Skip to main content

Deciding What To Do With Trees After A Storm


By Jane Morse, Commercial Horticulture Agent, UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas

Tree with co-dominant stems and bark inclusion

Now that hurricane Irma has left the state it is time to assess the damage done to our landscapes. Trees may be leaning, broken or defoliated (lost their leaves), so how do you know what should stay and what should go?

Look for any of these signs to know when a tree should be removed:

  • The lower trunk is cracked or broken;
  • a large stem has split from the tree;
  • the major roots are severed or broken;
  • the tree is leaning towards a target (house, car, etc.);
  • the remaining tree structure is highly susceptible to breakage (has multiple trunks, co-dominant stems and bark inclusions);
  • large limbs (greater than 8 inches) are broken.

If your area received storm surge, tree dieback due to salt damage can occur. Flush these trees with fresh water to remove the accumulated salts.

Keep an eye on pine trees as they may die slowly over a period of 6 months to 2 years after windstorms. Some may remain green for a year or more, and then suddenly turn yellow and quickly die. Pines with all brown needles are dead and should be removed.

If a palm has dead or broken fronds these should be removed (keep bent ones); remove fronds that could hinder new growth. If the palm has yellowing leaves do not remove them. This yellowing is caused by a nutrient deficiency and this can be corrected by proper fertilization. Have patience with your palms and allow 6 months or longer for them to put out new growth. It may take one, two, or more years before palms return to a full canopy. Palm fronds above the 9 and 3 o’clock position should not be removed. If there is no rainfall, water 3 times a week for 6 weeks.

Most trees can be restored if:

  • The canopy is defoliated (many trees lose their leaves during a storm, so wait for new foliage);
  • some major limbs are broken in decay resistant species such as live oak, buttonwood, mahogany, and winged elm;
  • leaning or fallen trees are small (only recently planted trees or those with a trunk diameter smaller than 4 inches should be re-adjusted back up as straight as possible or replanted);
  • small branches (less than 4 inch diameter) are broken or dead;
  • most of the canopy is damaged in decay resistant species (even with ¾ of their small branches broken, less than 4 inch diameter, they can be restored).

To re-establish small trees follow these steps:

  1. Keep roots moist.
  2. Dig the hole wide enough to accommodate the roots.
  3. Cut jagged or torn roots.
  4. Pull the tree up as straight as possible, taking care to not damage the trunk or roots.
  5. Back fill with site soil.
  6. Water it with 3 gallons per inch of trunk diameter 3 times a week until reestablished. If the soil is already saturated or wet, do not water. Do not fertilize for one year.
  7. Stake the tree. Remove or adjust stakes after six months to one year.


When hiring tree work beware of scammers and unqualified people wanting to make a quick dollar.  Check with the Pinellas County Consumer Protection, Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. Most importantly make sure they have insurance! Ask to see their property damage, personal liability and worker’s compensation insurance and make sure they are current. If you hire an uninsured company or person, you can be held responsible for medical bills and lost wages for injured workers.

Be sure to hire a professional with adequate equipment and insurance when taking trees down in open areas or removing dead or hazardous limbs. Hire a certified arborist for removing a leaning tree or broken limb that is near a house or other potential target; for reaching limbs that require climbing; for restoring a damaged tree that could be saved; or for pruning to promote good structure. To find certified arborists in your area go to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) website (

Ask anyone wanting to do tree work about the ANSI Z133.1 and ANSI A300 guidelines. The first represents safety standards for tree care operations and the second represents the best management practices in the industry for pruning and other tree care operations.

Get at least three estimates. These should include the procedures involved, equipment used, price and time frame. Keep in mind that insured, qualified companies cost more, but are well worth the price. Incorrect pruning and tree care by unqualified companies can cost you much more in the long run.

For more in-depth information, see this website:

If you need to replant, call your local University of Florida/IFAS Extension in Pinellas at 727-582-2110 on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 9 AM to Noon and 1 PM to 4 PM (it is free) to get recommendations on trees that will do well in your site conditions and that have high wind resistance.