While writing this article, Hurricane Irma is approaching the Florida coast. Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state of Florida. By the time this article is in print, we will know what areas of Florida will be impacted.
After experiencing Hurricane Matthew last year, we are all hurricane weary. Many homeowners were displaced and are just now getting their homes back in order. Folks in Texas are just beginning the recovery phase of rebuilding their community after being hit by Hurricane Harvey. Northeast Florida residents that were affected by Matthew can attest that the rebuilding phase is a long and grueling process.
Whether Hurricane Irma is impacting our area this weekend or not, it’s timely during hurricane season to review some preparations to make before the storm.
Gutters, storm drains, landscape swales and ditches, wet or dry detention ponds and retention basins are all part of our stormwater system to move water away from streets and neighborhoods during heavy rains.
One way you can help is to keep storm drains clear of debris so they can function properly. Do not put grass clippings, pet waste or other debris down the storm drain — water only.
Clear gutters of leaves, branches and other debris to make sure water from heavy rains has free movement away from the house. Make sure gutters are firmly attached and directing water away from the home. If there are no gutters on the home and the water pours off the roof in a concentrated area, consider placing pavers in the runoff area to reduce soil erosion.
If you have rain barrels, leave the spigots open. Rain barrels that are connected tightly to the gutters will collect water quicker than it can be discharged and could create problems by backing up into the gutter. If this is the case, disconnect the gutter from the rain barrel, allowing the barrel to overflow from the top. Rain barrels that are not full can be blown away, so either fill with water or move them to a secure area like the garage.
For starters, sprinkler systems should be in the off mode. One thing hurricanes are known for is lots of rain, so too much of a good thing is not good for plant roots. More water at this stage will only promote disease problems. Saturated soils coupled with high winds lead to uprooted trees, especially trees with shallow root systems. Most irrigation systems have a rain shut-off device but this dries out quickly and will trigger the irrigation system to run even though the soil is still saturated. So don’t depend on this device to regulate the irrigation system. Make sure it is off and reset to automatic when soils dry out.
TREES AND SHRUBS
Walk around the landscape and look for problem areas. Are there trees or shrubs that are too close to the house? Branches from these plants may damage shingles or siding with the constant wind movement during a storm. Prune these away from the house now and get the debris out of the landscape before the next storm.
Are there trees that look unhealthy? Perhaps the tops are dying back, indicating a root or trunk problem. Large trees with multiple trunks that have V-shaped branch angles are potential hazards because branches are weak and often split during storms. Is there a target in the event the tree falls or the branch breaks off? If there is a questionable tree with a target, have a certified arborist come and check out the tree before it’s too late. To find a certified arborist in your area, check www.isa-arbor.com/findanarborist/arboristsearch.aspx. Be an informed consumer by reviewing pruning recommendations at University of Florida’s Environmental Horticulture website at hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/. Ask for a written proposal of the work that will be done on your tree and request that a certified arborist is on site when trees are pruned. If they suggest topping the tree or making flush cuts to remove branches, call another arborist. Ask for ISA certification and proof of insurance to cover personal and property liability.
HANDLE DEBRIS PROMPTLY
Do not prune trees and leave debris on site if a storm is imminent. It’s better to take a chance and leave the tree intact if you can’t secure the pruned branches or get them off site before the storm. Branches and other debris become dangerous projectiles during a storm.
Remove broken, hanging or dead palm fronds. Do not remove leaves that are just slightly brown on the tips, as this practice can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies which could affect the life of the palm. In addition to dead fronds, remove flowers and fruits, as they could become airborne. If someone suggests pruning in a V-shape, referred to as a “hurricane cut,” find another company. Constant removal of leaves will result in a condition referred to as “pencil top” (trunk narrows just below fronds) which makes the trunk area very weak during storms. In addition, the leaves around the center help protect the bud during high winds. Pruning should not go above a horizontal line through the base of the fronds. So when completed, the fronds should extend out from nine to three o’clock resembling the shape of an umbrella. Spikes should not be used to climb any palms or any trees. If you have pole pruners, you can make a lot of the necessary cuts on smaller palms and avoid excessive pruning and potential disease problems.
Mulch will frequently be washed away from plant beds, so prepare to replace it once the storm is over. If beds are soggy, wait for them to dry out some before mulching. Rubber edging materials will sometimes help to hold in the mulch but may also hold in water. Try placing pine straw along the edges of plant beds to help contain bark mulch.
Although September is the month we traditionally put out our last lawn fertilizer application, do not spread fertilizer if a tropical storm/hurricane is imminent or prior to a heavy rain. Little if any of the fertilizer will benefit the lawn as the fertilizer will be washed away, moving into the storm drain or any adjacent water bodies and contributing to algal problems
CONTAINER PLANTS AND PATIO FURNITURE
Anything outside should be secured or moved to a sheltered area. Small container plants/hanging baskets can become airborne, as can patio umbrellas and furniture. People that have pools often put their patio furniture in the pool. That won’t work for containerized plants but you could place them in a sheltered area like the garage. If they are too heavy to move, try placing them behind a hedge close to the foundation of the house and lay them flat.
BUGS AND OTHER CRITTERS
If we get a lot of rain, be prepared for bugs and other critters looking for higher ground to make their way into homes. Ants, roaches and snakes will escape saturated soils because they are in the survival mode. There are plenty of products available to control the insects and a sticky board may be the best bet for snakes.
We may get lucky and avoid this one but it’s better to be safe and prepare for the worst. For more info on preparing for hurricanes, go to the UF Extension program’s disaster preparation website at solutionsforyourlife.com/disaster_prep/index.shtml.
Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.