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Managing Trees Before a Hurricane

Carrie T. Stevenson
Coastal Sustainability Agent
Escambia County Extension

One of the first instincts of many homeowners when they see a big storm in the Gulf is to start trimming limbs and removing trees.  The recent tornado devastation throughout the Southeast and Midwest has also caused many people concern about having a mature tree in their yard.  While it is true that falling trees and limbs can cause significant damage to a home and property, it is wise to fully evaluate one’s landscape before making an irreversible decision. Trees are crucial for providing shade (i.e. energy savings), wildlife habitat, stormwater management, and maintaining property values.

Downed trees in a row along a hurricane-devastated street. Photo Credits: Mary Duryea, University of Florida

University of Florida researchers Mary Duryea and Eliana Kampf have done extensive studies on the effects of wind on trees and landscapes, and several important lessons stand out.  Thanks also to Pam Brown, former Horticulture Agent from Pinellas County, for compiling many of these tips. Keep in mind that reducing storm damage often starts at the landscape design/planning stage! 

  • Select the right plant for the right place.
  • Plant high-quality trees with central leaders and good structure.  Branch attachment angles can affect weather a large branch will split from a tree.  Wide-angle attachments are much more stable than narrow.
  • Trees that have had regular structural preventive pruning are less likely to fail than neglected trees. 
  • Monitor pines carefully. Sometimes there is hidden damage and the tree declines over time. Look for signs of stress or poor health. Check closely for insects. Weakened pines may be more susceptible to beetles and diseases.  Longleaf pine often survived storms in our area better than other species.
  • Trees with decayed trunks are very dangerous in winds.  Disease causing decay can come up from the roots or enter through improper pruning cuts. Remove hazard trees before the wind does. Have a certified arborist inspect your trees for signs of disease and decay. They are trained to advise you on tree health.  To find a Certified Arborist go to: http://www.treesaregood.com/findtreeservices/FindTreeCareService.aspx
  • Trees in a group (at least five) blow down less frequently than single trees.
  • Trees should always be given ample room for roots to grow.  Roots absorb nutrients, but they are also the anchors for the tree. If large trees are planted where there is limited or restricted area for roots to grow out in all directions, there is a likelihood that the tree may fall during high winds. 
  • Construction activities within about 20 feet from the trunk of existing trees can cause the tree to blow over more than a decade later.
  • Plant a variety of species, ages and layers of trees and shrubs to maintain diversity in your community
  • Post-hurricane studies in north Florida show that live oak, southern magnolia, sabal palms, and bald cypress stand up well compared to other trees during hurricanes.  Pecan, water and laurel oaks, Carolina cherry laurel and sand pine were among the least wind resistant.  For a full list of trees and their hurricane endurance, please visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR17300.pdf  
  • When a tree fails, plant a new one in its place.

Gardening in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article: http://okaloosa.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2012/02/29/managing-trees-before-a-hurricane/