by Ginny Stibolt
As Floridians know, a direct hit by a strong hurricane
can cause injury, loss of life, and millions of dollars in damage.
There are no guarantees and no landscape can be made totally storm proof,
but you can take steps to modify your landscape to reduce your damage.
Hurricane season starts in June, so now's the time to prepare.
The wet area around this tree weakened its root system so that
a relatively mild hurricane tipped it over. The owners of this lot were
fortunate that the tree did little damage. >>
Hurricane-scaping is three-pronged: 1) stormwater management;
2) ongoing maintenance of trees and landscape; and 3) stormwise tree
selection and proper planting. Then as a storm approaches you need
a plan of action for last-minute preparations.
Observe where rainwater collects on your property after a heavy rain.
If puddles of water remain around bases of trees for more than a day,
those trees may be more vulnerable to uprooting in a tropical storm.
The exception would be wind-tolerant, wetland-adapted trees such as
bald or pond cypress, dahoon holly, sweet bay magnolia, or water tupelo.
To drain the water away from vulnerable trees, create
a series of swales or French drains to
carry surplus water away from buildings and away from the trees near
buildings to a rain garden, bog area, or pond. Take care not to cut
the roots of the trees you're trying to preserve. This is not flood
control, but creating a space where excess stormwater can collect and
percolate safely into the ground is one way to reduce the likelihood
of uprooted trees and to lessen damage to building foundations. If you
have a big problem, you will save time and money in the long run by
hiring an engineer or landscape architect to help you come up with and
implement a viable plan.
If drainage is not practical and the wet area is not close
to your house, remove and replace those vulnerable trees with an assortment
of wind-tolerant, wetland-adapted trees, along with shrubs adapted to
wetlands such as buttonbush, inkberry, and palmettos.
Ongoing maintenance of trees
Prudent, ongoing maintenance of your landscape trees,
especially when they are close to buildings or vehicles, consists of
thinning their crowns, protecting their trunks, and trimming out diseased
and dead wood, coconuts, or other parts that could become missiles in
a storm. You may wish to call in a certified arborist now, before he's
busy with hurricane damage to identify and evaluate your trees. He should
come up with a comprehensive, multi-year plan for your landscape to
reduce damage as much as possible. He may recommend removal of trees
with restricted or damaged root systems or weakened trees that could
inflict major damage to buildings or vehicles.
Palms with injuries at the base are more likely to drop in a high wind; they cannot heal a gouge. Each year, remove only the dead fronds, old flower stalks, and fruits, especially coconuts--they make it top-heavy and could become missiles in a high wind. Don't prune back any green fronds, even if they droop, because palms have so few leaves that they need them all to maintain vigor.
Plant for wind resistance
Plant any new trees in groupings or groves with five or
more trees surrounded by shrubs. If you have existing stand-alone trees
in your landscape, remove the turf around them and replace it with an
assortment of trees and shrubs being careful not to damage any of the
major tree roots as you plant them. Mulch the whole area with chipped
wood or other organic mulch. Choose wind-resistant trees, shrubs, perennials,
and groundcovers or ones that will readily grow back if they are knocked
down or broken off during a storm. While smaller plants don't cause
the damage that trees do, not having to replace them after a storm saves
time and money. In coastal areas, consider using salt-tolerant plants,
even if salt spray is not a daily problem.
Plan for the eventual size of trees--both the crown and root system--in your placement. Smaller, wind-resistant trees are useful in the landscape when planted close enough to buildings to shade all but the north-facing walls. You want them to help reduce your air-conditioning needs, but not to become so large that they could cause damage. Choose smaller trees for street trees as well, because they won't outgrow the limited space between the street and sidewalk. Provide plenty of room for larger trees, such as live oaks, in the landscape so their root systems can spread out enough to support their large crowns.
When planting new container-grown trees, use no amendments
in the planting hole, rinse all the soil from the trees' roots, spread
out the roots, irrigate well until established. After that you could
use a topdressing of compost at the dripline and beyond to encourage
the roots to grow outward. A well-planted tree will have wide-spreading
roots, which will make it more wind tolerant. For more details see my
article, Trees and shrubs: the "bones" of
Develop a pre-storm plan for your landscape
These days, we normally have fair warning of approaching
storms, but make a list to check off as you're preparing for the storm.
The list should include items such as putting away container plants,
lawn ornaments, outside furniture, wind chimes, or other items that
could blow away or tip over. If a tall, containerized plant is too heavy
to move easily, lay it down, and strap or tie it in place--don't leave
a plant like this for more than a day or two, or it will start to grow
vertically. You may want to un-stake newly planted trees and shrubs
before a storm and just let them blow over. You'll have to replant and
re-stake them afterward, but this is better than letting the high winds
break them off at the staking point.
Be careful about hiring guys that come to your door with chainsaws before a storm. If you do hire them, have them cut only dead palm fronds, coconuts, or deadwood in your shade trees and have them either shred or haul the waste away. You don't want those branches or fronds lying around to become airborne in the storm.
If you'll be out of town during peak hurricane season (June through October), it's a good idea to make your landscape storm-ready just in case. Then take a deep breath and hope for the best.
· There is a whole chapter on this topic in my book, "Sustainable
Gardening for Florida"
· Use the International Society of Arboriculture's website to search
for a certified arborist near you: www.isa-arbor.com.
· The website for the Association of Florida Native Nurseries provides
general information on native plants and has a locator for local member