Clean Up Your Landscaping

The Danger: When the ground is saturated by floods or heavy rain, poorly rooted or sited trees can blow over onto your house or onto power lines, and dead branches can snap off and become airborne missiles. And it's not just trees that pose a hazard. Even landscape features like the pool can be a problem. If flooding causes it to overflow, the chlorinated water can damage plants and grass, so remember to lower the water level in advance of the storm.

Permanent Solution: If you're establishing a new landscape, plant well-rooted varieties of trees, which tend to be slower-growing species with smaller leaves. Ask a local nursery for wind-tolerant choices, but good bets include live oak, beech, Indian tamarind, and bald cypress. "Slower-growing trees tend to have stronger wood," says Charles Livio, vice president of the Landscape Inspector's Association of Florida. Proper planting techniques help trees develop a strong root system, says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook. Avoid planting a large tree in a small area, such as a narrow strip alongside a driveway. If the roots are constrained, they can't get a good purchase in the soil, increasing the chance of a blowdown.

What You Can Do Now

Pruning and Bracing: Well-pruned trees will weather a bad storm far better than those that are simply left to grow unattended. Structural pruning, particularly in a tree's early years, can prevent it from developing competing trunks (called "co-dominant leaders") that grow alongside each other from a central point. "That's like the San Andreas Fault waiting to open up the next time there's a big wind," says horticulturalist Charles Livio. "The trees just split in half."

Prune mature trees so that wind can blow through the canopy of leaves, not against it. "Very dense foliage presents a sail effect," Livio explains. As for fruit trees, pick the fruit in advance of a storm if possible. "That will lighten the load and reduce the risk of projectiles," Livio says.

Finally, brace younger trees in advance of a storm with stranded nylon rope and 3-foot-long sections of number 4 or number 6 rebar, or wood stakes pounded into the ground at 45-degree angles away from the trunk. Be sure to remove the stakes and ropes after the danger passes.

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