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Tree Preparation for Hurricanes

During hurricane season, the right tree in the right place may help protect your property from strong winds by acting as a buffer.

In the instance that your tree is blown over or uprooted during the storm, there are steps you can take to repair the damage and make sure that your tree lives to see another day.

Do not begin any pruning during a Hurricane Watch or Hurricane Warning

Getting Ready Before the Storm

Improperly pruning trees before a storm can increase the possibility they will break or fall more easily during the storm. The large amounts of fallen and damaged trees usually seen after a storm are from improper cutting or pruning of trees.

Several months prior to hurricane season, do the following:

  • Prune trees during the tree species dormant season or during early spring.
  • Make sure the lawn care worker or tree trimmer is a certified arborist. Ask to see their registration or license and insurance.
  • Never "top" or "hatrack" any tree. "Hatracking" is the term used when a tree is cut or chopped so badly that it is left with few or no leaves on the branches.
  • Do not remove more than 25 percent of the tree canopy.
  • Do not cut the tree root system.
  • Remove mainly the interior branches. This will thin the canopy of the tree and allow the winds to pass through it more easily.
  • Make sure to correctly dispose of all tree cuttings since branches and stumps left out in the open can become projectiles during a storm.
  • Once the tree trimming has been completed, schedule a bulky waste pickup.

After the storm

Because a well-cared-for tree is one of the best ways to protect your home from storm damage, saving as many trees as possible is to your benefit. Here are some simple guidelines for post-storm tree clearing and salvage:

  • Survey the area for downed power lines. Call Florida Power & Light at 1-800-4-OUTAGE (1-800-468-8243) as soon as possible and keep yourself and others a safe distance away from any broken power lines.
  • Cut any downed trees or branches blocking major roadways in order to help clear a path for emergency vehicles, utility trucks and other heavy machinery.
  • Survey your property and remove trees or branches that are blocking access to your home.
  • Cut any leaning or split trees that have a high probability of falling and causing additional damage to lives or property.
  • Remove trees that are blocking access to utility poles or boxes. Remember that the wires may be live, so do not attempt to remove trees leaning on power lines.

A partially uprooted tree can be saved by digging out the roots and standing the tree back upright. Big trees may need a come-along or backhoe to pull the tree back up.

If no equipment is available, water the roots of the tree regularly and cover the roots with soil, mulch or even a tarp. The tree may need to be pruned before standing back up.

If no leafy canopy remains on the tree after standing in place, paint the trunk of the tree with a light-colored latex paint to keep the bark from sun burning (yes, trees can get sunburned too). Support the tree with tie-downs or solid supports until the roots have a chance to grow back.

Tips for up-righting small fallen trees

Young trees planted within the last few years that have not yet established wide root systems are most susceptible to toppling over during hurricane-force winds. Downed trees aren't necessarily a total loss, however.

If a tree in your yard blows over in a hurricane:

  • Assess potential danger in approaching a fallen tree, looking for downed wires or limbs in overhead wires. Stay away and report any hazardous conditions.
  • Remove only those limbs that are blocking access to your home or vehicle or are posing an immediate danger to people or property.
  • Cover and shade the exposed root ball with burlap, old sheets, towels or several layers of newspaper and wet down thoroughly. Do not use plastic. Cover the exposed trunk and branches to prevent sun-scalding. Keep the root ball wet (for up to several weeks) while you take care of more pressing post-storm recovery activities.
  • To re-set a tree, dig out a wide area on the root ball side of the tree. Protect the trunk with a cushion of towels or soft material, and pull the tree back upright into the hole. Make sure it's straight and level, sitting no higher or lower than its original grade. Fill in with half the original soil, water thoroughly to remove air pockets, then finish filling in. Water thoroughly. Do not stake the tree unless it cannot stand by itself.
  • Cover the entire area under the tree with four to six inches of organic mulch, like chipped wood, and keep it watered thoroughly for the next six months, through the entire winter dry season. Treat it like a newly-transplanted tree, which it is.
  • Broken or damaged branches should be removed by making a clean cut just outside the juncture of trunk and the branch. Some branches can be cut out for structural stability or appearance, but the remaining branches should not be shortened or sheared.