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Downed pine trees from Hurricane Sally

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Hurricane and natural disaster clean-up can be a daunting task after a storm. Aside from homes, trees and other landscape plants serve as coveted assets to a property, while also requiring the biggest clean-up. After disaster strikes, properly removing and replanting trees is an important first step to returning to normalcy.

Chainsaw Safety

Before removing a tree or any branches, remember to take proper safety precautions. More injuries can occur from the clean-up process due to chainsaws than the hurricane itself.

Make sure to wear adequate chainsaw safety gear before beginning to cut. According to Beau Brodbeck, Alabama Extension community forestry and arboriculture specialist, chainsaws don’t cut, but instead remove material and create an environment for life-threatening injuries. 

He said chainsaw chaps will protect a user’s legs, which is where most injuries occur. Items such as hard hats, safety goggles, hearing protection and stout boots are necessary to protect from falling branches.

“Slow down and evaluate each tree before cutting,” Brodbeck said. “Branches can be twisted and bent, making for dangerous cutting situations.” 

If a branch is not cut correctly, it can spring free and hit or roll the tree on top of the person using the chainsaw.

“Be safe and know your limitations,” Brodbeck said. “If you need to leave the ground to cut a tree, call a professional arborist.” 

An arborist can be found at treesaregood.org by clicking the “find an arborist” tab.

Replanting Trees

When the fallen trees are ready to be replaced, identifying the correct planting sites and tree species are the two most important factors for resilient new growth.

Ideally, when replanting, it is best to move to an alternate planting spot. First, woody roots might impede digging a sufficient planting hole. Second, these same roots will eventually rot and create a sinkhole over time.

Therefore, if a new tree is planted in the same location, it could be planted too deep. If it is the only spot available for planting, make sure to have an arborist grind the stump and remove as much woody debris as possible. Removing debris of at least 12 to 18 inches will prevent future voids caused by rotting roots and debris. 

Lastly, fill the resulting hole with topsoil from the surrounding area, not store-bought soil. This is important, as trees will need to adapt to local soil conditions.

The following are a few tips to remember when selecting a new location for a tree:

Look up – don’t plant medium or large trees under power lines.

“This only causes conflicts and will result in pruning practices not favorable to the tree,” Brodbeck said. “Instead, plant trees with maximum heights under 20 to 25 feet under power lines.”

Don’t plant large trees near homes.

“For larger trees, place them at least 30 feet from the home,” Brodbeck said.

Consider planting trees in groupings of three or more.

“Anecdotal evidence has shown that trees planted in small groupings tend to be more resilient in hurricanes and natural disasters,” Brodbeck said. These groupings mimic natural forests and tend to survive hurricanes better than lone standing trees.

Ensure there is enough space above and below the ground for large trees.

“Just like the tops of trees get bigger, so do the roots below,” Brodbeck said.

Trees in confined areas develop inadequate root systems that increase the risk of trees tipping in storms. A basic rule is to ensure about 50-65 cubic feet of soil volume per caliper inch in tree diameter, assuming a root depth of about 3 feet.

Selecting a Tree

Finally, when selecting a tree, it’s best to use a wind-resilient species. There are species that more wind tolerant than others. This is especially important for areas along the gulf coast where preparing for future storms is inevitable.

Here is a list of large tree species that are more wind resilient.

  • Southern Magnolias
  • Live Oaks
  • White Oaks
  • Swamp Chestnuts (for wetter areas)
  • Bald and Pond Cypress (swamp species)

Here is a list for smaller wind resilient species.

  • Iron Woods
  • Fringe Trees
  • Carolina Silver Bells
  • most Hollies

After disaster strikes, be sure your landscape is restored and prepared to withstand future storms.

More Information

For more information on replanting trees after a natural disaster, visit the Alabama Extension website www.aces.edu. For additional information on a list of wind resilient trees, visit the Alabama Extension publication, Restoring Our Hurricane-Ravaged Urban Tree Canopy.

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