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Preparing your landscape for hurricane season

By CATHY DUNN - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Jun 10, 2021

We have just entered Hurricane Season in Florida, which lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30. While August and September are generally the most active months, we need to be prepared for half of the year for the occurrence of hurricanes!

Your family’s safety is the most important consideration during hurricane season, and one of the ways you can protect your family is to hurricane-proof your landscape. While there is no way you can fully prepare for major devastation in advance, there are strategies that you can implement starting now to ensure that your landscape and gardens are prepared for a major storm and provide a smoother recovery.

Tree maintenance is probably the most critical element in preparing your landscape for hurricane season. Hopefully, you have followed the “right tree right place” guidance by planting trees that are best suited for your landscape. This includes planting larger trees away from your home and other structures and away from power lines to reduce the risk of branches, or even uprooted trees, from falling on your home or power lines. There are many trees with greater wind-resistant properties that will withstand storms better than other varieties; these include sabal, manila and pygmy date palms, and gumbo limbo, live oak and sea grapes. Your maintenance program should include regular pruning and maintenance of your trees to remove dying or damaged limbs.

It is always advisable to consult a certified arborist for assistance with large branches that are located high in your trees. Wind resistance can also be greatly enhanced by planting trees in groups or masses; the trees will buffer one another as well as other areas of your landscape.

“Hurricane trimming” of palms is one of the more controversial aspects of tree maintenance. Did you know that the Cape Coral Code of Ordinances states: “Palms shall only be pruned in such a manner that removal of fronds does not exceed a 9:00 to 3:00 pattern and no more than one-half of the fronds are removed at a single time”?

The University of Florida does NOT recommend hurricane trimming of palms for a number of reasons. First, excessive pruning reduces the canopy size and results in reduced photosynthetic capacity. Overpruning may result in greater frond production, but the resulting fronds are usually smaller in size. Observations of palms after the severe hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 showed that “hurricane-cut” palms were more likely to have their crowns snapped off than palms with fuller crowns. Horticulturists theorize that this occurred because the youngest fronds at the top of the palm had not hardened off to the same extent as the older fronds, and therefore lacked the support of the older leaf bases.

In addition to making the palm crown more vulnerable to wind damage, overpruning will also cause narrowing of the trunk, called pencil-pointing, which could lead to trunk failure.

Other proactive steps that you can take in your landscape include keeping stormwater systems clean by keeping grass clippings and plant debris out of storm drains; ensuring that gutters are firmly attached and directing water away from your home; clearing gutters of leaves, branches and debris; and placing pavers in runoff areas to reduce soil erosion.

If a storm is eminent, make sure you move container plants, hanging baskets, yard ornaments and any other unsecured items to a sheltered area. You should also turn off your irrigation systems because hurricanes invariably bring heavy rains, and you don’t want to increase flooding in your landscape.

If you have rain barrels leave the spigots open; if the barrels are connected to your gutters disconnect them to prevent overflowing. To prevent damage in high winds, you should consider moving barrels that aren’t full of water to a secure area.

The arrival of hurricane season can cause concern for many Floridians, but one way to reduce your anxiety is to proactively prepare your landscape and gardens in advance of a potential storm. Being aware of prospective threats to your landscape and mitigating them before a storm approaches saves you valuable time and will provide you with one less concern before a storm strikes.

The University of Florida has excellent resources for preparing your landscape for hurricanes, as well as tips for cleanup after a storm: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/weather/hurricane-landscaping.html

Cathy Dunn is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and Garden Club of Cape Coral member.