Many trees are lost each year from hurricanes. You might think it’s safer to not replant a tree in its place, thinking that more damage would be preventable – but, in fact, the opposite is true.
Studies have shown that neighborhoods with the most tree cover tend to fare better in hurricanes and storms than those that have little or no tree cover. Trees that are healthy and properly pruned can protect your home from wind and debris.
The benefits of trees outweigh the risks, but certain types of trees do tend to sustain less damage than others during tropical storms and hurricanes. We’ve put together some tips to help your trees grow to withstand heavy storms, and we’ve compiled a list of some of the most hurricane-resistant trees to plant here in the Wilmington area.
Before You Plant a Tree
Make sure any tree you plant will have enough room to grow. Roots can spread out three times further than the tree canopy, so don’t plant a tree too close to a building, sidewalk, or driveway, as the roots will not have enough room to become stable.
Trees that don’t have strong, grounded roots are easily uprooted in high winds and heavy rainfalls. Conversely, trees that have deep, wide roots are more likely to withstand the heavier rains and more powerful winds.
Sometimes, even if a tree’s roots have room to grow, other things can prevent deep root growth. Our area has high water tables, which means that roots can only grow so deep before they reach water. Any deeper and the roots would be sitting in water, and would essentially drown.
The other barrier to root growth is the compacted soil prevalent here in Wilmington. If the soil is compacted, roots have trouble pushing through it, resulting in shallow roots and a less stable tree.
Together is Better Than Alone – For Trees Too!
Planting in groups of five or more has proven better than planting trees alone, at least when it comes to surviving hurricanes. Most trees that topple in a storm are standing alone.
Many trees can be planted fairly closely (within about 10 feet of each other, depending on mature size) to create a “grove.” Don’t plant them in a straight line as this leaves them more vulnerable to storm damage.
Try to mix up the types of trees and shrubs planted together. Some trees, like oaks, will actually wrap their roots together underground if they’re close enough, which makes them even more resistant to high winds.
The Importance of Pruning for Hurricane Resistance
Any kind of tree should be properly pruned and maintained long before hurricane season, as a healthy, well-pruned tree is a more stable tree.
For details on what to do, check out our article on pruning to prevent hurricane damage.
What NOT to do to Prepare Your Trees for Storms
You may have seen others “topping” trees (cutting off the top and some side branches) before a storm, but this actually makes your tree weaker and less likely to survive a storm.
Overly thinning out the interior of your tree (sometimes called lion-tailing or cleaning out a tree) by removing foliage on the interior branches but not on the branch ends, also leads to fallen trees more often than not.
Which are the Most Hurricane-Resistant Trees to Plant?
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension published results from a study performed by scientists at the University of Florida to determine which trees fared best in hurricane conditions. Native trees tended to do better than non-native ones, and those with strong, deep root systems fared the best during hurricanes.
Keeping in mind the tips above, here are the results of their study:
Highest rated wind-resistant trees for our area
- Live oak
- Bald cypress
- Pond cypress
- Southern magnolia
- Crape myrtle
- American holly
- Sabal palm
Medium-rated wind-resistant trees for our area
- Japanese maple
- River birch
- Shumard oak
- Sweet bay magnolia
Lowest rated wind-resistant trees for our area
- Bradford pear
- Leyland cypress
- Lacebark elm
- Red and silver maple
- Green ash
- Laurel and water oak
- Tulip poplar
By planting hurricane-resistant trees, caring for the trees you do have, and ensuring that proper pruning techniques are adhered to, you can minimize future damage from whatever storms come our way.