The Sunshine State has welcomed many newcomers recently! If you are among them, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30. You also probably have many questions about this time of year, and what you need to do to prepare. There are plenty of resources to tell you how to stock up on flashlights, batteries, bottled water and non-perishable “hurricane food” that can be eaten without being heated in the event of a prolonged power outage. But our expert Floridians at Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing are here to tell you how to get your yard ready in order to prevent or minimize property damage!
First, be aware that hurricanes aren’t all you should be concerned about. Tropical storms and Florida’s almost-daily summer afternoon thunderstorms can pack a destructive wallop, as well! A tropical storm is defined by maximum sustained surface winds ranging from 39-73 mph. A hurricane is defined by maximum sustained surface winds of 74 mph or greater. Not every tropical storm develops into a hurricane, although a tropical storm is given a name when it displays a rotating circulation pattern and wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour. When you hear about a “named storm,” this is what your TV weather person is talking about. Take any named storm seriously!
As you may have noticed even by now, Central Florida’s thunderstorms are no laughing matter, either! A severe storm is capable of snapping off weak tree branches and tossing about lightweight lawn items and outdoor trash cans. Hailstorms have already done an unprecedented amount of damage this year to roofs, windows and vehicles.
When to Start Preparing Your Yard for Hurricane Season
The sooner the better! The absolute worst thing to do is wait until you hear your area is in the path – or cone – of a tropical storm or hurricane before attempting to saw off that old tree limb over your roof (which should definitely not be a DIY project under any circumstance). Be warned that at this point, you’re unlikely to find a professional yard service or arborist to do the job, as they’re starting to shelter for their own safety.
Also, keep in mind that hurricanes can produce tornadoes. While hurricanes follow a somewhat predictable path – giving people time enough to batten down the hatches or evacuate – tornadoes don’t. Tornadoes do occur in Central Florida, but are typically short-lived. Still, one more reason to be as storm-ready as possible!
Taking the first steps now to prepare your property will give you enough time to complete the major work before the official start of hurricane season – and well ahead of peak season, which is August and September.
What to Look for and What to Do to Prevent Hurricane Damage to Your Property
Walk around your property and take a detailed assessment of what needs to be addressed, then make a plan of how to do so. We recommend this checklist to get you started:
Prune your trees and shrubs; remove declining or dead trees – Trees and shrubs can grow too large or unbalanced to be able to withstand wind storms. Trim tall shrubs if they seem top-heavy and/or have a shallow root system. Regardless of the species, shape and thin foliage so that wind can flow freely through the branches of the trees and shrubs, decreasing the chance that they will be uprooted in strong winds.
Properly pruning trees is of critical importance. Dead branches can snap off during a storm and fall on houses, cars and people. Our blog post – “Being Prepared for Hurricane Season” – offers the following preventive recommendations from the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension:
- Prune weak, rotting, or dead tree branches and remove low-hanging ones near the house.
- Check tree roots for signs of rotting and remove any rotten or diseased trees or shrubs.
- Keep the tree canopy maintained and thinned to increase air circulation.
Call a full-service yard service company or arborist to trim or remove trees, as necessary. Dead or declining trees can be uprooted during a hurricane, crashing through roofs, cars and otherwise crushing anything (or anyone) they fall upon. Cutting down heavy limbs or a tree are not DIY jobs, as most homeowners don’t have the proper equipment (including safety gear) or the ability to do so safely. And don’t rely on YouTube videos to educate you.
Care for palm trees – Fortunately, palm trees are naturally able to withstand the high winds that hurricanes bring. You may have heard about the so-called “hurricane cut” or “hurricane pruning” for palms, which removes all but the youngest fronds with the goal of making the tree more wind-resistant. However, removing fronds isn’t necessary. In fact, it can seriously damage the palm tree. When pruning palms, only remove fronds that are completely brown and that hang below the 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock position.
Clean roof gutters of leaves, twigs and other debris – Tropical storms and hurricanes produce torrential rains over a prolonged period. Roof gutters and downspouts clogged with debris can’t allow the water to run off. Moreover, Wendy Wilber of Florida Farm & Family advises checking your yard’s drainage areas to make sure they’re free and clear of debris.
“Water cannot flow well through blocked drainage areas and can flood the yard if it has nowhere else to go. Standing water can cause trees to fall over and kill tree roots, even weeks after the storm.”
Make plans for patio furniture, other outdoor items and container plants – You don’t want to wait until a hurricane is imminent before deciding where outdoor items should be moved to protect them – as well as to prevent them from becoming projectiles that can crash through your windows in high winds! Now is the time to decide the best place(s) to store your outdoor furniture, grill, garden ornaments and statuary, hanging and potted plants, etc. If you determine you won’t be able to bring potted plants indoors, cluster them next to an exterior wall and tie them together. Now that you’re living in Central Florida, you may want to reconsider the number of plants in pots and containers you have in your yard. Hurricane season will come around next year!
Think about the long-term – As you learn more about the nature of hurricane season in Central Florida, you’ll be better prepared to take long-term steps to protect your property. The following are a few examples, courtesy of SodDepot, Gator Motor Parts and Florida Farm & Family:
- Choose mulch over stones for landscaping, but don’t over-mulch. Heavier stones can be picked up by winds and crash through windows, while smaller stones can scatter throughout your yard, making mowing a hazard. However, an overly thick layer of mulch can wash away. Don’t waste time, resources or money on something you’ll only have to replace after a hurricane or other severe storm. Put down just enough to provide color and texture.
- Plant wind-resistant trees. Researchers at the University of Florida have found that live oak, gumbo limbo, sea grape and sabal palms are highly wind resistant. Elms, water oak and laurel oak, on the other hand, have low wind resistance. In general, compact trees with a low center of gravity are the ones that make it through windstorms.
- Choose the right location to plant trees. As Wilber writes, “Trees need plenty of space for the roots to be strongly anchored. Strong roots support a healthier tree with better resistance to high winds. Small trees should have at least 3 yards of unobstructed area around the trunk, and large trees need 10 yards of rooting space. Trees growing in groups or clusters also weather hurricanes better than individual trees. If you have a large yard, consider planting trees in groups.
“And, of course, always plant large trees away from power lines and other structures. This will reduce the risk of the trees or branches falling on your home or knocking down power lines.”
- Choose Florida native plants. These plants are not only low-maintenance, they’re also the most likely to survive a hurricane. Florida native plants have grown in the area for thousands of years, and evolved to be better able to survive our frequent heavy storms. The University of Florida has a comprehensive guide for planning and planting a native garden.
What to Do in Your Yard When a Hurricane is Imminent
If a hurricane is heading to your area, you’ll be alerted first by a hurricane watch – which means that hurricane conditions are possible – followed by a hurricane warning, which means that hurricane conditions are expected. According to NOAA, A hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds in an area. If you haven’t done so sooner, take the hurricane watch as your signal to start the following short-term preparations:
- Move outdoor objects to the places you’ve (hopefully) already decided upon. Look around your yard one more time to make sure you get everything – including bird feeders, wind chimes, flags, etc. This also means garbage cans. Keep in mind that your municipality will suspend trash pickup until conditions are safe to resume.
- Turn off your irrigation systems. Also be sure to shut off your main water line should you need to evacuate.
- For pool owners: do not drain the pool. If you do, it can pop out of the ground due to the excessive groundwater pressure caused by heavy rains. Swimming pool maintenance professionals also advise against covering the pool. Although it may seem a logical way to prevent debris from being dumped in, it’s easier to remove branches and other items afterward than replacing an expensive pool cover that’s been damaged by the same. Also power down your equipment at the circuit breaker.
Be Prepared and Stay Safe this Hurricane Season!
We hope none of this has given you second thoughts about your move to Central Florida! This is a beautiful region, and a great place to enjoy life! Now that you know the tips that we natives and semi-natives have long known, you’ll be prepared to weather hurricane season like the Floridian you’re becoming!
We also hope you’ve learned that major yard jobs that involve cutting large branches or tree removal should be left to a professional who has the experience and equipment to do so safely. Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing is located in Lake Mary and serves Longwood, Sanford, Orlando, and the entire Central Florida area. We specialize in tree services, pressure washing, bush hogging, landscape design, and lawn care services. We are licensed and insured, so you can hire us with confidence for all of your yard maintenance needs! Contact us to help you prepare for hurricane season, and take one more worry off your plate this year!