stabilizing and accreting effects of vegetation, dunes will be eroded.  Salt-resistant vegetation is therefore essential to maintain a viable beach and dune system which provides protection to coastal structures and property from storm damage.

Therefore, it is a policy of the Department of Environmental Protection to "protect native salt-resistant vegetation and endangered plant communities" (62B-33.005(8), Florida Administrative Code).  Individuals may apply for a permit to conduct landscaping activities seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line.  However, the Department's policy to protect native salt resistant vegetation will be applied during the permit review process.

Pruning of sea grapes and saw palmetto, in accordance with the attached species specific guidelines, may be exempt from the Department's permitting requirements.  However, to be considered exempt, a property owner must provide reasonable assurance to the Department that the maintenance activities will not harm the vegetation or dune system.

An exemption from the permitting requirements of the Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems does not shield the property owner from enforcement action which may be taken by local, state, or federal agencies.  All local permitting requirements must be satisfied.  Furthermore, proper horticultural practices must be followed to ensure that the plants are not damaged or destroyed.

Property owners who wish to prune seagrapes or saw palmetto seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line must consider the impacts to marine turtles.  Potential for disorientation and subsequent injury or mortality of hatchling marine turtles exists due to increased illumination of the nesting beach as a result of pruning.  The property owner must evaluate existing or proposed site lighting and take appropriate measures to eliminate potential illumination of the nesting beach.  No landscaping activities or pruning shall be permitted if the activities will result in increased illumination of the beach which has the potential to cause disorientation of marine turtles.

Marine turtle mortality resulting from increased illumination shall be considered a violation of Chapter 370.12, Florida Statutes, and the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.  Such a violation could subject the responsible party to prosecution by both the Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with fines up to $10,000.

Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera)

Sea grape is a native, salt-resistant plant which is an important component of the beach and dune system throughout its range.  Fruit of the sea grape is a berry which grows in grape-like clusters.  The fruit is a source of food for a number of native birds and mammals.  The leathery, broad leaves of sea grape may grow to be 10 inches wide.  The leaves protect sensitive understory plants from lethal salt spray.  Throughout its range, sea grape is important to owners of ocean front property.  The large round leaves trap windblown sand and thereby help to build dunes that protect upland structures.  Sea grape leaves also protect structures from the destructive forces of windblown salt.  Furthermore, thick stands of sea grape slow storm induced erosion of dunes.

Sea Grape and Saw Palmetto Pruning Guidelines

The Department will exempt trimming of sea grapes seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line from the stringent permitting requirements of Chapter 161, Florida Statutes, when the trimming will not damage or destroy the plant.  In order to ensure that the trimming will not destroy the plant the following guidelines shall be followed:

No more than one-third of the height of a tree and no more than one-third of the total leaf surface area of a tree may be removed in a single pruning event or in a single year.

The trimming techniques and timing should be in accordance with accepted horticultural practices (see the attached Crown Reduction Pruning Standards).

Trimming of sea grapes, in accordance with the conditions described in the preceding paragraph, may be exempt from the permitting requirements of Chapter 161, Florida Statutes, for any number of consecutive years.  However, trimming of sea grapes to heights of less than six (6) feet will not be exempt from the permitting process. 

In instances where the proposed trimming will reduce the plant to a height of less than 6 feet or completely destroy it, the applicant will be required to submit an application for a permit.  The Department will consider the site specific information, including the possible adverse impacts to the beach and dune system from the activity, as part of its determination of whether or not to permit the proposed activity.

Trimming of sea grapes will not be exempt from the permitting process or permitted if the trimming results in additional lights being visible from the beach or exposure of salt-sensitive coastal hammock vegetation to increased salt spray.

Dead leaves and limbs should not be removed unless they are creating a safety hazard because they protect sensitive understory plants and new growth from salt spray.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw palmetto is an important plant throughout the southeastern United States.  This native, salt resistant shrub provides food and cover for native wildlife.

Trimming of leaves of saw palmetto is exempt from the permitting requirements of Chapter 161, Florida Statutes.  However, trimming shall be limited to one event per year.

Botanists refer to the "cabbage" or "heart of palm" as the apical meristem.  The apical meristem is located at the tip of the trunk and is responsible for plant growth.  Unlike many woody plant species, when the apical meristem is removed from a saw palmetto the plant dies.  Because trimming of the trunk of saw palmetto removes the apical meristem and thereby destroys the plant, this type of trimming is not exempt from the stringent permitting requirements of Chapter 161, Florida Statutes.


