Tree Care and Landscaping for a Hurricane-Tolerant Property

Photo by Douglas Dedrick

It’s no secret that landscaping is an important part of designing a home. And nothing “stands out” as essential elements of this landscape more than the trees. Unfortunately, with strong winds and heavy rain, the landscape you once loved doesn’t just tear apart. It can be a major source of damage to your home.

Fortunately, there are many proven landscaping strategies you can use to create a tree-rich and hurricane-tolerant landscape. In addition to protecting the landscape itself, these strategies can help prevent property damage when the next hurricane rolls through the city.

Choose the right plants

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

Choose salt tolerant green. Choosing salt tolerant trees is essential to designing a hurricane tolerant landscape. Most of the trees available in coastal areas are already salt tolerant to some extent. But even if you don’t live by the ocean, hurricanes can bring ocean water up to 30 miles inland. This could be fatal to plants with low salt tolerance. The closer you live to the sea or a bay, the more you should pay attention to the salt tolerance when choosing your plants.

Wind resistant trees. In general, wind is the most damaging aspect of a hurricane for many of the areas it affects, unless you live just a few miles from the coast where the worst storm surges occur. That is why choosing wind-resistant green is a must.

Whether you live 5 miles or 80 miles from the ocean, don’t overlook the effect the wind has on your trees. The truth is, the wind resistance of your trees is something that every homeowner should consider regardless of location. Whether you live in a hurricane-prone area or not, high winds can occur almost anywhere.

Trees that are both wind 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 oak to pine have species that are specially adapted to life by the sea. Funny note, there is even a type of mustard known as Sea Rocket that has adapted to life by the sea.

According to the University of Florida, the following trees are excellent hurricane-tolerant choices. Most palms (with a few exceptions such as the royal palm), live oaks, southern magnolias, crepe myrtles, bald cypresses, amber and spruce pines.

Photo by Douglas Dedrick

Consider the tree placement carefully

No doubt trees can do a lot of damage if not planted carefully. The greatest risk is placement. Part of creating a hurricane-tolerant landscape is paying attention to where your trees (especially the large ones) are.

Distance from your home. The main reason trees should be a safe distance from your home is root mass. Ideally, the bigger the tree, the further away from your house. For example, trees that are expected to reach heights of 70 feet or more should be at least 20 feet from your home. This spacing allows you to take advantage of larger trees such as shade while avoiding damage to your home from branches and roots.

Look at the roots. If a tree falls, you don’t just have to worry about the mass of the falling tree. The roots themselves can also do a lot of damage. That is why it is not only important to place the tree at a sufficient distance from your home. It’s also important not to plant a tree too close to your underground utilities, such as septic tanks, sewers, or water pipes, as the roots can damage them. The worst thing is when a tree falls down its roots and everything wrapped in it is ripped out of the ground.

Take care of your trees

While the above are important, none of them may be as important as taking care of your trees. Pruning your trees should be an annual ritual. By removing dead or injured branches before they fall, you can prevent them from flying around in high winds.

However, there is more to it than dead branches. Trees often fall because they are unevenly balanced. A perfect example of this is a tree just down the street from me that I slowly fell over last year or so. As you can see, it has a lot more weight on the left side which causes it to fall off.

Photo by Douglas Dedrick

A final benefit to pruning your trees is that you can create a lower profile of the tree, which reduces the wind load a tree has to carry during a storm. With lower wind loads, a tree is less likely to fall over.

A note on mulching

Most methods of creating a hurricane-tolerant landscape involve planting the right trees in the right place. However, I wanted to address this quickly because it is often overlooked. We all know that picking up loose items in the garden before a hurricane hits land 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 use it whenever possible. However, in hurricane-prone coastal areas, pea gravel and other rock mulches can become a real nightmare. This beautiful rock mulch gets like high speed bird shot in the hands of a hurricane. Smashing windows, vehicles and siding; leave a massive trail of damage. Instead, use a soft mulch like wooden or pine straw. This small change can help you avoid a lot of damage to your home during a hurricane.

The bottom line on hurricane-tolerant landscaping

By choosing the right trees, the right spacing between them, and regular maintenance, you can be sure that your landscape is ready for an incoming hurricane or other windy storm. Much of the damage that hurricanes can do to your landscape 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 Dedrick is a landscaper, documentary filmmaker, and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he usually writes articles on lawn maintenance. Connect with him at Healing Law and read all of Douglas’ MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Originally published: 10/1/2020 9:14:00 AM

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