Well, it is the peak of hurricane season (June 1-November 30), and this one is proving to be no joke. After having all summer to heat up, Gulf and Atlantic water temperatures peak in late August-mid September, feeding storms’ strength. Legendary hurricanes like Harvey, Katrina, and Andrew all made landfall during this time of year. The models for Irma show likely impacts in Florida, and due to its extreme size, most of the state is in line to endure heavy rain and wind regardless of location.
From a landscaping perspective, hurricanes can be truly disastrous. I will never forget returning home after evacuating from Hurricane Ivan and realizing all the leaves had been blown from nearly every tree in town. Mid-September suddenly looked like the dead of winter. A Category 3 storm when it landed near the southwest corner of Escambia County, Ivan was responsible for a 40% loss of tree canopy in our county.
Even if the Panhandle is not directly impacted by a storm, it is always smart to prepare. Research conducted by University of Florida arborists and horticultural specialists have yielded some practical suggestions.
- Know your tree species and whether they are prone to decay or wind damage (more below).
- Look for root or branch rot—usually indicated by very dark spots on the bark.
- Tree structure—is there a single, dominant central trunk? Are branches attached to the trunk in a U-shape (strong) or V-shape (weak)?
- Smart pruning—never “top” (cut the tops from trees) but instead prune crowded limbs and remove limbs that are dead, dying, or hanging above power lines.
As for species selection, keep in mind that pines generally do not perform well in gale-force winds. Longleaf pines are quite strong, but common slash pines often snap or lean in storms. Even if a pine tree survives, it can be vulnerable to damage or death from pine bark beetles. It is wise to monitor pines for up to 2 years after a storm.
In addition, a survey conducted throughout the southeastern United States after hurricanes from 1992-2005 yielded important information on the most (and least) wind-resistant tree species. Live oaks and Southern magnolias topped the list, while pecans and cherry laurels performed poorly. This full, user-friendly report from the study is a useful tool.
For more hurricane preparedness information, visit the UF IFAS Extension Disaster Manual online or contact your local Extension office or Emergency Management agency.