Safeguarding your outdoor space is just as important as securing your home for a hurricane. By preparing your yard for hurricane season, you can help prevent storm damage to indoor and outdoor plants. If a hurricane does strike, there are steps you can take in the aftermath to minimize damage to plants.
Yvonne Swanson, Special to the Times
Now, before a storm threatens:
>> Properly prune trees. Thick canopies can be thinned to improve air flow through branches and a tree's shape can be pruned to improve its center of gravity. If a large tree is shaped properly, its strong lower limbs will prevent the tree from slicing through a house. Trees should have a central leader (trunk) for strength. Never "top" a tree the way a hedge is cut. Instead, selectively prune branches to achieve an even distribution of limbs.
>> Don't give your palms a "hurricane cut." Palms that have not been pruned are healthier and more likely to survive storms. Don't prune your palms unless individual fronds are completely brown or low-hanging fronds are a safety issue. Messy seed pods can be removed without affecting the health of the palm.
>> Remove hazardous trees. They may be in poor health or planted too close to the house, sidewalks, the street or other structures. But before you crank up the chainsaw, check your local tree removal regulations and consult a certified arborist. Call the International Society of Arboriculture at (217) 355-9411 or go to www.floridaisa.org to find one in your area.
>> Properly prune shrubs and other plants to remove dead limbs. Don't leave piles of debris in the yard. They could become missiles in high wind.
>> Clean gutters and downspouts. Make necessary repairs.
>> Replace rock mulch (again, the stones can turn into missiles that can shatter windows) with shredded bark or leaf mulch.
When a hurricane warning is issued:
>> Secure all items in the yard. They can become dangerous projectiles in high winds. Bring loose garden items indoors, including patio furniture, barbecue grills, flags and awnings, garden hoses, wind chimes, birdfeeders, hanging baskets and lawn ornaments such as gazing balls and birdbaths. House ornaments that aren't secure, such as wreaths or plaques, should be brought in as well.
>> Inspect trees. Remove rotten or dead limbs, which can break off easily in high wind and crash through a window. Remove seed pods and old fronds from palms. Cut low-lying limbs using a pruning saw or lopper, being careful not to tear branches.
>> Bring potted plants indoors. If that's not possible, lay them on their side in a sheltered location. Top-heavy plants are especially prone to blow over, even those in heavy ceramic containers.
>> Reinforce small trees and tall garden plants. To prevent them from snapping in high winds, use several stakes around the root ball and drive them about 8 inches into the soil or deeper, especially in loose, sandy soil. Next, secure the stake to the trunk with hose-covered, heavy-duty wire. Flag the wire to prevent accidents.
>> Pick flowers and produce. Don't let the storm destroy your flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables. Pick them and enjoy the fruits of your labor indoors.
After the storm:
>> Inspect trees for damage. Look for broken branches, cracks or splits at the limb-trunk juncture and breakage of the root system. Prune or saw broken branches back to major limbs or the main trunk, always making clean, even cuts. If a crack or split extends into the trunk, the tree could be dangerous and may need costly removal.
>> Salvage fallen and leaning trees. Trim broken branches, set the tree upright and firmly stake for support. Treat the tree as if it were transplanted by providing adequate water over the next six months and keep support stakes and hose-covered wires in place for one year.
>> Revive storm-damaged plants. Prune off torn and damaged ends to reduce stress on the plant. If roots are exposed, cover with soil, moist burlap sacks, or moist sphagnum moss. Water as you would a new plant, unless it's in standing water. Don't immediately fertilize. Trim back flower beds
>> Inspect root area of trees and shrubs. Look for hollowing of the soil that can occur when plants are blown back and forth during a storm. Add soil and water to eliminate air pockets around roots.
>> Water plants exposed to salt water damage. Don't wait for symptoms to appear. Thoroughly douse plants with fresh water as soon as possible after the storm. Monitor them closely for the next six months, providing more-frequent watering, especially during periods of drought.
>> Repair turf grass. Use a flat-headed shovel to remove fallen leaves, mud or silt left by tidal surges or flooding. Grass exposed to freshwater flooding should start growing when standing water is drained. Turf exposed to salt water should be doused thoroughly with fresh water.
>> Water potted plants. Storm winds quickly dry out potted plants — despite abundant rainfall — so water those that were left outside during the storm. Trim off dead or broken ends and delay fertilizing.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.