The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season got off to an early start with some tropical storm activity before the season’s official June 1 start date. We live in a high wind climate. Even our thunderstorms can produce fifty-plus mile per hour winds.
Storm damaged sweetgum tree. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Preventive tree maintenance is key to preparing for storms and high winds.
Falling trees and flying landscape debris during a storm can cause damage. Evaluate your landscape for potential tree hazards. Pruning or removing trees once a hurricane watch has been announced is risky and tree trimming debris left along the street is hazardous.
Now is a good time to remove dead or dying trees, prune decayed or dead branches and stake newly planted trees. Also inspect your trees for signs of disease or insect infestation that may further weaken them.
Professional help sometimes is your best option when dealing with larger jobs. Property damage could be reduced by having a professional arborist evaluate unhealthy, injured or questionable trees to assess risk and treat problems.
Hiring a certified arborist can be a worthwhile investment. To find a certified arborist in your area, contact the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) at 888-472-8733 or at www.isa-arbor.com. You also may contact the Florida ISA Chapter at 941-342-0153 or at www.floridaisa.org.
Consider removing trees that have low wind resistance, are at the end of their life span or that have the potential to endanger lives or property.
Some tree species with the lowest wind resistance include pecan, tulip poplar, cherry laurel, Bradford pear, southern red oak, laurel oak, water oak, Chinese tallow, Chinese elm, southern red cedar, Leyland cypress, sand pine and spruce pine.
Broken pine from hurricane. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Pine species vary in their wind resistance, usually with longleaf and slash pines showing better survival rates than loblolly and sand pine. However, when pines become large, they may cause a lot of damage if located close to homes or other valuable structures. As a result, large pines are classified as having medium to poor wind-resistance. For this reason, it’s best to plant pines away from structures in more open areas.
Before and after a storm, tree removal requires considerable skill. A felled tree can cause damage to the home and/or property. Before having any tree work done, always make sure you are dealing with a tree service that is licensed, insured and experienced.
More information on tree storm damage prevention and treatment is available online at http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/stormy.shtml or from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County.
Mushrooms growing on the roots of trees is a bad sign. This indicates the roots are decaying and the tree will soon become (or already is) unsafe.
On the doorstep of autumn, the weather is making its seasonal change in north Florida. It has been a bit cooler in the mornings, but the afternoons still qualify as hot.
What the winds of October will blow in is still anyone’s guess, but last year it was Hurricane Michael. Unfortunately, the storm’s brunt came in causing severe damage to homes, businesses and marine enterprises in several counties.
October is typically the month when tropical cyclone activity lessens in the Atlantic, but accelerates in the Gulf of Mexico. While beastly events like Hurricane Michael are relatively rare, it only takes one such incident to necessitate recovery efforts and expenses for years, if not decades.
The prudent course of action is to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. One area of preparation where residents can have a distinctly positive effect is readying their trees for the potential assault.
Damage from falling trees and limbs is a major cause of destruction during tropical storms and hurricanes. Removing potential problems before the storm can minimize harm to structures and injury to residents.
Trees in decline are especially hazardous. Their compromised health makes them subject to uprooting and breakage with far less force than would effect a healthy tree.
There are several key indicators for tree health. Any single factor or a combination can mark a tree as unsafe.
Mushrooms growing on or very close to trees is a sign the tree is dying. The fungus is not the cause of decline, but only an indicator of the eventual fate.
Spores of the mushrooms are scattered by wind and water. Landing randomly, most arrive on a site devoid of necessary resources and never sprout.
Those lucky spores which land on decaying wood will likely sprout and take nourishment from the rotting plant material. Their roots accelerate the decomposition of the wood by consuming the available material and exposing more of the tree to colonization by mushrooms.
Sites on trees and plants infected with mushrooms typically are break points when pressure or stress is applied. If the mushrooms are located at the base of the tree, it is likely to be detached from its roots and topple over in heavy winds.
Another indicator of tree health is its crown, or the uppermost branches and leaves. Healthy trees and plants have full, green, and growing crowns.
When the crown turns brown and the leaves drop off, it is a good indicator the tree’s days are numbered. The causes may be disease, lightning, or mechanical interruption of the root system.
Lastly, bifurcation or trunk forking is a sign of a structurally weak tree. This condition may display itself when the tree emerges from the ground or at an elevated place on the mature tree trunk.
When the wind direction stresses the tree with enough force at its angle of vulnerability, a collapse results. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to tell how much wind is required to produce the failure.
Any tree with these problems should be evaluated by a certified arborist and removed when necessary. It may result in an expense now, but can save on expenses, inconvenience and aggravation if a storm randomly removes the tree in the future.
The question must be asked: Is it worth the gamble to wait on the winds of October?
