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Trees and Hurricanes: Now and Later

Florida’s hurricane season is from June 1st to November 30th every year. Hurricanes bring strong sustained winds capable of playing dodge ball with debris in the landscape. Keeping your Florida landscape hurricane ready involves a few key steps before the storm, and clean up after. You want to establish a wind resistant forest, manage the trees, and clean up debris after a storm.

Establish a wind resistant urban forest

Tree selection for a new installation or tree replacement is key to a hurricane resilient landscape. The most wind resistant trees for Florida include the Sand Live Oak, Live Oak, Southern Magnolia, Bald Cypress, and Sabal Palmetto. Site design also influences the success of trees after hurricanes. Research demonstrates 10% more trees survive when planted in groups of at least 5 compared to solitary trees! Another fun Florida fact is that trees that readily shed their leaves in the wind are more likely to recover after a storm. Try not curse those scattered leaves; be grateful and amazed in wonderment that the majestic live oak will readily release her leaves for the sake of her survival and that of your domicile.

Right tree, right place:  Here are more tree species that were evaluated based upon their performance in high winds.

Tree selection is also important. You want a quality tree that has good structure, and does not have circling roots. Over many years, a poor quality tree whose roots were not properly manicured during transplanting will suffer. Just imagine for a moment, small roots perfectly circled in the circumference of their pot have many years to grow. The roots grow bigger and bigger, and eventually the roots are so large they kind of constrict the ability of the tree to move water and nutrients. Also, the roots have a hard time spreading the way they are intended to reach far beyond the canopy, anchoring the tree to the Earth. Years after establishment, a tree that was of poor quality at planting can easily go down in a wind storm.

Manage trees

Trees need some TLC to stay strong, safe, and beautiful. It is recommended to have an ISA Certified Arborist prune trees about every 2 years to maintain good structure. A good rule of thumb is not to remove more than 10% of living foliage from the tree unless there is a safety issue such as a cracked limb above a home. It is also good practice to remove dead limbs and things that could fall or fly. Tree pruning is as much art as it is science. Hire a pro. You would not hire Joe Shmoe to paint a mural in your home without knowing credentials and seeing prior work, would you? Well, you cannot just paint over a poorly pruned tree. Trees add value to your home and community, so it is a worthy investment that keeps growing and growing and growing.

Lion-tailing

Lion-tailing can weaken a tree causing branches to break in high wind events.

NO LION TAILING – This is when the inner foliage is removed from the limbs. It increases the likelihood of tree failure because all of the weight is distributed to the ends of the branches. In a hurricane with winds and rain, a lion-tailed branch could easily snap. The issue is difficult to correct.

NO TOPPING/HAT RACKING – Taking a butcher’s approach to tree pruning looks horrible, and it is indeed bad for the tree.

Chopping a tree like this results in aggressive sprouting, is unattractive, and can lead to infection and decay.

The result of cutting branches without a strategy is a messy tree that will respond with more unattractive, gangly sprouts that result in a need for even more pruning more often! Now you have an ugly, and high maintenance tree. The appropriate method is to work with a professional who is skilled at making reduction cuts.

Clean up

After the hurricane has passed the clean up begins.

Make three separate piles categorized by the type of debris:

  • Vegetation Debris
  • Construction Debris
  • Normal household trash and recycling

More resources for preparing and recovering from a hurricane

UF/IFAS Disaster Preparation and Recovery

Orange County, FL Hurricane Safety Guide