Severe weather is common in Florida, but hurricanes are major storms that can cause unpredictable damage. Preparing trees for these events is nearly impossible. The best we can do is work to ensure they are planted in the right place, planted correctly, pruned properly, and in overall good health. This gives them the best chance at survival.
This article focuses on preparing mature trees. For more information about proper planting, see my blog on tree planting here: https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/lakeco/2021/12/02/tree-planting-techniques/
There are several ways in which trees can fail during storms.
Limb failures can range from a small branch to a huge limb. Some causes of these failures include preexisting dead limbs, poor branch attachment, and/or pest or disease infection. During a storm too much force from wind can also cause breakage. To avoid some of these issues, you can take the following steps.
- Dead Limbs: Remove dead branches as soon as possible after they are noticed. The heat and humidity in Florida results in faster decomposition compared to norther climates. This means rotting branches are more at risk of falling even without a storm.
- Bad Branch Attachments: The strongest branch attachment looks like a U, not a V where the branch meets the trunk. V shapes are more likely to break. Large trees should be inspected by a professional Arborist every 2 years. You can find an ISA Certified Arborist near you at treesaregood.org.
- Pruning: Proper pruning is important to ensure the tree can heal quickly. This reduces the chance of pest and disease impact, though it will not eliminate it completely. Trees have an amazing ability to compartmentalize decay called CODIT. CODIT is an acronym for the Compartmentalization Of Disease In Trees. Always prune to the branch bark collar, never flush-cut a branch (cut flat against the trunk), and never seal the wound. Sap and resin oozes out of a wound pushing out bacteria and fungi while the tree internally compartmentalizing the wound.
Correct pruning practices also reduce the chance of breakage from the wind. There is no such thing as ‘hurricane pruning’ for trees or palms. Pruning correctly over time is the best defense. No ‘Lions Tailing’ or ‘pineapple pruning’. Both are often referred to as ‘hurricane pruning’. Both increase the chance of damage from a storm.
Trunk Issues: Trunk damage is common from improper pruning and lawn maintenance. Following the suggestions above will limit these issues. Other issues trunks can have include damage from a non-pruning-related injury and the presence of a lean. Correctly planting a tree also reduces the chance of trunk damage in later years.
- Non-pruning-related injuries: These can come from animals (including insects), fungus, lawn mowers, weed eaters, cars, etc. Prevention is the best management strategy here. Removing turf near tree trunks helps to reduce potential damage from lawn care equipment. Be on the lookout for animal and insect activity. Not all animal activity is bad. In fact, some is beneficial. Be aware of the activity and ask question when you are concerned. Regular inspections on large trees helps to detect rot in the early stages.
- Planting: Planting correctly is the first step to a healthy tree. Ensure the root flare is located at 2-3 inches above the ground around it when you plant. The root flare is the area of the trunk that transitions to the roots. It starts to flare out at this point. If a tree looks like a utility pole in the ground, it is likely planted too deep.
Root Issues: Roots are the last final area to cover. There are several things that can impact root health and stability.
- Cutting them for construction- Cutting roots can impact the overall stability of the tree, especially if the roots are larger (several inches around).
- Infrastructure that limits growth-Limitations caused by infrastructure can limit the spread of the roots, potentially reducing stability
- Planting too deep-Planting too deep reduces gas exchange to the roots
- Too much water-typically during a storm too much water can result in root suffocation or the loss of soil stability. This results in nothing substantial for the roots to hold on to.
While it is impossible to anticipate damage from a hurricane, working on reducing the chance of tree failure helps to prepare your plants if/when the next storm comes through.