Caring for Trees After Windstorms
December’s arrival means hurricane season is finally over. The good news about this past season is that our trees generally held up well; the vast majority are still present and accounted for. We lost a few trees to Hurricane Irma, but it could have been a lot worse. Trees typically do a good job of creating a buffer—a windscreen—that can diffuse and deflect wind, which can help protect our homes and other structures. That being said, they can get a bit beaten up in the process, so the task remains to properly care for the remaining trees so they can recover well.
Keep in mind that proper restoration pruning efforts are done over time—with several prunings taking place over several years—to develop a strong structure within the tree, so some patience is required. Trees are as individual as we are. Several factors determine how much care is needed to restore a tree and how long it will take. Factors such as age, size, species, placement, general health and the amount of damage sustained will all determine the time and intervention necessary to restore your trees.
Now is the time to develop a relationship with an ISA-certified arborist or an experienced, licensed tree trimmer who can knowledgably assess and treat your trees. Changing companies to seek the lowest bidder is not the best course of action for restoration pruning.
By now, you have stood up any leaning trees and removed any remaining broken or dead limbs. If you have not done so already, you should have any ragged edges cleaned up with smooth cuts. However, do not top your trees and do not cut back the whole canopy to stubs. These trees have been stressed and are now using stored energy reserves to produce new growth. Pruning should involve only the least amount of live wood possible.
The tree naturally will respond to broken or cut branches by sending out a bunch of new sprouts. The biggest objective at this point will be to perform what is known as “sprout management”—determining which sprouts you will allow to remain and turn into branches. If you do nothing, you will likely end up with a lot of weakly attached growth, creating much more tree parts to deal with in the future. However, if care is taken to encourage some key sprouts, while eliminating many of the others, you can, over time and several prunings, redevelop a good, safe structure within the canopy.
For information about restoration pruning, visit edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP30000.pdf or visit the University of Florida’s website dedicated to research on trees and hurricanes: hort.ifas.ufl.edu/treesandhurricanes.