Designing a completely hurricane-proof yard is impossible, but the decisions you make before and after you plant can help your yard survive the fiercest of storms.
When you are getting ready to plant, make a list of hurricane-tolerant trees that will fit well with your landscape plan. Many native trees possess strong root systems or the ability to shed branches in a storm, which will reduce wind resistance. These should be considered for the major canopy trees in your yard. They will provide protection for other plants and help insulate your garden from damage. Trees such as live oaks, Quercus virginiana, gumbo limbos, Bursera simaruba, and sea grapes, Coccoloba uvifera, are all large, hurricane-resistant, natives.
If you have established trees in your yard, they should be prepared by light annual pruning that allows for air movement. A properly pruned tree should let some wind and light through its interior.
Use minor thinning cuts to open the trees. This is a cut all the way back to the trunk or a major branch and differs from heading cuts that are made mid-branch and promote resprouting.
Never remove more than 30 percent of a tree’s canopy. Contact a certified arborist for large jobs.
Beware of drive-by tree trimmers who will offer to “hurricane proof” your trees. These chainsaw-wielding workers will almost always hat-rack, a form of pruning in which all branches above an arbitrary line are removed, causing the tree to look like a hat rack. This is very damaging to the tree and usually removes between 75 and 100 percent of the canopy.
Hat-racking is illegal and causes an explosion of growth that will make your tree top heavy. The numerous branches that sprout as a result of hat-racking are weakly attached and are prone to shed in a storm. Hat-racking may even kill the tree.
. For more information on pruning and gardening in South Florida, go to www.fairchildgarden.org/gardening.