Dealing with Hurricanes

Dealing with Hurricanes

by Jeff Wasielewski 

A pitfall to living in the sub-tropics is the ever present threat of hurricanes. Designing a completely hurricane-proof yard is impossible, but decisions you make before you plant can help your yard survive the fiercest of storms. Hurricanes can alter landscapes in an instant. There are ways you can prepare your garden for a hurricane and steps you can take to minimize the damage after a hurricane has occurred. When you are getting ready to plant, come up with a list of hurricane tolerant trees that you might consider for your yard. Many native trees are adapted to hurricanes and possess strong root systems or the ability to shed branches in a storm, which reduces wind resistance. These trees should be considered to use as the major canopy trees in your yard. They will provide protection for other plants in your yard.

Established trees in your yard should be prepared for the arrival of a storm by light annual pruning which will allow for air movement. Thinning cutsshould be employed to open the trees up. A thinning cut is a cut that is made all the way back to the trunk or a major branch. Never remove more than one third of a tree's canopy. Hatracking a tree is not acceptable and will create branches with weak attachment points which will break easily in a storm.

 

Thinning cut before

 

Thinning cut after

 

A heading cut

If a storm occurs, there are steps you can take in your yard to minimize the damage. Repairing downed and damaged trees is your first concern. Trees that have been uprooted and toppled are first priority. Wind-thrown trees should be reset using proper staking techniques and may need canopy, as well as, root pruning. A large fallen woody tree such as an oak or a mango will have damaged a large portion of its root system and will require some canopy reduction to balance the root loss and help the tree to stand. Canopy pruning should not be too severe, with a maximum of 40% of the canopy being removed. Thinning cuts should be used to remove weight with a minimum of heading cuts used on torn or damaged branches. A heading cut is a cut that is made in the middle of a branch. Trees that only suffered limb damage, should also be pruned to remove damaged branches.

Proper bracing technique

Large trees will need to be braced using 2X4s and metal strapping, while smaller trees need to be held up by nylon strapping and metal or wood stakes. Large trees need between three to five braces. Each brace or length of 2X4 is attached to a 1' long 2X4 length that is strapped to the trunk of the tree using the metal strapping. These 1' lengths of wood are important, because they allow the stakes to be attached without nailing into the tree itself. Eight foot lengths of 2X4s are then cut at a 45-degree angle and nailed into the wood strapped around the trunk of the tree. The bottom of the bracing 2X4s should be hammered into the ground or placed in small pre-dug holes to keep them from slipping. The braces should be evenly spaced around the tree.

Smaller trees can be braced using nylon strapping tied around the trunk of the tree and attached to rebar driven into the ground. It is important that the straps are evenly placed around the trunk and that they are loosened as the tree begins to grow. Burlap should be placed around the trunk of the large and small trees before any strapping is put into place to prevent trunk damage.

Reset trees need to be on a watering schedule consistent with a newly planted tree. They can be fertilized with a liquid fertilizer as soon as they are reset and placed on a granular fertilizer schedule once they have had one to two flushes of new leaves. Aftercare of hurricane damaged trees must continue for years as the root system will take time to re-grow to its former strength. Annual canopy thinning is needed. The bracing may be removed after 10 to 12 months.