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Selecting and planting trees in Florida’s high wind climate

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Past hurricanes have taught us that large growing trees planted too close to curbs, sidewalks or buildings blow over easily because they don’t have adequate room to develop a sound root system. It’s best to plant these trees farther away, plant trees that may stay small or increase the size of space allocated for tree root growth.

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Many future problems can be avoided by paying attention to tree selection, planting, and maintenance in Florida’s high wind climate. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially began yesterday. But even in the absence of a hurricane, our typical summer thunderstorm can produce winds in excess of 50 miles per hour with downbursts reaching over 100 mph.

There is no way to protect trees from all storm damage. Trees are not adapted to worst-case storms, such as Hurricane Michael, only to our average wind climate.

Past hurricanes have taught us that large growing trees planted too close to curbs, sidewalks or buildings blow over easily because they don’t have adequate room to develop a sound root system. It’s best to plant these trees farther away, plant trees that may stay small or increase the size of space allocated for tree root growth.

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Research and natural disasters have taught us that tree roots need large soil spaces for strong, stable growth. The more rooting space trees have, the less likely they are to fail. Strong root growth is essential for tree stability and health. Large maturing trees need at least a 30 feet by 30 feet rooting space. Much of the construction practices such as paving over roots, raising and lowering the grade and soil compaction from equipment result in root injury for existing trees, making them less durable and less stable.

Studies have shown that trees growing in groups better survive high winds as compared to individual trees. A group was defined as five or more trees growing within ten feet of another tree, but not in a row.

A short list of large maturing, storm-resistant trees to consider includes live oak, sand live oak, bald cypress, pond cypress, black gum, and magnolia.

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Do some homework and take a look at tree species that have done well in your area. Also, there are many small and medium-sized trees from which to choose. And, many palms are wind resistant, particularly the cabbage palm.

Having success with trees in the landscape involves starting with healthy, well-developed trees. Plant the right tree in the right place. Follow good planting procedures, which includes not planting trees too deep and providing adequate root space to allow for strong, healthy root growth. And follow correct maintenance practices, which include learning how to prune to produce a structurally sound tree.

Finally, consider having large over-mature, declining trees removed and replaced.

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The following UF/IFAS Extension link, Trees and Hurricanes, includes the most current recommendations on tree selection, planting, and pruning. https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/treesandhurricanes/wind_and_trees.shtml

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@myokaloosa.com.

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