Tree Care and Landscaping for a Hurricane-Tolerant Property

Reader Contribution by Douglas Dedrick and Healing Law
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It’s no secret that landscaping is an important part of making a home. And nothing “stands out” as essential elements on that landscape more than the trees. Unfortunately, when strong winds arrive and heavy rain comes pouring down, the landscape you once loved may not only get torn apart. It may be a huge source of damage to your home.

Fortunately, there are many time-tested landscaping strategies you can use to create a tree-rich and hurricane-tolerant landscape. These strategies will not only protect the landscape itself, but may also help you to avoid property damage when the next hurricane rolls through town.

Choose the Right Plants

The first step to creating a hurricane-tolerant landscape is selecting the right trees and shrubs. There are a few factors to choosing the right plants for your landscape.

Choose salt-tolerant greenery. Choosing salt-tolerant trees is essential for designing a hurricane-tolerant landscape. Most trees available in coastal areas are already salt-tolerant to some degree. But even if you don’t live right next to the ocean, hurricanes can bring ocean water as far as 30 miles inland. This could be lethally damaging to plants with low salt-tolerance. The closer you live to the ocean, or a bay, the more you should consider salt-tolerance in selecting your plants.

Wind-resistant trees. In general, unless you live within a few miles of the coast where the worst storm surge is, wind is the most damaging aspect of hurricanes for many of the areas which they impact. Which is why choosing wind-resistant greenery is a must.

Whether you live 5 or 50 miles from the sea, considering the impact of wind on your trees should not be overlooked. In truth, the wind-resistance of your trees is something that should be considered for any homeowner, regardless of location. Whether you live in a hurricane prone area or not, high winds can pop up almost anywhere.

Trees that are both wind-resistant and salt-tolerant. When it comes to hurricanes, there is truly no shortage of salt and wind-tolerant trees and plants. Many tree families from oaks to pines have species specially adapted for life by the ocean. Fun note, there is even a mustard species known as Sea Rocket, which has adapted to life by the ocean.

According to the University of Florida, the following trees make excellent hurricane-tolerant choices. Most palm trees (with few exceptions such as the queen palm), live oaks, southern magnolias, crape myrtle, bald cypress, sweet gum, and spruce pine.

Consider Tree Placement Carefully

No doubt about it, trees can cause a lot of damage when not planted wisely. Most of the risk comes down to placement. Part of creating a hurricane-tolerant landscape is minding where your trees (especially the big ones) are located.

Spacing from your home. The biggest reason that trees should be located at a safe distance from your home is the root mass. Ideally the bigger the tree, the further from your house. For example, trees which can be expected to reach 70 feet or more in height should be spaced at least 20 feet from your home. This distance allows you to enjoy the benefits of larger trees such as shade, while avoiding damage caused by branches and roots to your home.

Consider the roots. If a tree should fall over, it’s not just the mass of the falling tree you will have to worry about. The roots themselves can cause a lot of damage, too. That is why it is not only important to space the tree a proper distance from your home. It’s also important to avoid planting a tree too close to your underground utilities such as your septic, sewage or water lines, as the roots can damage them. Worst of all, if a tree comes tumbling down the roots and whatever is wrapped in them will be torn from the ground.

Maintain Your Trees

Although the above points are important to consider, possibly none of them are as important as maintaining your trees. Pruning your trees should be an annual ritual. By removing dead or injured branches before they fall, you can stop them from flying about should high winds roll in.

However, there is more to it than dead branches. Often trees fall because they are unevenly balanced. A perfect example of this is a tree right down the road from me that I have been watching fall over slowly the last year or so. As you can see, it has much more weight on the left, which is causing it to fall.

A final benefit to pruning your trees is that you can create a lower profile of the tree which will decrease the wind load a tree will have to bear in a storm. With less wind-load, a tree is less likely to fall over.

A Note on Mulching

Most of the methods used to create a hurricane-tolerant landscape involve planting the right trees in the right place. However, I wanted to touch on this one quickly, because it is often overlooked. We all know that picking up loose items in the yard before a hurricane makes landfall is a crucial part of preparing for a storm, but this one is less well known.

I am a huge fan of pea gravel, and I use it whenever possible. However, in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, pea gravel and other stone mulches can become a real nightmare. That lovely stone mulch will become akin to high velocity birdshot in the hands of a hurricane. Pummeling windows, vehicles and siding; leaving a massive trail of damage in the wake. Instead use a soft mulch such as wood or pine straw. Simply making this small change can prevent a lot of damage to your home during a hurricane.

The Bottom Line on Hurricane-Tolerant Landscaping

By selecting the right trees, spacing them correctly and regular maintenance, you can rest assured that your landscape will be ready for an incoming hurricane or other windy storm. A lot of the damage that may be caused to your landscape by hurricanes is likely caused by improper planning or lack of maintenance. By following these simple guidelines, you can create a hurricane-tolerant landscape, and still enjoy your trees!

Douglas Dedrickis landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him atHealing Law, and read all of Douglas’ MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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