Remove unhealthy trees and branches now to protect your home from hurricane damage

This story appeared in the June issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

The devastation of Hurricane Laura is another painful reminder of how much damage a serious storm can do. If you haven’t taken a hard look at your landscape to make sure it’s prepared for hurricane season, now is the time to start.

Above image: Hurricane Isaac knocked down this live oak tree on an Uptown street, but the tree’s root system may have been damaged before the storm. Road repair and construction of sidewalks, driveways and parking lots can impact the structure of a tree’s root system, diminishing its ability to hold the tree up.


What to do now

When evaluating your landscape with storms in mind, first look at your larger shade trees — particularly those close to the house. Dead trees should be removed immediately. A tree that is sickly, low in vigor and/or shows significant signs of rotten or decayed areas in the trunk should be cut down, especially if it poses a threat to buildings on your property or your neighbor’s.

Large, older water oaks (Quercus nigra) are of particular concern. They tend to develop extensive trunk rot as they age, and are one of the most common tree species that blow over in hurricanes. Mature water oaks are large trees 60 to 80 feet tall and are very destructive to buildings when they fall. If you have mature water oaks, have them professionally evaluated by a licensed arborist.

With all trees on your property, look for branches that hang low over the house close to the roof, and have those pruned away. In addition, look for any large dead branches in the tree. These should also be removed.


Large trees that are one sided or significantly leaning can be pruned to balance out the canopy. After prolonged rain associated with many hurricanes, the soil may be so soft that trees can topple over if the weight is not properly distributed.

Hiring a professional arborist to evaluate your trees and getting problems corrected takes time. That’s why it’s so important to take care of trees now, well before a hurricane threatens. A list of licensed arborists by parish is available from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s website here. Arborists are part of the essential work force and are still operating despite the shutdown. All practicing arborists must be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Be sure to see a copy of their license.

You also need to make plans for how you will deal with and secure loose objects in your landscape, such as potted plants and lawn furniture. Decide what can be secured in place, such as doghouses, and what needs to be stored. And don’t wait until a storm is threatening. Now is the time to purchase materials needed to secure objects.

LEFT: The nuttall oak is a Louisiana native that performs well in the state.  RIGHT: Willow oak is an excellent tree for Louisiana landscapes. Photos by Dan Gill.


When a hurricane threatens

Stake young trees planted in the last few years to keep them from blowing over. Make sure garden pesticides and motor fuels are stored in areas that are secure and higher than flood waters. These products can be hazardous if flood waters spread them through your garage or storage shed.

If you have a vegetable garden, harvest all vegetables that you can before the storm hits to get them out of harm’s way. There will likely be little left if high winds occur. And produce covered by flood water must be discarded.

If the hurricane is a few days out and you have the time, mow your lawn. If the hurricane hits, it may be some time before you have the opportunity to do it again.



Don’t delay

With everything going on these days, it is easy to get distracted. But do not put off your hurricane preparations. The COVID-19 pandemic appeared without warning, and we have scrambled to respond. The upcoming hurricane season, with its prediction of above average activity, is expected. There is no reason not to be fully prepared.

Dan Gill is a Louisiana horticulturist, educator and author, now retired from the LSU AgCenter. He is the author of several books, writes a weekly gardening column for The Times-Picayune and has a weekly talk show on WWL Radio. For specific questions about gardening in New Orleans, email LSU AgCenter agents Joe Willis, [email protected], and Anna Timmerman, [email protected]



• Scrub hickory (Carya oridana)
• Dogwood (Cornus orida)
• Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine)
• Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
• American holly (Ilex opaca)
• Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
• Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
• Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiora)
• Sand live oak (Quercus geminate)
• Turkey oak (Quercus laevis)
• Myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia)
• Live oak (Quercus virginiana)
• Podocarpus (Podocarpus spp)
• Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboretum)

• Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum var. distichum)
• Pond cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans)

• Pindo (Butia capitate)
• Canary Island date (Phoenix canariensis)
• Date (Phoenix dactylifera)
• Cabbage (Sabal palmetto)



• Florida sugar maple (Acer saccharum subsp. Floridanum)
• Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
• River birch (Betula nigra)
• Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)
• Pignut hickory (Carya glabra)
• Mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa)
• Red bud (Cercis canadensis)
• Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
• Common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
• White ash (Fraxinus Americana)
• Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciua)
• Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
• Oriental magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana)
• Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)
• Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)
• American hop hornbean (Ostrya virginiana)
• Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia)
• White oak (Quercus alba)
• Swamp chestnut (Quercus michauxii)
• Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii)
• Post oak (Quercus stellate)
• Winged elm (Ulmus alata)

• Washington fan (Washingtonia robusta)


• Boxelder (Acer negundo)
• Red maple (Acer rubrum)
• Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
• Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata)
• Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
• Cinnamomum camphora, camphor*
• Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
• Silverdollar eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cinera)
• Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
• Red mulberry (Morus rubra)
• Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
• Redbay (Persea borbonia)
• Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
• Black cherry (Prunus serotine)
• Willow oak (Quercus phellos)
• Weeping willow (Salix x sepulcralis)
• American elm (Ulmus americana)

• Slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. elliottii)
• Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)
• Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)



• Pecan (Carya illinoensis)
• Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
• Carolina laurelcherry (Prunus caroliniana)
• Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana)
• Southern red oak (Quercus falcata)
• Laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia)
• Water oak (Quercus nigra)
• Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera)
• Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

• Southern red cedar (Juniperus silicicola)
• Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii)
• Sand pine (Pinus clausa)
• Spruce pine (Pinus glabra)

Source: “Hurricanes and Trees,” by Hallie Dozier,LSU AgCenter