Cleaning up:  Where to begin?

Cleaning up debris after a storm can be dangerous work.  Safety should be your first priority.  Be sure to drink plenty of water, wear proper safety gear, and follow proper procedures for using machinery or tools.  Do not work in areas where downed powerlines or trees create a hazardous situation.  For more information on cleanup safety see Cleaning Up after a Hurricane:  Safety Comes First!

Begin your landscape cleanup by focusing on trees that require immediate attention, such as those that create dangerous conditions, including trees on powerlines, structures, or with overhanging broken branches.  Trees that have been tipped over can be removed or up-righted once all dangerous trees have been removed.  For more information on deciding when to remove a tree, consult a professional arborist or visit Assessing Hurricane Damaged Trees and Deciding What to Do.

How do I find an arborist or professional to help me?

Hire a tree expert to remove, upright, and properly prune your trees.  Naples Botanical Garden recommends hiring an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist.  You can find a listing of Arborists or verify a Credential through the ISA webpage.

When hiring a tree care professional, make sure that the company is licensed and insured.  Residents of Collier County can contact Contractor Licensing at (239) 252-2431 or visit the Collier County Licensing website before hiring a contractor to verify a local company’s credentials.  For more information on hiring a professional see Getting the Right Tree Care Professional

Can my tree be saved?

Many trees that are tipped over in a storm can be saved if the damage to the main structure and roots is not too extensive.  A certified arborist can help you make decisions on which trees can be saved and ensure that once it is set back in place that it is properly staked.

Once you have removed any dangerous situations from your property, you can start the process of saving downed trees right away.  Cover any exposed roots with towels or fabric to keep them from drying out.  Water the roots and soil around the tree twice daily to keep them moist until you can stand the tree back up.  Watering the canopy can also help to stem loss of water through the leaves until the tree is righted.  For more information on evaluating and restoring trees after a hurricane see Restoring Trees after a Hurricane.

Any dead branches or damaged areas of the canopy should be removed once the tree has been replaced.  Pruning for structure will increase the likelihood of the tree’s survival in future storms. Trees that have been replanted will require staking until the roots have a chance to establish.  You may also reduce the canopy weight load if needed to keep the tree upright.  Continue supplemental irrigation throughout the dry winter months to help the trees recover.

Post-Hurricane recovery for trees can be a long-term process.  Be sure to work with a certified Arborist to continue monitoring and pruning your trees to ensure their longevity for the future.

Many trees that are still upright but have been stripped of leaves due to winds will begin to leaf out within days of the storm.  Some deciduous trees, like bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), may not replace their leaves until next spring.

Can my palm be saved?

Many palm tree species are adapted to the intense winds of a hurricane and able to survive with minimal damage, even if many of the leaves have been stripped from the plant.  As long as the heart of the palm has not been damaged, palms can often be straightened or replanted.  Severely damaged palms may take 6 months or more before it is known if they will be able to recover.

Begin by removing any dead fronds that may create a dangerous situation.  Green leaves provide nutrients for the palm and aid in the plant’s recovery.  Keep all green fronds on the tree until they turn brown, unless they pose a hazard or are crushing the newly forming leaves, or bud leaves.  For more information on evaluating and restoring palms after a hurricane see Restoring Trees after a Hurricane or Hurricane-Damaged Palms in the Landscape:  Care after the Storm

Evaluate the bud leaves of any damaged palm to ensure that the heart of the plant has not been significantly damaged.  A palm that has broken bud spear leaves will often recover.  If the heart of the palm has been damaged, the chances of saving the tree are greatly reduced.

Why are my plants turning yellow or brown?

Much like humans, plants can be burned by the sun. In the weeks following a hurricane, you may notice damage begin to appear on understory plants that were once protected by a canopy of shade.  The change in sunlight can cause burning of the leaves and trunks of plants.  You can help prevent this damage by increasing overhead watering to reduce temperatures or providing temporary shade.  Options for temporary shade include downed palm fronds or shade cloth.

Sunburn damage to plants after a storm is difficult to control and may appear weeks after cleanup has been finished.

How do I protect my orchids after a storm?

In the days and weeks following a storm, you may find orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytes that were once growing in the tree canopy now laying on the ground.  Epiphytes can be very forgiving if they are cared for quickly before any additional damage occurs.

Plants should be collected from the ground, or safely removed from downed branches, and inspected for any damage or disease that could spread to the entire plant.  Any parts of the plant that are dead or have turned black from disease should be removed and treated with hydrogen peroxide or cinnamon to kill fungal pathogens.  Be sure to clean your tools after working with each plant to limit the spread of disease.  Orchids and epiphytic bromeliads should be re-attached to a tree in a shady location.  Continue to monitor their health until re-established.  Wild growing orchids and bromeliads should be returned to a nearby tree if possible so that they may continue to function as a part of the ecosystem.

Web Resources:

University of Florida IFAS Extension Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery

University of Florida IFAS Extension Trees and Hurricanes


Assessing Damage and Restoring Trees after a Hurricane

Evaluacion del Dano y Restauracion de los Arboles Desupes de un Hurican

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