Trees shade our homes making them more livable. They add to our property value and create a pleasant community image. Trees attract birds and wildlife to our urban centers. Trees are great to sit under for a summer picnic with the grandkids. Trees help buffer wind gusts and protect our surroundings.
Trees also can be our worst enemy during a hurricane. Anyone with a tree experienced problems during Hurricane Gustav. Tree limbs fell on houses and entire trees were uprooted. As we enter the height of the hurricane season, take time to have your trees inspected by a licensed and insured arborist for possible tree safety issues. Hallie Dozier, LSU AgCenter Urban Forestry Specialist, has written a publication for online viewing, “Hire an Arborist for Residential Tree Care.” Visit (www.lsuagcenter.com) and enter this title in the search box.
There are a few things homeowners can do to help limit the damaging effects of hurricane force winds on our valuable shade trees.
Prevent vines from growing up the trunk and onto branches in the tree’s canopy. The added weight of the vine’s vegetative growth increases the chance of branch failure. All the extra growth also increases the wind resistance of the tree limb. As the limb grows, it develops without this added stress, which now poses a safety threat.
If you decide to have your shade tree pruned, resist the temptation to have the entire center cleaned out leaving only foliage at the branch tips. Over-pruning a tree like this allows wind to blow through the tree rather than around the tree. Branches on the leeward side of the tree, not accustomed to this extra wind load, are more likely to fail and come crashing down.
Protect the immediate vicinity around your home by pruning branches that may hit roof shingles, bathroom and kitchen vent pipes, ridge vents and wind turbines, chimney stacks and house siding.
If you have planted a new tree, it will most likely require staking to help it remain upright and prevent root damage during wind gusts. There are several methods to stake a tree, depending on its size, but support the tree trunk no higher than one-third its total height. It’s good for the upper two-thirds of the tree trunk to sway with the wind. But you want to stabilize the lower third of the trunk so the root ball does not move and cause root injury.
Tree leaves clog house gutters and cause water to overflow. This water can cause wood rot and even enter the exterior wall resulting in sheetrock damage. Make sure gutters and downspouts are clean in advance of inclement weather. If you see plants growing in your gutter, it is time to clean them!
Other gardening preparations for a hurricane might include placing hanging baskets on the ground, folding and removing patio umbrellas, positioning top heavy container plants to prevent blowing over, place a screen over water gardens to prevent leaves from fouling the water and possibly killing fish, and secure all loose items like compost bins lids and portable greenhouses.