Unusually cold winters here for the past two years have caused many a palm tree to perish. If you need to remove dead trees and replace them with something more cold hearty, I’ve built up some experience in the past couple of months, and there are two basic methods I’ve used.
Method 1 works best for single trees or small doubles/triples. Since the root ball on palms is relatively small and the soil they grow in is relatively soft, you shouldn’t have much trouble digging around the root ball and exposing the top part. It’s not too difficult to chop through the outer roots as you dig, and you’ll have the tree rocking back and forth in the hole in no time. There will be lots of dirt/sand attached to the root ball, so to make it lighter you can take a hose and blast as much soil off as you can. Test it out every now and then to see how heavy it is and if you can drag it out of the hole. I was able to do this by myself with some effort, but if you have someone to assist you it shouldn’t be too much trouble.
Method 2 works best for bigger trees or multiples. You’ll need the same basic tools as in Method 1, but you’ll additionally need a cooler with some beer in it. After following the directions I outlined above, you are going to realize that even if you get the whole root ball exposed and cleaned of soil, there’s no way you’ll ever be able to get it out of that giant hole on your own. Sit down and drink a couple of beers while you wonder what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. While sitting there, look as pathetic and helpless as you can. It may take a while, but eventually one of your neighbors will drive by in an F-150 (or equivalent) and offer to come over with a heavy duty tow strap and yank it out of the hole for you. Make sure you offer him one of the beers out of the cooler.
Hope that helps. Bottom line–use the tools you have available to you. You’ll have more success if included in those tools are a mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong.