Hurricane proof your yard with these expert wind-resistant tree planting tips

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

After severe weather, particularly tropical storms and hurricanes, the startling sight of uprooted, toppled-over trees that have smashed into nearby homes is not uncommon. In many cases, these incidents are fatal for the residents trapped inside.

Hurricane-force winds can pack a mean punch, and when taking preventative measures to protect your family, it’s important to consider that some tree species are more wind resistant than others.

Windthrow, which occurs when strong winds uproot and overthrow trees, is one of the primary factors contributing to trees falling over during storms, according to Australia-based gardening expert Jane Clarke.

Tree fallen in home during Hurricane Nate - AP Photo

Lawrence Carriere checks on his neighbor's home after a tree fell on it and crashed through the roof, in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the aftermath of Hurricane Nate on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“Taller trees are more susceptible to windthrow,” Clarke said. “The tree trunk acts as a lever, so the force applied to the roots and trunk increases with height.”

Another factor is that urban areas don’t allow for extensive root development, which trees need for stability.

Tree roots can extend up to three times the radius of the branches, and trees that have structures built around them and that have cut or crushed roots won’t be able to withstand hurricane-force winds, Clark added.

Winds aren’t the only potential threat to trees during a major storm, according to University of Florida (UF) researchers. Other factors include rainfall and how long it takes to move through an area; the tree’s health, age and structure; soil conditions; and urban forest conditions, including the overall tree canopy density and composition.

A study of more than 150 urban tree species impacted by hurricanes in the Southeast showed that older trees with denser canopies suffered far worse than younger trees with less canopy cover, UF researchers found.

Infographic - Tips for tree safety during hurricane season

A tree's species is the most significant factor, as different species have varying susceptibility to breakage and uprooting, experts say.

“The wood's strength, the roots' depth and strength and the shape of their crowns determine how much wind they intercept,” Clarke said. The susceptibility to wind varies between conifers, including pines and hаrdwoods like oak, maple and birch, she said.

“Pines are tаller and shallow rooted; they concentrate their foliage on the top of the tree sticking up and out above other trees, so they catch the wind and act as even larger levers,” she added.

Choosing the best wind-resistant trees

Although no tree is entirely wind proof, there are several tree species that hold up well against hurricane-force winds. Experts say that geographical location and the particular site's characteristics are key factors to consider when selecting the right tree for the right location.

“Trees along the coast not only see more severe winds than inland trees, but they're also subjected to salt damage,” said Mark Chisholm, a professional arborist and spokesperson for outdoor power equipment manufacturer Stihl.

Storms do travel inland, however, and not considering the need for resistance to many types of damage could be a harmful mistake, Chisholm added.

“In general, native species tend to do better than non-native species, although there are exceptions,” said Dr. Michael Andreu, associate professor of forest systems at the UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation.

“The sabal palm tends to do very well during the high wind events associated with these storms,” Andreu said.

Other wind-resistant palms include the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), or its relative, Phoenix canariensis, which is a palm plant native to the Canary Islands, according to Gena Lorainne, horticulturist at a United Kingdom-based tree surgery company.

Infographic - Trees that aren't as resistant to hurricane-force winds

“Another resilient palm is the jelly palm (Butia capitate),” Lorainne said. “Pondcypress and bald cypress, both from the Taxodium genus, are two wind-resistant conifer species.”

Species that also resist breakage include some hollies, including the dahoon, inkberry, yaupon and American holly trees; southern magnolias; dogwoods; and live and sand live oaks, according to experts.

“If your yard is mainly soft soil, but happens to be located in a windy area or one known for its storms, you'd have to go for oak trees,” Lorainne said. “[Certain oaks] have strong roots and do particularly well when faced with a strong gust."

Trees with stronger, deeper root systems tend to fare better during hurricanes, Lorriaine said.

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“Some trees, like oaks, tend to entangle their roots with each other underground when planted close to each other,” she added. “This acts as a common foundation and strengthens their overall sturdiness, especially versus winds.”

Experts recommend planting trees in groups of at least five, as grouped-together trees have a better chance of surviving strong winds. More often than not, if a tree gets uprooted during a hurricane, it likely stood on its own, according to Lorainne.

Carefully planted trees can improve the landscape appeal of a property while remaining wind resistant, Lorainne said. “Shallow roots and soft soils are usually a recipe for disaster when a storm is about to hit,” she added.

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