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Garden Club of Cape Coral | Preparing your landscape for hurricane season

By CATHY DUNN - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Jun 7, 2024

Flooding from a hurricane. UF/IFAS

Those of us who experienced Hurricane Ian two years ago are painfully aware that 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 unfortunately need to be prepared for the occurrence of hurricanes for half of our year. 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. Your maintenance program should include regular pruning and maintenance of your trees to appropriately trim the tree and remove crossed, dying or damaged limbs. Trees with a canopy in proportion to the trunk and branches are better prepared to withstand strong winds.

“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 for a number of reasons. First, excessive pruning reduces the canopy size and results in reduced photosynthetic capacity. Over-pruning 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, 2005 and Ian in 2022 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.

You should make a detailed plan now that you can implement quickly in the event of an approaching hurricane. First, take photos and document your property. Evaluate your landscape and develop a plan for protecting outdoor structures and planters; determine where you can move container plants, hanging baskets, yard ornaments and any other unsecured items to a sheltered area. Plan to turn off your irrigation systems because hurricanes invariably bring heavy rains, and you don’t want to increase flooding in your landscape.

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 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.

After Ian, I’m sure that the arrival of hurricane season can cause concern for many of us, 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 will save you valuable time, and having an organized plan to protect your landscape will provide you with one less concern before a storm strikes. For more detailed information, the University of Florida has excellent resources for preparing your landscape for hurricanes, as well as tips for cleanup after a storm: https://extadmin.ifas.ufl.edu/disaster/

Cathy Dunn is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer, Garden Club of Cape Coral member and President of the James E. Hendry Hibiscus Chapter. Visit www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com and like us on our Facebook page.