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Endless Costs of Homeownership: Palm Trees


Well, it’s past time to have the hideous Mexican fan palms cut back. In the late spring and early summer, these towering poles sprout long, husky rods packed with billions of brittle, sharp, pointy little flowers. These they shed all over the ground and into your pool, along with vast quantities of hard, BB-sized seeds designed to break pool equipment.

Every year, anyone who has a palm tree has to get the thing cut back. Otherwise the mess becomes intolerable. And they harbor insects. Right now they’re feeding the birds with legions of flesh-pink caterpillars. Cockroaches also love palm trees.

Some wise prior homeowner took it upon himself to plant four Mexican fans plus a desperately thirsty queen palm right next to the pool. Most guys charge $45 a tree to do the nasty, dangerous job of trimming them (every year at least one man is killed trying to do this job). That would be $225 that I don’t have.


Gerardo put up one of his pals to do the job. They not only cut back the four Mexican fan palms (I decided to leave the queen, because I can’t afford to trim all five trees), they also did some degree of “skinning”: cutting off the frond stumps often left on the trunk. When they’re left on there, they drop off in every high wind, and so all summer and half the winter the homeowner gets to pick them up out of the yard and off the street. They only charged $165. Couldn’t afford that, either, but it’s a lot better than two and a quarter.

It is incredible that the men will work that hard for so little pay. It takes several men to do the job: not only the athletic, tough fellow who climbs up the tree and hacks back the heavy, thorned fronds, but a man to spot him on the ground and another to pick up and haul the debris falling out of the tree.

The palm tree is one of the messiest, nastiest plants anyone could possibly be misguided enough to introduce into a yard. Mexican fan palms are particularly egregious, because they make neither shade nor edible fruit. It’s a critter that Easterners and Midwesterners think is quaint and exotic, so when they move here, they stupidly stick the things in the ground. Only after a few years do they realize what a monster they’ve adopted. An expensive, messy monster.

My neighbor Terri was grousing about having to get hers done, too. Like everyone, she’s feeling broke, and the annual cost of palm-tree grooming strikes her as onerous. Every year, the natives inveigh against palm trees, and every year, those of us who’ve inherited them with a piece of real estate consider chopping the darn things down. Terri remarked that she thought it would cost too much to have hers taken out. She did pay a lot to get rid of the rickety eucalyptus, which was threatening to cave in her roof.

I don’t know what it would take to remove a palm. For me, the problem is there’s only a few feet of room between the pool and the block wall along the lot line, which is where my trees reside. If they’re taken out, what on earth could take their place? A shade tree would need a lot more space—crammed into that tiny strip, it would quickly heave the wall and probably would break through the pool, too. It’s hard to picture what could tolerate the heat and cramped space, and without the palm trees, the pool area would look mighty bare.

Houses are sure expensive to own. Mine has been quiescent for awhile—just a couple of minor plumbing bills over the past year. But still, there are the regular costs of ordinary maintenance: trim the trees; cut back the palms; drain and replace the stale, mineral-thick pool water; get the yard guy in here to beat back the weeds every couple of months; touch up the paint; maintain the central heating & cooling unit; maintain the pool filter and pump.

As usual, the fronds dropped into the pool. As usual, the palm tree guys broke one of my aluminum pool wands fishing heavy, ungainly fronds out of the drink. And as usual, they left an ungodly mess in the water.

Gerardo helped me clean out the pool—he ran the hose bonnet and got out all the pieces of junk that would choke the pool cleaner. And then some: he really went above and beyond the call of duty, retrieving almost all the small stuff that settled to the bottom. Offered to pay him, but he wouldn’t take a dime.

So now the pool is cleaned out, Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner has swept up the last of the litter, and the water has been hyperchlorinated, turning the thing into a puddle of Clorox. The stains from the seeds, dust, pollen, and flowers that sifted into the deep end have bleached away. And maybe by this evening or tomorrow I’ll be able to go swimming again.

The pool is cleaned out. So is my wallet.

4 thoughts on “Endless Costs of Homeownership: Palm Trees”

  1. “Easterners and Midwesterners think is quaint and exotic, so when they move here, they stupidly stick the things in the ground”
    – Guilty! I never knew they had such problems!

  2. I am from Michigan, and the thought of a palm tree always makes me smile. I think it is because I found it so exciting to finally see one. I remember my first plane ride to California, I was just thrilled to see those palm trees once we got out of LAX. So funny, I had no idea they were such nasty plants.

    However, since they just make me think of warm weather, I will still love them from afar. They sound like a pain in ‘real life’ though.

  3. I need more than 2 hands now to count the number of palm fronds that have fallen on my cars. They are beautiful but annoying as heck–case in point.

    We can’t wait to own a house but the prospect of all these extra expenses has me a bit worried.

  4. @ Evan and Everyday Tips: Suspicions confirmed! A native Arizonan is as rare a species as a native Californian used to be. Vast swaths of this state are populated by furriners…umh, I mean, migrants from the snow belt. And they DO admire palm trees. 🙂 Probably the things would attract fewer assassination plots if they weren’t planted close to pools or pavement. If the gunk is just falling into grass or onto dirt, it wouldn’t matter much, and you might even get away with what the Arabs do: leaving the dead fronds hanging on the plant until they fall off on their own.

    @ Wojciech Kulicki: Gaaaaahhhh! They fall onto your cars? They’re heavy…don’t they dent and scratch the metal? Killllll treeeeees!

    Actually, despite my and my fellow homeowners’ grutching, I’ve been able to pay most expenses out of cash flow. It’s just that I’d rather spend it on, oh…say,. clothes or beer or some such. It is a good idea to have a savings account built from a small monthly setaside; this provides a fund that will cover most homeowner expenses. And then some.

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