Trees benefit your property in a multitude of ways. They bring beauty, depth and character to a landscape, as well as offer shade, stabilize soil, mark time and provide shelter for wildlife. Trees support our lives, so it is important that we support their lives too.
Whether the trees on your grounds are hundred-year-old oaks or freshly planted saplings, it is wise to take care of and protect them from the potentially devastating effects of high winds and heavy storms. By ensuring that your trees stay rooted in the ground, you can also safeguard your house from potentially devastating damage from a falling branch. The following tips address both new plantings and established growth.
1. When Planting New Trees, Think Small
Smaller-sized trees take hold and develop healthy root systems more easily than larger trees. The stronger and deeper the root system, the better equipped the tree is to handle high winds and rain. In addition, you can promote tree health with some focused pruning to develop a sound canopy with well-spaced limbs and branches from the start. It is much easier to avoid some structural challenges than to try to fix them later.
2. Allow Adequate Room for Growth
The canopy, or the above ground spread of a tree, is one of several considerations for determining how much space is enough to plant a hardy tree. A healthy tree needs room to grow, and that means below ground as well. For roots to remain vital, it is important to limit soil compaction around the tree. Lighten foot traffic around the tree by putting in some bedding plants or shrubs, or by adding a walkway that provides drainage while dispersing above ground weight more evenly.
3. Consider Grouping Varieties
There is research to show that trees of the same variety weather storms better when they are planted in groups. Groves of similar trees that are planted roughly 10 feet apart from each other are 66 percent more likely to survive high winds in a storm. The stability comes from root systems that grow together.
A similar effect can be achieved with supplementary plantings of a larger shrub or two in proximity to a single tree. The type of tree you choose to put in counts, too. While stands of evergreens appear to make an attractive and uniform wind block, the fact is that they do not survive heavy storms as well as hardwood and deciduous varieties. Trees that tend to hold up include:
- White oak
- Red maple
Be careful to avoid planting fast-growing varieties like birch near your roof or any utility lines.
5. Prune Proactively
Prune young deciduous trees with an eye toward developing a strong leader, or central trunk. Allowing the trunk to grow in two parts creates a “crotch” that leaves the tree vulnerable to splitting in high winds. When the tree is very young, remove up to 25 percent of limbs that exceed more than half the diameter of the central trunk. For optimal tree health, do this every year until the leader is fully dominant and stable. Early and attentive pruning is essential for creating a strong architecture for the tree.
Many people are intimidated by the task of pruning a young tree. They worry that they will take off too much or cut the wrong sections. However, trees ultimately benefit from thoughtful pruning in their first few years, and it tends to help them survive extreme weather better.
A good tactic is to picture a spiral up through the center of the tree. Branches should be spaced approximately 12 to 18 inches from one another as they climb the trunk, and face out in different directions. This design forms an attractive canopy and increased stability. When pruning, it helps to keep your ultimate vision for the tree in mind, and work toward that. Have an idea where you want the lowest branches to be, and cut back limbs that grow below that point. Do not remove them completely, though, until the tree is well established.
6. Anchor Trees with Stakes
Small, young trees may need to be anchored in a storm. Before the weather hits, put three or four 3-foot stakes into the ground around the trunk and secure them to the tree with twine. Be careful to allow some flexibility for the tree to bend a bit with the wind. Tying the tree too firmly will actually make it more vulnerable to damage.
7. Remove Stakes
Use staking to protect new plantings, but take them out as soon as the danger has passed. Root systems develop better when the trunk can move in the wind a bit. The trunk itself will ultimately be stronger with a little flex room.
8. Wrap Trunks
Young tree trunks can benefit from a little TLC in extreme weather. Use burlap or row cover and heavy twine to wrap trunks to protect them from severe temperatures. For even greater protection from wind, you can construct a burlap tent around the tree. Embed stakes around the trunk that are a foot or so taller than the tree, then wrap the material around the stakes from top to bottom so one layer overlaps the next. Secure with twine.
9. Materials and Tools to Keep Handy
Be prepared for stormy weather by having a store of materials ready to go when you need it. A storm damage prevention and emergency kit should include:
- Garden stakes
- Floating row cover
- Heavy twine
- Sharp knife
- Folding pruner or buck saw
10. Watch the Weather
Even if you live in an area that is prone to sudden storms, you can minimize damage to plants and trees by staying alert to weather changes and thinking ahead. It is a good idea to construct protective scaffolding you can just pull out and hammer into the ground before the wind really starts whipping. Do not attempt to do too much in an actual hurricane or tornado situation.
If worse comes to worst, a heavy storm will clear out weaker growth and make room for stronger plantings. As upsetting as it may be to lose a tree to a storm, learn what you can from the experience. Stay safe and take the precautions you can to foster tree health. With care, your landscape will stand and flourish through the tests of time.