Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A., Dozier, Hallie
Regularly checking the trees in your yard for damage, disease and other indications of danger is important, according to experts with the LSU AgCenter, who say the beginning of hurricane season is a good reminder to do it now.
"Although trees add immeasurably to our home grounds, trees with problems can be a liability during storms or hurricanes," says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill. "You definitely don’t want to wait until you’re asking questions like ‘Was that a tree that just flew by?’ or "What just fell on the house?’ to be thinking about the condition of your trees."
Pointing out that even the ordinary thunderstorms Louisiana experiences in the summer can be dangerous, LSU AgCenter experts say now is a good time to remove dead or dying trees, to prune decayed or dead branches and to stake newly planted trees. They also say you should inspect trees for signs of disease or insect infestations that also may weaken them and treat those conditions appropriately.
"A tree that is sickly, low in vigor and shows significant signs of rotten or decayed areas in the trunk may need to be removed if it poses a threat to buildings," Gill says. "Trees with trunks that have large cavities with extensive decay should be considered for removal because rot weakens the trunk and reduces a tree’s ability to withstand strong winds."
While you may be able to take care of some smaller jobs yourself, LSU AgCenter experts point out professional help sometimes is your best option.
"Consulting a professional arborist, who is licensed by the state of Louisiana, can offer a lot of benefits to you," LSU AgCenter forester Dr. Hallie Dozier says. "You certainly will want to have a professional arborist for larger or more complicated jobs."
The experts also say arborists may be aware of options you hadn’t thought about, which could help you save trees suffering from pests, diseases or decay. But they caution to be sure you consult or hire a licensed arborist to ensure you’re getting the highest quality work and advice.
The same type of advice applies when looking at healthy trees – and even those may need help to make it through the season, according to the experts.
"Trees that are one-sided or leaning significantly also may need attention," Gill says, explaining those trees might be more likely to fall over if heavy rains from a storm saturate the ground. "Selective pruning can relieve the weight on the heavier side – balancing out the weight distribution of the canopy."
The LSU AgCenter experts say to also look for branches that hang over the house near the roof.
"Although the branches may not be touching the roof under normal conditions, the high winds of violent storms or hurricanes can cause trees to bend and branches to flail around considerably," Gill explains. "These branches can cause extensive damage to the roof and generally should be removed."
Other tips for taking care of your trees offered by the LSU AgCenter experts include:
–Take care of the root zone. "Root problems commonly put trees at risk during storms," Dozier says. "Damaged roots and tree root zones limited to small spaces are common in planted trees and lead to many of the problems seen during storms."
–Mulch your trees to help protect roots and trunks. A 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch correctly applied improves the soil for root growth, helps conserve soil moisture and moderates temperature extremes. Proper mulching also reduces competition from grass and reduces mechanical damage from mowers and string trimmers.
–Make sure a tree has adequate rooting space for its size. The critical root zone for a tree can be considered the area under its canopy, though in reality the root system extends far beyond this.
Other issues you can address if you lose trees this summer or when you move into the fall and winter planting season involve choosing the best possible trees for the location, LSU AgCenter experts point out.
"Knowing what to do ahead of storm season is key to protecting and keeping your valuable and much-loved trees," Dozier says. "That starts by putting the right tree in the right place."
Dozier and Gill say careful selection of the plants you put into the landscape can help avoid problems down the line.
Pick small species, such as hollies, redbuds, dogwoods, hawthorns and crape myrtles, for restricted spaces near structures, pathways, driveways, sidewalks, roads and power lines. Leave the large open areas for planting oaks, sycamores, hackberries, sweet gums, elms, beeches, hickories, pecans, poplars and other large species, the experts say.
"Prune young trees to develop the strongest structure," Dozier says. "Getting the structure of the tree correct early in a tree’s life helps you avoid the need to prune out large branches later, potentially harming the tree."
Another consideration in selecting trees with the best chances of avoiding storm damage are the relatively wind resistance of the species.
Dozier says southern magnolias, live oaks, cypress, dogwoods, hollies and palms have the highest wind resistance.
In other categories, she rates Japanese and Florida sugar maples, river birches, hickories, red buds, sweet gums, white oaks, swamp chestnut oaks, Schumard oaks and winged elms with medium-high wind resistance.
Medium-low wind resistance ratings go to boxelders, red maples, silver maples, sugarberries, camphor, green ash, wax myrtles, sycamores, American elms, slash pines, loblolly pines and longleaf pines. And the lowest wind resistance comes from southern red oaks, laurel oaks, water oaks, pecans, tulip poplar, Bradford pears, tallow trees, Chinese elms, southern red cedars, Leyland cypress and spruce pines.
For more information on trees, home landscaping and many more topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com. To learn the latest on protecting your home and property from storm damage, click the links for disaster information publications, storm preparation news or disaster recovery listed under "Features" on that page.