The Atlantic Hurricane Season began June 1. NOAA forecasters are currently predicting a relatively normal hurricane season, expecting 10-16 named storms with 5-9 of them becoming hurricanes. While we in the Panhandle dodged the serious damages inflicted upon the state by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, we have already experienced our first named storm. Subtropical storm Alberto left a relatively light touch along the Florida coast, but has inundated western North Carolina with heavy rains, causing floods and mudslides.
Tree damage to homes and property can be devastating, and 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. However, 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.
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. Keep in mind that reducing storm damage often starts at the landscape design/planning stage!
- Select the right plant for the right place.
- 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.
- Plant high-quality trees with strong central trunks and balanced branch structure.
- Longleaf pine often survived storms in our area better than other pine species, but monitor pines carefully. Sometimes there is hidden damage and the tree declines over time. Look for signs of stress or poor health, and check closely for insects. Weakened pines may be more susceptible to beetles and diseases.
- 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.
- 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
- When a tree fails, plant a new one in its place.
For more information on managing your Florida landscape in hurricane season, visit the University of Florida’s Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery page.