To learn more about the tree health in north Florida, read the UF/IFAS publication HOW TREES GROW IN AN URBAN ENVIRONMENT.
Hurricane Michael Damage – Photo Credit Larry Williams
The aftermath of Hurricane Michael has many homeowners preparing their landscapes for the upcoming season. Several have called the office in need of a home visit because they want ideas of what to replant with and how to kill the weeds that have popped up. One common question is, “What trees can I plant that are fast growing and has plenty of shade?” Before I answer their question, I ask them, “Are you planning for future storms or not?”
Trees that are considered ‘fast’ growing are not necessarily the best choice for future storms. Many of the fast growing trees can be easily uprooted, break easily in strong winds, are more prone to decay, and/or are rather short-lived (<50 years old). Additionally, a missing structural pruning plan for young and mature trees will increase the chances of fallen trees. Homeowners can expect to replant trees once again if these characteristics are likely. Keep in mind that no tree is absolutely wind-proof since other factors need to be ideal for wind-resistance. Trees like laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia), water oak (Quercus nigra), cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana), bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana), and pecan (Carya illinoensis) are some to be cautious of when replanting for wind resistance.
A few tips for homeowners re-planting hurricane damaged trees:
- Plant trees with higher wind resistance in groups with adequate soil space and soil properties.
- Prevent damage to the roots.
- Have a variety of native species, ages, and layers of high-quality trees and shrubs.
- Some of the best trees a homeowner should consider replanting with could be live oak (Quercus virginiana), southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), river birch (Betula nigra), and Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). A more in-depth look at wind resistant trees can be found by reading Wind and Trees: Lessons Learned from Hurricanes.FOR 118
Storm debris turned into holiday cheer in Bayou George. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS
By the time this article publishes, we will be more than 70 days since Hurricane Michael toppled or damaged an incredible number of trees in the Panhandle. Enormous piles of once stately shade trees line the streets in neighborhoods and business districts in. The cleanup efforts have been phenomenal, over 4 million cubic yards of storm debris picked up in Bay County to date, but there is still a long way to go in the recovery process.
So, as gardeners, how can you help our community get back on track amidst your own struggles to recover? A few Florida Friendly Landscaping™ Principles come to mind.
- #1 Right Plant, Right Place – as you rebuild your landscapes, make sure to choose the appropriate plant for the location. Consider mature size and give those plants space to thrive!
- #4 Mulch – do you have bare ground that will eventually become landscape beds or turf but no resources or time to replant yet? Consider mulching the area to keep soil from eroding and to help improve soil though decomposition of natural products. Hint – see Recycling for free sources!
- Mulch tips https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/MulchBrochure.pdf
- keep mulch 12 inches from tree trunks
- recommended depth in beds or under dripline of tree canopy (excluding within 12” of trunk) is 2-3 inches
- leave an 18-24 inch buffer around building foundations mulch free to reduce conducive termite conditions
Dress up stumps with plants and whimsical designs. Photo: D_VanderMeer, UF/IFAS Master Gardener
#7 Recycle – driving around town I have seen some really creative uses for stumps, trunks, and branches that homeowners have constructed and messages of hope that bring a smile to my face. Another method of recycling is to use the chipped vegetative debris as mulch, either available as “utility mulch” by cities and counties or you may have some in your own yard right now.
- Utility mulch does come with some words of caution because there is an increased risk of introducing weeds to your landscape with untreated storm debris. However, if you need mulch for pathways or planting beds you will be helping your community’s cleanup effort by reducing waste accumulation. Just watch for “volunteer” plants and manage as needed.
In Bay County, there are 4 locations where you can load and haul off your own utility mulch from storm debris
- Under the Oaks Park – 5843 E. U.S. 98, Panama City, FL 32404
- G. Harder’s Park – 8110 John Pitts Rd., Panama City, FL 32401
- Chapman Park – 2526 Rollins Ave., Bayou George, FL 32404
- Laird Park – 6310 Laird Park Rd., Panama City, FL 3240
For sources in your county, check with your Solid Waste Department for utility mulch availability.
After a devastating windstorm, as we just experienced in the Panhandle with Hurricane Michael, people have a tendency to become unenamored with landscape trees. It is easy to see why when homes are halved by massive, broken pine trees; pecan trunks have split and splayed, covering entire lawns; wide-spreading elms were entirely uprooted, leaving a crater in the yard. However, in these times, I would caution you not to rush to judgement, cut and remove all trees from your landscape. On the contrary, I’d encourage you, once the cleanup is over and damaged trees rehabilitated or disposed of, to get out and replant your landscape with quality, wind-resistant trees.
