[Homestead] Hurricane pruning of trees

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Thu Sep 23 20:48:23 EDT 2004

Too-dense foliage sneaks up on you without you being aware of loss of 
vistas. It will stay open with palms other than palmettos.
Give you a chance to get rid of those noxious pepper trees.

The Live Oaks are bullet-proof unless there is a too-shallow soil over 
coral so the roots have no anchorage. Too bad Banyan Trees can't survive 
Gulf Coast winters---they are a lot like Live Oaks, but even more 
bullet-proof in shallow soil layers.

The New York Times

          September 23, 2004

    Ill Winds Improve the View



THERE'S an old truth about hurricanes: they take out the trees that 
gardeners don't have the heart to cut down. Like wildfires, they clear 
the land of deadwood. They fell trees weakened by disease or stunted 
roots, leaving only the strongest — or the luckiest — when skies clear.

Such ruthless pruning not only reveals which plants can stand up to a 
100-mile-an-hour wind, but suddenly opens up a view long forgotten.

"When I saw the garden the day after Charley, my first thought was, `Oh, 
the vistas,' " David Price, the director of horticulture at Historic Bok 
Sanctuary in Lake Wales, Fla., said, speaking about five weeks after 
Hurricane Charley crossed the state.

The 250-acre garden sits on top of Iron Mountain, at 298 feet above sea 
level the highest point in the state. From there Mr. Price looked south, 
through a grove of old live oaks that had held steady through the winds, 
toward 1,700 acres of orange groves in the valley below. To the west 
Mountain Lake shimmered through a tree line thinned by half in the 
storm. "Now I'm tempted to cut down a few more oaks blocking the view," 
he said.

Just before Hurricane Ivan smashed through Pensacola in mid-September, 
gardeners in central Florida and along the coast were beginning to lift 
their heads from clearing the wreckage of fallen trees and mangled 
shrubbery left by Charley, which roared by on Aug. 13, and Frances, 
which crawled through three weeks later.

In many places Charley and Frances took 70 percent of the canopy, 
stripping live oaks of their leaves, felling weaker trees like laurel 
oaks, snapping branches off magnolias and leaving camellias and other 
shade-loving shrubs to scalding sun.

Gardeners who are still "picking up sticks," as they say — big ones — 
are being forced to think anew about the sorts of plants that might best 
go in the bare spaces. No hurricanes have swept through Lake Wales since 
Donna, in 1960. "But meteorologists studying rising temperatures and 
weather patterns think we may be seeing more hurricanes the next two 
decades," Mr. Price said.

No plant is hurricaneproof, as attested by all the native live oaks that 
went down, despite their reputation for being able to survive storms. 
Bok lost 23, including one 80-footer that crashed into the reflecting pool.

The McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, Fla., lost about a dozen live 
oaks, some 300 years old, in its jungle hammock. The trees were 
shallow-rooted, growing over limestone. Two tall slash pines, natives 
that usually just bend with the wind, were lifted out of the soft, 
saturated soil and crashed into a pool at the entrance. "I'm going to 
miss those big old slash pines," said Janet Alford, the executive director.

At Mounts Botanical Garden, a 14-acre public garden in West Palm Beach, 
the director, Allen Sistrunk, mourned the downing of his tamarind and 
sapodilla trees, but saw the opportunity posed by the loss of three 
70-foot eucalyptus trees. "They were planted too close together," he 
said. "Now we may only upright one of them, the white eucalyptus, which 
glows at night." And across the flattened trees, Mr. Sistrunk now enjoys 
a view of three regal queen palms on the south side of the garden.

Palm trees hold up beautifully in storms: their limber trunks bend with 
the wind, which blows right through their fronds. So savvy Floridians 
know they shouldn't believe any tree company that shows up just before 
hurricane season to prune their palms. "Hurricane pruning is a racket," 
Mr. Sistrunk said. "I've seen palm trees pruned to a Q-Tip."

Take too many fronds off, and you deprive the palm of its ability to 
photosynthesize, actually hurting its chances in a hurricane. Unpruned 
sabal palms have done fine for centuries without help from the knife.

Paurotis palms, native to the Everglades, have also evolved with the 
high winds of seasonal storms, which do them the favor of cleaning out 
their dead brown fronds.

