As of June 1st, hurricane season officially began and by midweek, the first named storm, Tropical Storm Andrea, was blowing by our island. Luckily, Marco Island just received lots of rain but not much wind from Andrea. As the season progresses, it’s important to know ahead of time what to do when a storm strikes to protect trees to prevent or minimize financial and aesthetic losses.
In the past couple of years, most of the trees on the island have been impacted by spiraling white fly and the ones which have had treatment are slowly recovering. The stress of infestation from the white fly, even with treatment, may make it difficult for some trees to withstand the storms that are an inevitable part of life in the tropics. Now is the time to take a look at your trees, canopy and palm, and determine if trimming is required, so they can sustain high winds. Unfortunately, it is common for lawn care contractors to assume tree care duties. Most often, they have little or no training and improperly cut or remove trees. Watch out for contractors posing as arborists. Here are guidelines to help you find a qualified tree-care specialist:
1. Ask for their license to trim trees.
2. Make sure they are part of an established business in the community or nearby area, with a listing in the yellow pages under Tree Service.
3. Ask for current certificates of insurance showing they are fully insured for property damage, personal liability and worker compensation.
4. Ideally, they should be members of a professional association of arborists, such as the International Society of Arborists (ISA) or the National Arborist Association (NAA).
5. Always get more than one estimate to ensure the price offered is competitive.
It is commonly seen that untrained tree-care specialists will “top” trees. Don’t top your trees! “Topping” – cutting the main branches down to stubs is one of the worst actions to do to your canopy trees. The stubs left after topping will grow back many weak and poorly attached branches (suckers) that are more likely to break when a storm strikes. “Topping” also reduces the amount of foliage on which the tree depends for food and nourishment via photosynthesis, needed for regrowth after a storm. There are eight good reasons NOT to “top” trees: starvation, shock, insects and disease, weak limbs, rapid new growth, tree death, ugliness and cost. Bottom-line, a “topped” tree prior to a storm has already sustained major stress and is more likely to die than repair itself after a storm. At the very least, it will be slow to recover and never regain its original shape and beauty.
Good pruning practices by an arborist will remove ¼ to½ of the tree crown, or umbrella of leaves, without “topping”, which allows the tree to retain the ability to manufacture food and promotes the stability of the tree. Good pruning also does not remove the crown and leaves that protect the bark from direct rays of sun. Good pruning before a storm, such as reducing the crown properly and thinning it by removing secondary branches, allows strong winds to blow through the tree allowing it to remain upright rather than fall victim to the force of the winds. It’s time to consider good pruning of your valuable trees.
Over pruning to palm trees is as “topping” is to canopy trees. Palm fronds should be removed only when they die (chlorotic or are brown). Green fronds should never be trimmed off or removed. Palms are amazingly strong during tropical storms. They will need all the green fronds in the aftermath to produce nutrients to survive. “Hurricane cuts” – trimming all fronds but two or three top ones around the “bud” is unsightly, creates stress and weakens the palm during a storm. Prior to a storm, the dead fronds, fruits and flowers should be removed but leave the green fronds on the palm for survival!
When a storm occurs with strong winds, it can leave trees looking more damaged than they really are. Major limbs may be broken or damaged, leaves can be stripped and bark may be gouged or torn. Just don’t remove the tree – close assessments and repairs can and should be made to save the tree. Prune properly broken and damaged limbs, leaving all undamaged branches. Time is on the tree’s side. After careful pruning, give the tree time to recover. If bark has been gouged by debris or torn by damaged branches, use a chisel or sharp knife to smooth the ragged edges of the wounds of the bark without exposing any more of the inner bark (cambium) than necessary. This will improve the tree’s appearance, quicken the bark’s healing process and eliminate hiding places for insects and diseases. For large or multiple trees, call an arborist for trimming and debris removal after a storm. They have the expertise and all the right equipment to assess the damage and provide tree “first aid” after a storm.
“It is a marvel that trees should live to become the oldest living things. Fastened in one place, their struggle is incessant and severe. From the instant a tree casts its tiny shadow on the ground…it is in danger.”
– Enos A. Mills, Naturalist, c. 1910
For more information on arborist standards, proper pruning and other tree information, go to hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/pruning.shtml
For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org