Prepare your trees for hurricane season

By Candace BridgewaterMy Nassau Sun Logo

Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika and Fred - chances are, at least one of these names will cause you some anxiety in the next 163 days. They are the first six names chosen for storms in the 2009 hurricane season, which is from June 1 through November 30.

One hurricane chore that can be done well before the weather folks stir us up, is landscape preparation. A certified arborist should survey your trees every two years. An arborist will prune by removing dead branches, shortening some large branches, thinning the outer edges of the canopy, and shortening or removing low branches that could threaten a roof. Properly pruned trees are the key to tree survival in high winds and heavy rain.

Tree Pruning Diagram

Beware of unqualified people who encourage the removal of interior branches and leave foliage at the tips of the branches (picture a lion's tail). Additionally, do not allow topping or "hat-racking," which is when tree tops are removed and exposed stubs are left. And, lastly, avoid "over-lifting" procedures where workers remove the lower half of the canopy. Each of these mistakes results in a tree far more susceptible to wind damage, despite the claims of the guy with the chainsaw who so badly wants your cash.

Palm tree preparation is simple: Remove dead fronds only. Green fronds protect the tree's bud and should never be cut. A "mohawk" cut is never advisable for any palm, which generally weather hurricanes quite well.

Any tree with seriously decayed trunks or a major leaning problem should probably be removed in advance of a storm.

If you haven't prepared in advance, it may be necessary when a storm threatens to reduce a tree's size. Cut out dead, diseased and damaged wood, as well as crossing branches and those growing into a tree's center; select a well-spaced framework of branches and remove others; and shorten branches to give a balanced head. This work can be very dangerous to a novice and should still be performed only by a licensed arborist.

The University of Florida does not recommend painting or covering pruning wounds.

Factors that determine whether a tree survives or is killed include the physical properties of the storm, such as wind speed, amount of rain, and how quickly it moves through an area; the tree species, age, general health and structure; and soil conditions such as composition, depth, compaction and the water table.

Generally, trees native to the area fare better than imports, and trees in groups survive more often than those growing individually or in rows.

Young trees, even those planted in the past few years, may benefit from staking. Protecting them in advance is preferred to trying to stabilize downed trees with exposed roots after a storm.

Additional things to consider when a storm is near are harvesting your vegetables; securing or removing all loose outside objects such as containers, toys, bird feeders, lawn furniture and tools; submerging potted aquatic plants on the bottom of a water garden; and moving pond fish to an inside container.

For more information on hurricane preparedness for gardens, go to

Masterful Gardening runs the third Saturday of each month in My Nassau Sun. This month's column is by Master Gardener Candace Bridgewater, who lives on Amelia Island and is an active volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.

For information on the Extension Service's Master Gardener program, contact Rebecca Jordi at 548-1116 or



Candace Bridegwater

Candace Bridgewater lives on Amelia Island
is an active Master Gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.