Expert Details Tree Care Before After a Hurricane

Proper tree pruning is important before and after damaging storms. (A) Make a partial cut on from beneath, at a point several inches away from the trunk. (B) Make a full cut from above, at a point several inches out from the first cut. (C) Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar, which is the raised area that surrounds the branch where it joins the trunk.

With hurricane season around the corner, it’s a good time to begin preparing the landscape for storms, according to LSU AgCenter agriculture and natural resources expert Barton Joffrion.

Trees generally are adapted only to average wind conditions rather than major storms. "That means it is important to look at trees and structures to see what may need to be done before a storm hits." Joffrion says. Homeowners need to analyze their property to identify potential damage that could be done to vegetation, structures and drainage systems.

"Of course, since some of the things you need to do may take time, you certainly want to start this process long before a storm is coming," Joffrion advises.

The LSU AgCenter Terrebonne agent recommends taking basic steps before a storm:

  • Check all trees for root system vigor.
  • Stake all recently planted trees if a storm is approaching.
  • Thin the dense canopies of trees to reduce wind load.
  • Remove all trees weakened by construction damage, utility installation, insect, diseases or old age.
  • Remove all limbs hanging over utility lines (ask the utility company to do this) or rooflines and those within the "drop diameter" of structures.
  • Follow recommended fertilization practices for trees.
  • Brace arbors and pavilions.
  • Design "wind gap panels" in fences and remove them when a storm is approaching.
  • Inspect all drain lines and channels and remove obstructions.
  • Document the site with photography or video (so you’ll have a record of how it looked before any potential damage is done).

Joffrion also recommends practicing proper pruning techniques, which can be accomplished by following three steps.

First, make a partial cut on the large branch from beneath, at a point several inches away from the trunk. Second, make a full cut on the branch from above, at a point several inches out from the first cut. Third, complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar, which is the raised area that surrounds the branch where it joins the trunk.

Another good practice to follow, according to the LSU AgCenter expert, is to eliminate co-dominant branches on trunks. Co-dominant branches have an area of common or included bark at the V portion where the branch or trunk joins.

"Trunks or branches tend to crack or split in this area," Joffrion explains, advising to prune forked or V-crotched branches and trunks early in a tree’s life.

"You want to keep trees as healthy as possible," he says, adding, "Timely watering and proper fertilization are essential for tree health, especially in the urban setting."

Of course, despite your well-intentioned efforts the landscape sometimes suffers from storm damage, Joffrion points out.

"That means after a storm does damage, you’ll need to analyze the site and perform any post-storm care needed on trees and structures," he says.

Here are some general practices the LSU AgCenter agent suggests after a storm has passed and the danger is gone:

  • Conduct structural damage assessment of trees and buildings. Be sure also to examine trees for systemic damage.
  • Document any damage with photography.
  • Submit a written report to insurance company.
  • In coastal areas, clean salt spray from all trees by hosing them off.
  • Perform aesthetic pruning on damaged trees.
  • Replant and brace small trees that were uprooted.
  • Remove all larger overturned trees and trees with failed trunks.
  • Grind out stumps and replace damaged trees.
  • Remove trees that are more prone to damage and replace with those that are less likely to suffer from storm damage.
  • Remove temporary bracing you placed on trees or structures.
  • Make repairs to structures, if needed.
  • Replace damaged fence panels or boards.

Joffrion also cautions about trying to do too much by yourself. "If large limbs are broken or hanging, or if high climbing or overhead chainsaw work is needed, let a professional arborist do the work," he cautions. "Also be sure to take appropriate safety precautions on the work you do."

For example, Joffrion says to look up and down the tree for downed power lines and hanging branches.

"Be sure you stay away from any downed power lines, and remember that low-voltage telephone or cable lines and even fence wires can become electrically charged when there are fallen or broken electrical lines nearby," the LSU AgCenter expert warns.

Joffrion also says to resist the urge to overprune damaged trees and plants.

"Don't worry if a tree’s appearance isn't perfect," he says. "With branches gone, your tree may look unbalanced or bare for awhile. But you'll be surprised at how fast trees grow new foliage and return to their natural beauty."

10/4/2004 4:25:31 AM
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