Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension P. O. Box 68 LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068 Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Severe Summer Weather Can Devastate Plantings

Summer often brings severe weather to south Florida.  Tropical storms can tear your garden to tatters, blow it away, wash it pout, drown it under flood waters or all of the above.  June 1st marks the beginning of hurricane season - the most violent of all tropical storms.  The winds in the weakest hurricane - a category one storm - blow at 74 miles per hour.  This is more than fast enough to topple a tree or shred a shrub.

If the storm is accompanied by lots of rain or if the ground is already saturated as is often the case during the summer, the soaked ground can release its grip on tree roots making them even more vulnerable to toppling.

The best long term strategy to counter the damage wrought by tropical storms and hurricanes is to maintain plants and trees in a healthy vigorous state.  A violent storm can spell the end for a weak or ailing tree.  Maintaining healthy plants involves watering deeply to encourage deep sturdy root systems, providing adequate fertility for vigorous growth and keeping them well shaped with an open canopy that presents the least resistance to winds.

Wise gardeners will not wait for a hurricane to trim their trees but will regularly remove dead and dangerous branches.  The beginning of the hurricane season is the ideal time to survey your domain and initiate preventative tree maintenance.  Be aware of the following pruning tips before you begin cutting trees.

Upright branches are poorly attached to trunks.  Horizontal oriented branches are better attached to trees than upright branches.  A branch growing in an upright manner parallel to the trunk often becomes a second trunk.  The tree is said to have a double leader. A tree with multiple leaders (trunks) will become hazardous to people and property as the tree grows larger.  Double leaders are dangerous because they can easily split from the tree during a storm.  Never allow trees to grow with multiple upright trunks.  These trees may look handsome when young but will become hazardous as they grow older.  Always prune so that leaders or branches are spaced 18-36 apart along the main trunk and be sure they form an angle of more than 40° with the trunk.

Topping a tree creates a dangerous tree.  Topping is cutting branches or stems to random lengths.  Trees should never be topped. Topping creates hazardous trees because the wood inside the cut branch begins to decay. The sprouts which grow in response to topping are not well secured to the topped branch and they can easily split from the tree as they grow larger. To avoid this, always prune a branch back to a living branch crotch.  This technique is called drop crotching.

In regards to palms, the severe "hurricane pruning" style of removing all but a few green fronds is a wrong and is harmful to the tree.  Removing palm fronds, unless they are completely dead, is a mistake and stresses the plant.  Palms under stress condition can attract insects like palm weevils, which can seriously injure or kill your palms.  Weakened trees are more susceptible to fungal diseases, such as Ganoderma and fusarium.  Often the discoloration of the lower palm fronds is a symptom of  a nutritional deficiency rather than the normal aging process.

Due to their sparse canopy, palms are among the most wind resistant trees in the garden.  The only pruning palms need is for the removal of dead, badly damaged or diseased fronds.  The current "Hurricane" pruning practice combines the removal of green, functional fronds at the same time as dead fronds are eliminated.

Removal of healthy leaves is detrimental to palms, especially for those species whose canopies consist of 8-12 fronds.  Removal of even a few green leaves represents a significant loss of photosynthetic area which can have adverse effects and long lasting effects on the nutritional status and health of the tree.  Research has shown that palms have the ability to mobilize nutrients from older senescent (yellowing) leaves to provide nutrients to newly formed foliage.  Removal of leaves before they are completely brown therefore will deprive the plant of needed nutrients.  Over pruning palms can result in diminished trunk development which may result in unsightly variations in trunk diameter.  Continued over pruning of palms will result in a decrease in stem diameter over time resulting in a condition described as "pencil pointing".  In addition, there is some evidence that over pruning makes palms more susceptible to cold damage.

In order to reduce disease transmission, always sterilize pruning tools after trimming each palm! For more information on tree care and pruning techniques, contact the Hendry County Extension Office.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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