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Hurricane Trees

Trees in Tropical Winds - Foes or Friends?

It depends on the storm, and the type of tree, its health, and its location

Some trees that provide shade on hot days, help clean the air, and enhance the curb appeal of residential landscapes can be trouble when tropical winds blow our way.

Conversely, a healthy stand of the right kind of trees, growing in well-drained soil and with unrestrained roots, can resist powerful winds and even provide protection.

Good management practices help establish an urban forest that has a better chance of surviving foul weather conditions, and is less likely to pose risks to people and property. Here are six things to keep in mind:

  • When possible, select trees known to resist high winds, such as live oak, Southern magnolia, crape myrtle, bald cypress, and sabal palm. These trees usually have single trunks, good root systems, and balanced canopies. They also are fairly resistant to disease.

  • Avoid trees that don't stand up to steady blows and gusts, such as sand pine, Chinese elm, water and laurel oaks, and that prolific coastal invasive, Australian pine. Tropical winds push over and snap these storm-susceptible species.

  • Don't plant trees too close to roads, utilities, or structures, or in areas routinely saturated by rain or floodwater. To be stable, a tree's roots need plenty of room to grow and flourish, in well-drained soil. Anything that interferes with the roots - a sidewalk, a wall, a house - can make a tree less stable, as will water-soaked ground.

  • Stands of multiple trees share the brunt of heavy winds, and are less likely to topple in storms. Lone trees scattered about subdivisions often are vestiges of woods displaced by development.

  • Trees with high centers of gravity, dense canopies, decayed trunks, or shallow roots are more likely to tumble in a storm. Recently-planted trees and partially decayed ones also are at risk.

  • Pruning is an effective way to prepare for storms. Train young trees so they develop a sturdy framework of healthy branches along a dominant trunk. Hire a certified arborist to shape trees taller than 15 feet. An arborist will remove dead branches and rogue growth that are prone to crashing down in high winds.

Don't remove trees simply because you fear they might fall on your house or vehicle. Before cutting down any mature tree, consult a certified arborist who will consider its type and individual characteristics, and help you make an informed decision. After a storm, many damaged trees can be treated and restored.

If you decide to take down a tree, check local laws to find out if a permit is needed. Replace the tree with at least one young species that resists high winds.

Apply for a Tree Removal Permit

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. During these months, it can take only a few days for tropical weather to form and sweep into Hillsborough County. Consider trees - their types, positioning, and maintenance - as part of your annual storm preparations.

To learn more, register for a Hillsborough County Extension seminar, Hurricanes and Trees, in July.

Photo information: The trunk of this laurel oak rotted, and the tree fell atop a Hillsborough County house.

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