First, it’s helpful to take a step back and remember why we plant and enjoy trees and the important role they play in our lives. Beyond the commercial aspect of farmed timber, there are many reasons to be judicious with the chainsaw in the landscape and to plant anew where seemingly sturdy trees once stood. For example, trees provide enormous service to homes and landscapes, from massive cooling effects to aesthetic appeal. Take this thermal satellite image of Hurricane Michael’s path that simultaneously shows the devastation of a major hurricane and the role trees play in the environment.
Lightly shaded area showing higher ground temperatures from loss of vegetation.
In the lighter colored areas where the wind was strongest and catastrophic tree damage occurred, the ground temperatures are much higher than the unaffected areas. Lack of plant life is entirely to blame. Plants, especially trees, provide enormous shading effects on the ground that moderate ground temperatures and the process of transpiration releases water vapor, cooling the ambient air. Trees also lend natural beauty to neighborhood settings. There is a reason people termed the hardest hit areas by Michael “hellscapes”, “warzones”, etc. Those descriptions imply a lack of vegetation due to harsh conditions. In this respect, trees soften the landscape with their foliage colors and textures, create architecture with their height and shape, and screen people from noise, unpleasant sights and harsh heat.
Though all trees give us the benefits outlined above, research conducted by the University of Florida over a span of ten major hurricanes, from Andrew to Katrina, shows that some trees are far more resistant to wind than others and fare much better in hurricanes. In North Florida, the trees that most consistently survived hurricanes with the least amount of structural damage were Live Oaks, Cypresses, Crape Myrtle, American Holly, Southern Magnolia, Red Maple, Black Gum, Sycamore, Cabbage Palm and a smattering of small landscape trees like Dogwood, Fringe Tree, Persimmons, and Vitex. If one thinks about these trees’ growth habits, broad resistance to disease/decay, and native range, that they are storm survivors comes as no surprise. Consider Live Oak. This species originated along the coastal plain of the Southeastern United States and have endured hurricanes here for several millennia. Possessing unusually strong wood, they have also developed the ability to shed the majority of their leaves at the onset of storms. This defense mechanism leaves a bare appearance in the aftermath but allows the tree to mostly avoid the “umbrella” effect other wide crowned trees experience during storms and retain the ability to bounce back quickly. Consider another resistant species, Bald Cypress. In addition to having a strong, straight trunk and dense root system, the leaves of Bald Cypress are fine and featherlike. This leaf structure prevents wind from catching in the crown. Each of the other listed species possess similar unique features that allow them to survive hurricanes and recover much more quickly than other, less adapted species.
Laurel Oak split from weak branching structure.
However, many widely grown native trees and exotic species simply do not hold up well in tropical cyclones and other wind events. Pine species, despite being native to the Coastal South, are very susceptible to storm damage. The combination of high winds and beating rains loosens the soil around roots, adds tremendous water weight to the crown high off the ground, and puts the long, slender trunks under immense pressure. That combination proves deadly during a major hurricane as trees either uproot or break at weak points along the trunk. In addition to pines, other widely grown native species (such as Pecan, Laurel Oak and Water Oak) and exotic species (such as Chinese Elm) perform poorly in storms. Just as the trees that survive storms well possess similar features, so do these poor performers. We’ve already mentioned why pines and hurricanes don’t mix well. Pecan, Laurel Oak, and Water Oak tend to have weak branch angles and break up structurally in wind events. The broad spreading, heavy canopy of trees like Chinese Elm cause them to uproot and topple over. It would be advisable when replanting the landscape, to steer clear of these species or at least site them a good distance from important structures.
This piece is not a warning to condemn planting trees in the landscape; rather it is a template to guide you when selecting trees to replant. Many of our deepest memories involve trees, whether you first climbed one in your grandparent’s yard, fished under one around a farm pond, or carved your initials into one in the forest. Don’t become frustrated after a once in a lifetime storm and refuse to replant your landscape or your forest and deprive your children of those experiences. As sage investor Warren Buffett once wisely said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
For these and other recommendations about how to “hurricane-proof” your landscape, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. Plant a tree today.
When there is so much to do in cleaning up after a storm, sometimes we tend to do too much so that it can all get done. Be safe, don’t add to the disaster.
Be careful with that chainsaw! Photo credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.
Here are some suggestions:
- Take breaks and rest often. Mistakes happen when people are exhausted.
- Only lift what you can comfortably handle, lifting with your legs and not your back. Get a buddy to help with heavier objects or wait until a team or equipment can assist.
- Make sure you are adequately hydrated. Always keep water nearby and take a long drink during your breaks.
- Protect yourself against biting pests such as mosquitoes with insect repellent.
- Wear protective gloves, sturdy closed toe shoes and long pants.
- Have a first-aid kit available for minor injuries.
- Make sure ladders are stable and locked into position.
- If you are using any type of power equipment, especially a chainsaw, make sure someone else is around. And protective gear is a must. Read about details in this article.