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Trees - Before and After a Storm

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Preparing Your Landscaping Before a Storm

Prepare your trees for tropical storms before hurricane season.  Proper pruning will help trees weather a wind storm better and helps to minimize damage to the tree and neighboring property.

Trees are dynamic living things that require proper care.  Hiring a certified arborist who can assist you with pre-storm inspections and post-storm repairs can help avoid the unnecessary loss of your trees.

Look for Potential Hazards

Assess your trees for damage, such as:

  • cracks in the trunk or major limbs
  • hollow, aged, and decayed trees
  • hanging branches
  • improperly formed branches and one-sided or significantly leaning trees
  • branches that may potentially cause roof damage 
  • check for the presence multiple trunks joined at a narrow angle of attachment, which causes bark – a weak substance with no supportive fiber – to grow inside where the branches connect. This condition known as "included bark", is one of the most common causes of tree failure in Florida.

Know your Tree Species

Some species are more prone to storm damage than others due to structural weakness, brittle wood and/or poor root systems.  In South Florida, we have seen extensive storm damage to Acacia, Bischofia, Royal Poinciana, Australian pine, Orchid Tree, Yellow Tabebuia, Cassia and Ficus.  These may be species that you should think twice about before planting on your property.

Do Not "Top" Your Trees

Untrained individuals may urge you to cut back all of the branches, on the mistaken assumption that it will help avoid breakage in future storms.  Professional, certified arborists recommend that "topping," the cutting of main branches back to stubs, is extremely harmful and unhealthy for your trees.  Stubs will often grow back weakly attached to branches that are higher in the canopy and are more likely to break during strong winds.  Also, topping will reduce the amount of foliage, which is what the tree depends upon for food and nourishment needed for re-growth.  A topped tree that has already sustained major storm damage is more likely to die than repair itself.

Proper Pruning

Have your trees properly pruned before storm season.  It is recommended to thin out the upper canopy to reduce the "sail effect" and having the tree periodically structure-pruned to develop a strong central leader, or trunk.  Structure pruning helps reduce the growth of competing multiple trunks, also known as co-dominant leaders, which are prone to breaking off during high winds.  Be sure to provide trees with the proper irrigation and fertilization that they need.  If you mulch around the base, do so sparingly.  Three inches of mulch is recommended and keep it several inches away from the trunk to reduce the likelihood of decay.

Protect your assets

Trees may increase property value by up to 20%.  Find out if your homeowner's insurance will cover any damage your landscape may sustain due to unnatural causes, and include the total value of your trees when listing your assets for coverage.  A certified arborist can provide an estimated value by inspecting your trees.

Repairing Landscaping After a Storm

Do Not Try to Do It All Yourself

If large limbs are broken or hanging, or if a ladder or overhead chain saw work is needed, it is a job for a professional tree service.  Most storm-related injuries, some of which are fatal, occur before and after the storm due to landscape work and home preparation.

Assess the Damages

Evaluate your trees carefully by asking the following questions:

  • Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy?
  • Are major limbs or the leader (trunk) branch still remaining?
  • Is at least 50 percent of the tree's crown (branches and leaves) still intact?
  • Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure?

If you answered "yes" to the majority of these questions, there is a good chance for complete recovery.  For assistance, hire an ISA-Certified Arborist to determine the tree's conditions.

Stand Trees Back Up

Many trees suffer friction failures that cause the tree's root system to lift out of the ground as the tree leans over.  Uprooted trees are often unnecessarily removed under the mistaken idea that they cannot be saved.  These trees can often be saved but are very dangerous.  The tension caused by the roots still in the ground can cause the tree to snap back.  Consult the service of a certified arborist to review the tree's health and stand it up properly, if possible.

Beware of Price Gouging

Sometimes less credible tree services will take advantage of storm victims.  Good tree work by qualified professionals can be costly; however, poor work no matter the price paid can cost you a great deal.  A reasonable price for professional tree work in Florida ranges from $75 - $125 per worker per hour.  This price includes liability and workman's compensation insurance, as well as bucket trucks and equipment.  It does not include heavier specialty equipment that may be needed such as cranes, front end loaders, etc., or hardware that may be installed in the tree.

Financial Recovery

Be aware that tree losses to your landscape, whether large or small, may be deductible from your taxes. Two steps must be taken to be able to claim this deduction:

  1. Document the tree damage/loss with photos and an evaluation from a certified arborist who has experience appraising trees. Such a certified arborist will be able to provide you with an estimated dollar value for your loss.
  2. Consult the services of a tax professional.

Information taken from the Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.

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