Our Trees Six Months After Hurricane Irma

It’s a little bit hard to believe that Hurricane Irma occurred six months ago. Many trees in southern Florida, including some in the ground at Richard Lyons’ Nursery, took a walloping thanks to a number of factors previously addressed in this space (see “Lessons Learned from Irma,” September 30, 2017). Now, half a year later, the bad news is that if you have not staked up a downed tree, it is too late. But there’s also good news: You still may be able to salvage the tree.

Provided that your toppled tree remains partially rooted, the first step in attempting to save it is to cover any exposed roots with soil. Then prune the tree back to a much shorter height. Even without a full root system, the tree may leaf out and, over time, develop new stems. Since sprouting may take until May or June to begin, do not be in a hurry to dig up a tree that appears dead.

While waiting for the tree to begin showing signs of recovery, make sure to provide regular watering. After some time has elapsed, you can select the most vigorous and upright of the stems to become the new trunk of the tree. However, you may still want to leave some of the formerly upright, but now supine, branches in place to contribute to the new, unusual – and perhaps even artistic – shape of the tree.

As we head into warmer weather, it would be helpful to fertilize your storm-damaged trees lightly to promote more vigorous growth. As is always true when applying fertilizer, water it in well. A palm special fertilizer is recommended, because the better formulations contain a number of elements in trace quantities that benefit trees and other plants growing in our nutrient-poor soils.

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