Pruning Standard for Class IV Pruning

This standard, revised in 1989, is provided by the National Arborist Association to assist tree service companies, utilities, municipalities, governmental agencies, architects, landscape architects, and others is writing contract specifications for tree pruning.  It is not intended to be a ?how-to? guide but to define the limits and criteria for arboricultural work, recognizing that regioanl practices may dictate variations in this standard.  It was prepared by the Standard Practices Committee of the National Arborists Association, Inc., a professional trade association founded in 1938.

Crown reduction pruning shall consist of the reduction of tops, sides or individual limbs.  The terms ?cutting back? and ?drop crotch pruning? are sometimes used in interchangeably with the term crown reduction pruning.  By contrast, the term ?topping? is often used to refer to a generally unacceptable arboricultural practice.  The correct technique for crown reduction involves the removal of a parent limb or dominant leader at the point of attachment of a lateral branch, as illustrated in Diagram A.  This practice is to be undertaken only for the following reasons:


    a.  In situations where branches interfere with utility lines.

    b.  When there has been significant crown dieback.

    c.  When it is necessary to achieve specific topiary training or dwarfing.

    d.  In cases where due to storm damage or prior incorrect pruning, it is appropriate to prune for safety and aesthetic reasons.


The following are the specifications for Class IV, Crown Reduction Pruning:

 a.  All branches too large to support with one hand shall be precut to avoid splitting or tearing of the bark (see Diagram B).  Where necessary, ropes or other equipment should be used to lower large branches or stubs to the ground.

 b.  Treatment of cuts and wounds with wound dressing or paints has not been shown to be effective  in preventing or reducing decay, and is not generally recommended for that reason.  Wound dressing over infected wood may stimulate the decay process.  If wounds are painted for cosmetic or other reasons, then materials non-toxic to the cambium layer of meristematic tissue must be used.  Care must be taken to apply a thin coating of the material only to the exposed wood.

 c.  Old injuries are to be inspected.  Those not closing properly and where the callus growth is not already completely established should be bark traced if the bark appears loose or damaged.  Such tracing shall not penetrate the xylem (sapwood), and margins shall be kept rounded

Crown Reduction Pruning

 d.  Equipment that will damage the bark and cambium layer should not be used on or in the tree.  For example, the use of climbing spurs (hooks, irons) is not an acceptable work practice for pruning operations on live trees.  Sharp tools shall be used so that clean cuts will be make at all times.

 e.  All cut limbs shall be removed from the crown upon completion of the pruning.

 f.  Trees susceptible to serious infectious diseases should not be pruned at the time of year during which the pathogens causing the diseases or the insect vectors are most active.  Similarily, if pruning wounds may attract harmful insects, pruning should be timed so as to avoid insect infestation.

 g.  When removing a parent leader or limb to a lateral branch, the final cut should be made as close to parallel as possible with the branch bark ridge and the lateral limb.  The cut should be made as close to the bark ridge as possible without cutting into it.  Care should be taken to avoid damaging the lateral limb when the final cut is made.

 h.  Remove the weaker or less desirable of crossed or rubbing branches.  Such removal should not leave large open spaces in the general outline of the tree.

 i.  Generally in crown reduction pruning, not more than one-third of the total area should be reduced at a single operation.  Every effort should be made to cut back to a lateral at least one-third to one-half the diameter of the parent limb or leader that is being removed.  Cuts not made to a suitable lateral, sometimes called topping cuts, shall not be permitted.

 j.  Before a branch is cut back, the ratio of live wood in the branch to leaf surface area in the branch should be considered carefully.  The leaves must supply sufficient carbohydrates (food) to maintain the wood in the branch as well as send excess carbohydrates to the trunk and roots for storage and later use.  Generally, not more than one-third the total leaf surface area should be removed at any one time.

 k.  Trees should be pruned to a shape typical of their species.

 l.  To prevent sunburn on thin barked trees, just enough limbs shall be removed to get the desired effect without admitting too much sunlight to the trunk of the tree or the top of large branches.  Care should be taken with the follow species: Linden (Tilia spp.), maple (Acer spp.), beech (Fagus spp.), apple (Malus spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), and other trees susceptible to sunburn.  The above damage may be minimized by doing work on susceptible species during the dormant season.

 m.  When removing the lower branches of trees for crown elevation or underclearance, care should be taken to maintain a symmetrical appearance, and cuts should not be made so large or so numerous that they will prevent normal sap flow.

 n.  Periodic crown reduction for certain species such as silver maple, the true poplars, and other trees with brittle and soft wood is an established arboricultural practice.  This procedure has proven beneficial in maintaining safety over long periods of time.  In all cases, it is preferable to make cuts when branches are small so as to avoid developing stem decay, and to begin training these trees when they are young and prune them regularly thereafter so as to avoid removing an excessive amount of leaf surface in one operation.


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