Ficus trees, on the other hand, develop massive trunks and dense 
canopies that catch the wind like sails, so they can topple over and do 
great damage during a storm. Such trees should be pruned judiciously. 
Some ficus trees put down aerial roots from their lateral branches as an 
anchor to the ground. Prune too many, and you destabilize the tree.

Live oaks, which grow slowly, generally do well, because they have dense 
wood and roots that can spread 150 feet — unless they are growing over 
limestone rock, as at coastal gardens like McKee and Mounts. The live 
oaks that went down at Bok had insufficient roots or weak points in 
their trunks where two branches had grown together but had not fused, 
Mr. Price said.

Old, weakened trees could well be growing in your yard, leaning over the 
house or car — and high winds aren't confined to hurricane zones. All 
such trees should be examined carefully, by a certified arborist if 
possible, to avoid damage in the next storm. Advice on finding a 
certified arborist is available from the International Society of 
Arboriculture, www.isa-arbor.com or (217) 355-9411.

But left to their natural form, live oaks have dense interlocking wood 
that is nearly impossible to cut down. "You have to tear it," Mr. Price 
said. That is why the hulls of ships, like Old Ironsides, were built of 
it. So if you have the climate, the room and the time to watch a live 
oak spread out in your yard, it's a magnificent shade tree well worth 

But customers are already appearing at nurseries like Rockledge Gardens, 
near Cocoa Beach, Fla., demanding fast-growing trees. "They say, `I want 
my shade back,' " said Kevin Reilly, the owner. They ask for laurel 
oaks, sycamores, Chinese elms, all the fast growers that tend to have 
weak wood. Many want instant shade to protect their camellias, but no 
tree can grow fast enough to keep the sun from scalding the camellia's 
lustrous green leaves.

At Harry P. Leu Gardens overlooking Lake Rowena in Orlando, a collection 
of 2,500 camellias, all selected before 1940, are now frying in the sun. 
The garden lost 135 large trees, including laurel oaks, sweet gums and 
pines. "So we will probably move things around a bit," said Robert 
Bowden, the executive director, and plant some sasanqua camellias, 
"which can take the sun."

Many of the camellias look hopelessly mangled, with broken limbs and a 
few green leaves on stumps. But if the trunk has not been gouged too 
deeply the branches can be pruned, and new growth will burgeon. "There 
were some little miracles," Mr. Bowden said, pointing to a great laurel 
oak still standing close to the house, built in 1888.

Laurel oaks grow fast and offer generous shade, so they were frequently 
planted in these parts. But with their weak, brittle wood, Mr. Bowden 
advises against using them. He pointed out one old laurel oak leaning 
across a walkway that perhaps should be cut down. The ground was soft 
around the trunk and slightly higher on one side: telling signs for the 
homeowner trying to secure the yard against the next storm.

Mr. Bowden worries that people with felled trees will rush to plant 
fast-growing species like the camphor or the goldenrain tree for quick 
shade. But both are invasive, growing like weeds, and should be avoided.

The garden's Web site (www .leugardens.org) lists storm-resistant trees 
like bald and palm cypress, palms, Southern magnolia, holly, live oak, 
river birch, yaupon holly, white cedar and trident maple. Susceptible 
trees include Chinese elm, laurel oak, silk floss, hickory, Southern red 
cedar and sycamore.

"Some people are just planting palms," said Mr. Reilly of Rockledge 
Gardens. And though no landscape is stormproof, a yard planted with saw 
palmetto, coontie (an American cycad) and sabal palms could be not only 
striking and low-maintenance, but fairly secure in a hurricane. And 
tropical plants like calatheas, with their strikingly patterned leaves, 
and lily pad begonias grow so low that they can ride out a storm.

Mr. Bowden was amazed at how well his Southern magnolias had held up, 
despite the size of their big leaves and the density of their canopies. 
He stood by a lustrous specimen of D. D. Blanchard, a variety of 
Magnolia grandiflora, which has shiny green leaves with orange-brown, 
feltlike undersides, and declared that more people should plant them.

The Southern magnolia is a native of the coastal plain. So is the live 
oak. But life is risky. Especially in a hurricane.

Copyright 2004 
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