Though we are inland and avoid the potential of storm surge and salt damage here in Tallahassee, hurricane- and tropical depression-strength winds still pose a danger to our trees. Hurricane Hermine – a category 1 storm in 2016 – left approximately 80% of Tallahassee without power for days. Consider a tree plan that includes planning, selection, maintenance, recovery and removal to make hurricane season easier to manage year-round.
When it comes to landscaping, selecting the best location is key to the survival and health of plants and shrubs. When it comes to trees, planning the location can make the difference between a sturdy tree with a healthy root system or a tree that presents a risk in high winds.
- If you need more shade on a part of your home, measure the total coverage you need and if you require year-round or summer coverage.
- More interested in a stunning focal point? Determine the height you require and the maximum size desired.
- If you are looking for a windbreak or visual barrier, measure the length of area you want covered, being sure to stay within your own property lines. Decide the width and height of the trees you want, noting any overhead utilities that require clearance.
Planning ahead with measurements will help in the selection stage of any new trees. Falling in love with an evergreen magnolia at the nursery presents a problem if you want only summer shade. This applies to both homeowners that have bought a house with bare land and those with a well-established landscape. At some point, one or more of your trees will approach its natural end of life cycle and it will be time to plan a replacement – or plan an overall landscape refresh!
In Tallahassee you have an abundance of choices when it comes to selecting trees for your yard. In most cases the limitations come from available space, cold hardiness, sun/shade exposure and location if the spot is extremely wet or dry. For your tree plan, the overarching need is selecting species that hold up well to hurricane winds and rain.
When considering your options, be sure that trees with wide root bases have plenty of room to grow. Larger trees will have stunted roots if pavement or foundations are in the way, potentially leading to a lack of anchoring in high winds. Even palm trees with their relatively compact root systems need open surface around their trunks.
Grouping trees together can help in hurricane storm situations by the trees supporting each other rather than taking the high winds alone. Select different species that are compatible or a single variety of tree that does well planted together. A local county extension agent or certified arborist can help you select the best trees for your specific landscape needs, with hurricane resistance a top priority.
Think of maintenance as the crown jewel of your tree plan. This applies to brand new homeowners with young trees and the experienced homeowners who have seen what hurricane conditions can cause in the Big Bend. Even if your planning and selection are perfect, failure to properly care for your trees leads to potential problems.
Proper pruning usually involves removal of crossing branches and overcrowding within the branches. Overcrowding leads to lack of air circulation through the tree, making it more susceptible to damage from wind gusts.
Removal of dead branches is another critical maintenance item in your tree plan. Like securing outdoor furniture to minimize harm, high winds can turn dead tree debris into projectiles able to cause damage. When considering branch or dead limb removal, remember that even the best intentions can cause issues if improper pruning leads to disease or bug infestations in your carefully selected trees. Your local arborist is your best choice in assessing what needs to be done to existing tress as well as a plan to keep your trees as healthy and well maintained as possible.
Even with the best of care, hurricane conditions can cause trees to lean or fall, especially young ones. If the situation is caused by a truncated root system due to pavement or foundations, it’s usually best to start over with new planning and selection. However, if the tree is healthy with a strong root system and the tap root is intact, there may be a chance for recovery.
If you come home from evacuating or venture outside after a storm and find a favorite tree that is 10” diameter and under, with an exposed root system, follow these steps until the tree can be put back in place or is marked for removal. .
Tip: A tree with a diameter larger than 10” will likely be too big to stand back up, re-establish itself and have a good chance of survival.
If the tree is large enough to require mechanical assistance in moving upright, start with:
- Immediately: Look the tree over to assess damage. If the main trunk is intact and the root system is healthy (evenly spreading out from the trunk), cover the root area and exposed trunk with cloth or newspaper – NOT PLASTIC.
- Wet down the cloth and keep it moist. Keep the trunk covered to avoid sunscald.
- Call a licensed and insured tree service with certified arborists – leave a message if you do not get a person on the first try. Let them know the extent of tree damage and that you are trying to recover a downed tree.
- Remove broken branches but wait for a qualified tree specialist before removing intact branches. They may decide to thin the interior or do nothing further before righting the tree – it will depend on their assessment of location and tree health.
- Recovering a tree is not a guarantee that it will live through the trauma, but if it is a viable option and you are set on giving that particular tree a chance, be aware that the rest is up to Mother Nature.
If a tree is small enough that you can put it back in place easily by hand:
- Cover the root area and exposed trunk with cloth or newspaper until you have time to reset it in place. Keep the cloth or newspaper moist.
- When you are ready to put the tree back in place, have a level handy. Make sure the newly settled tree is vertical.
- Do not pile dirt around the tree. Most trees have a root system that includes the surface area – covering with dirt suffocates the surface roots and makes recovery difficult.
- Remove broken limbs back to the branch and broken branches back to the main trunk. Do not prune further.
- Keep the newly seated young tree watered and don’t worry if some leaves fall. Depending on the time of year, the tree may go dormant to focus energy on establishing roots.
There are times when a tree has experienced damage or is toward the end of its life and requires removal. If you have any trees that you worry may need removal it is best to take care of them sooner rather than later. Before hurricane season is a great time to call for an assessment of what needs trimming and what needs removing. Even if it’s the middle of summer it’s still better to get on a tree company’s consultation list than to put it off till the next big storm is on the way.
When considering different tree service companies for the maintenance and removal of trees:
- Ask for a certified arborist who will give an assessment on the safety of your trees in hurricane conditions. Find out their name and confirm their ISA certification by searching org
- Ask for proof of insurance – personal and property damage as well as workers compensation.
- Ask for references and follow up by calling and discussing what the former customer had done, how long the job took and how the yard was left after the job was done. Did they stick to the bid?
- Check out the company website and social media pages. It is unlikely for a reputable company not to have a website with contact information and a street address. Social media page(s) should have evidence of satisfied customers and relevant content, including pictures of the services the tree service offers.
- Individuals who go door-to-door at any time of the year. Reputable tree service companies usually take calls through their office so the right people and equipment can be scheduled for each client’s needs.
- Going for the low bid – you may experience poor tree maintenance standards. Certified arborists and the crews that work for them stay with industry standards. Do not allow anyone to use spikes to climb a tree unless it is being removed. Nor should they begin trimming without a specific plan.
- Starting the job without a written bid in place – be sure it includes removal of all debris unless you intend to take care of the leaves and limbs yourself.
- Adding to the project once it is started unless a supervisor or manager is available to approve the change. The cutting crews are experts at what they do and usually have a schedule of jobs for each day that need to be completed.
An Ounce of Prevention
Being proactive with tree maintenance comes easier with a plan and checklist. We’ve gone over the five key points of a tree plan; planning, selection, maintenance, recovery and removal. A checklist is available to download here.
Trees contribute to property values and are an important part of wildlife habitat and air quality. Their good points go on and on, making them well worth some time and attention throughout the year. Tallahassee is an official Tree City USA after all!
We love all facets of tree care at Miller’s Tree Service, including helping our clients make the best choices for their landscape needs. Our certified arborists can answer your questions about everything from group plantings to the sturdiest native trees.
Call 850.894.TREE (8733) to schedule an arborist assessment. As a locally owned Tallahassee business, we are invested in keeping Tallahassee trees looking their best!