LSU AgCenter Expert Offers Ways To Minimize Hurricane Tree Damage

Bennett Joffrion  |  6/9/2005 9:43:12 PM

News Release Distributed 08/01/02

"There is no way, except for complete enclosure, to protect trees from storm damage," says LSU AgCenter agriculture and natural resources expert Barton Joffrion. The LSU AgCenter extension agent from Terrebonne Parish looks at ways to minimize damage.

Joffrion says trees are not adapted to worst-case storms but only to our average wind conditions. Therefore, the first preventive measure is to let new trees adjust to the wind in their environment.

"It always was thought that newly planted trees had to be tightly staked and guyed in place," Joffrion says, but adds, "Research has shown that this practice actually prevents the tree from naturally adapting to windy conditions." He says if a new tree needs to be staked, do so loosely, allowing the stem to move and bend in the wind.

Joffrion also recommends practicing proper pruning techniques. Pruning and thinning give trees a lower center of gravity and reduce leaf mass. He says to cut branches of young trees before they become larger than 1 inch in diameter.

Eliminate co-dominant branches. The tree expert says co-dominant branches have an area of common, or included, bark at the V portion where the branches join. Stems tend to crack or split in that area. Joffrion says to prune forked branches early in the tree’s life. Proper branch training in trees with opposite branching patterns, such as ash or maple, is essential in building storm resistance.

Keep trees as healthy as possible. Timely watering and proper fertilization are essential for tree health, especially in urban settings. Healthy, vigorous trees adjust more quickly to changes in the environment, are more wind firm and react more effectively to damage.

Do not over fertilize the tree with nitrogen or over water the soil. "These practices can increase crown surface area and/or decrease the rooting area," Joffrion says, adding, " It is a good practice to mulch around trees with a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer properly laid out." He says to apply fertilizer evenly on the mulched and unmulched surfaces out to about 1 1/2 to 2 times the canopy diameter.

Eliminate lopsided crowns. Prune branches to produce a reasonably symmetrical crown. If more than 70 percent of the crown is on one side of a mature tree, consider removing and replacing the tree. Joffrion says guying and bracing branches are last-ditch efforts when a tree has to be saved in spite of itself.

Remove or treat pest problems, such as insects, diseases and branch cankers. Joffrion says this precautionary step will minimize potential damage.

Keep the tree growing upright with one main stem. Prune away branches that compete in height with the main stem. Eliminate branches with tight or narrow crotches. These are potential weak spots, according to Joffrion.

Shade trees should be trained to one central trunk, where branches are spaced along the trunk. Large trees with several trunks or those with branches clustered together on the trunk can become hazardous when they grow older.

For a final recommendation Joffrion advises installing lightning protection systems on historic or rare specimen trees.

For additional information about tree care and hurricane preparedness, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office and check out the links at the LSU AgCenter home page, www.lsuagcenter.com.

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On the Web: Look for on-line disaster publications "Living with Hurricanes and "There’s a Hurricane Forming" in the publications section of the LSU AgCenter’s Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.

Source: Barton Joffrion (985) 873-6495, or bjoffrion@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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