CLEMSON — Hurricane-strength winds shatter windows, tear at roof shingles and send street signs flying, but the bluster can also cause costly damage to residential landscaping and trees.

Person using ropes to climb trees

Trees should be inspected for defects at least twice per year.

Clemson University Extension horticulturist Bob Polomski says property owners can take steps to minimize plant damage and keep trees from harming homes and other structures.

“Short-term strategies include bringing small potted plants and hanging baskets inside. As for large potted palms or trees, it’s best to lay them on their sides,” Polomski said.

Herbaceous annuals and perennials and woody shrubs don’t require prior storm preparation, but may need pruning, staking or replanting after the wind and rain subsides.

As for protecting trees from damage, there’s not much property owners can do while the storm bears down.

“Trees should be inspected for defects at least twice a year,” Polomski said. “Property owners need to look for defects that could allow strong winds to cause branch or trunk failures.”

These defects include:

  • Codominant branches/trunks;
  • Dying, dead, hanging or broken branches in the crown;
  • Leaning trees;
  • Branches too close to a house or structure (Ideally, trees should be 30 to 50 feet from a home.);
  • Cavities or hollow areas on the trunk or main limbs that indicate decay;
  • Insect infested or diseased trees; and
  • Damaged root systems and other root defects.

“Trees with defects should be removed by the property owner rather than by the storm. People need to pay particular attention to mature trees, as the risk of wind-induced failure increases with age. Also, trees planted in groups tend to tolerate strong winds better than individual trees,” Polomski said.

No tree is wind-proof and factors such as soil condition, wind intensity, previous cultural practices, tree health, tree architecture and age all factor into wind resistance. Well-pruned trees survive hurricanes better than poorly pruned or unpruned trees. Ideally, “pruning for strength” should begin when trees are young. This “structural pruning” strategy focuses on establishing a limb framework that offers the strongest possible wind resistance. Topping or “hat-racking” makes trees susceptible to wind failure.

If property owners are not confident inspecting trees themselves, Polomski recommends reaching out to a certified arborist credentialed by the International Society of Arboriculure by visiting www.isa-arbor.com.

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