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Landscapes: Trees and yard

Trees should be trimmed by early June, before storms threaten. Many municipalities have “amnesty” weeks before storm season, when you can deposit more than the allowable limit of yard debris. Call municipalities for more information.

Call a professional. Trees trimmed by a professional arborist are far less likely to go down in a storm.

Thinning a tree allows wind to blow through its canopy, offering less wind resistance in a storm. Prune young trees to create a single leader, which will grow into a strong trunk.

To minimize damage to a mature tree, eliminate weak branches and reduce the length of limbs at a tree’s sides. Don’t remove interior branches, as this can make a tree unbalanced.

Hatracked trees become sails. Removing a tree’s canopy encourages bushy growth, which makes a tree top heavy and wind-resistant. Some hatracked trees “sailed” directly to the ground. Hatracking is illegal.

‘Lifted’ trees mean broken branches. “Lifting” is a common practice where the lower branches are removed to provide clearance underneath. Lifting contributes to branch breakage and makes the tree top heavy.

Don’t wait until the storm is threatening to prune. If the trash pickup doesn’t get to your curb before the storm strikes, you’ve created a pile of potential missiles.

Coconuts behave like cannonballs in high winds. Remove them well before a storm hits. If trees are too tall for you to reach, hire a tree trimmer.

  • More hurricane tree protection tips

    Tips for your yard

    Take in hanging pots and baskets. Secure or take in pots from shadehouses.

  • Secure young trees with additional stakes.

    Don’t remove fruit. If you put it in a trash pile and the pile isn’t picked up, the fruit may fly around in the wind.

    Tree-dwelling bromeliads, staghorn ferns and orchids can be secured with fishing line.

    Take in or tie up any piles of yard or construction debris.

    Take in all garden furniture, grills, tiki torches and other outdoor items. (Do not sink furniture in swimming pool.)

    Consider removing gates and trellises.

    Palms, native trees fared best through 3 hurricanes

    In high wind, palms will bend but not always break. Since they originated in the tropics and subtropics, their supple trunks have adapted to hurricanes.

    Plant palms in clumps around the edge of your garden (not near the house) to block the wind and protect more fragile plants inside. Although fronds will be damaged in a storm, most of these palms will recover.

    Ficus trees come down easily in storms

    Ficus trees are not meant for residential yards. They grow to 70 feet with a massive span of shallow roots, and come down easily in high winds.

    If you already have a ficus, have it professionally trimmed before hurricane season begins. (If you have Australian pine and ficus in your yard, consider removing them.)

    Stake small trees as a storm approaches with stakes driven at least 8 inches into the ground.

    Trim large masses of vines so they don’t pull down fences.

    Lay arches and trellises on the ground and anchor with rope.

    Fast-growing, brittle trees should never be planted in hurricane country, no matter how quickly you need shade.


    Gumbo limboCocoplumCypressDahoon hollyGeiger treeButtonwoodJamaica caperMasticIronwoodLive oakSand oakRed bayRed mapleCypressSea grapeStopperStrangler fig

    BRITTLE TREES(Consider removing these trees from your yard.)

    Australian pineEarleaf acaciaFicus (ficus benjamina, weeping fig)Bishopwood (Bischofia)CarrotwoodHong Kong orchidTabebuiaLaurel oakMelaleucaScheffleraBlack oliveJacarandaJava plumNorfolk Island pineRoyal poincianaSilk oak


    Cabbage palm (sabal palm)Canary Island date palmChristmas palm (adonidia)Coconut palmFlorida thatch palmFoxtail palmRobellini palm (Pygmy date palm)Royal palmMajesty palmPaurotis palmThatch palms

    Note: Queen palms are the exception. They have a very low wind tolerance.

    Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

    Tropical Storm — Winds 39-73 mph

    Category 1 Hurricane — winds 74-95 mph (64-82 kt)No real damage to buildings. Damage to unanchored mobile homes. Some damage to poorly constructed signs. Also, some coastal flooding and minor pier damage.- Examples: Irene 1999 and Allison 1995

    Category 2 Hurricane — winds 96-110 mph (83-95 kt)Some damage to building roofs, doors and windows. Considerable damage to mobile homes. Flooding damages piers and small craft in unprotected moorings may break their moorings.Some trees blown down.- Examples: Bonnie 1998, Georges(FL & LA) 1998 and Gloria 1985

    Category 3 Hurricane — winds 111-130 mph (96-113 kt)Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings. Large trees blown down. Mobile homes and poorly built signs destroyed. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures with larger structures damaged by floating debris. Terrain may be flooded well inland.- Examples: Keith 2000, Fran 1996, Opal 1995, Alicia 1983 and Betsy 1965

    Category 4 Hurricane — winds 131-155 mph (114-135 kt)More extensive curtainwall failures with some complete roof structure failure on small residences. Major erosion of beach areas. Terrain may be flooded well inland.- Examples: Andrew(FL) 1992, Hugo 1989 and Donna 1960

    Category 5 Hurricane — winds 156 mph and up (135+ kt)Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Flooding causes major damage to lower floors of all structures near the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required.- Examples: Camille 1969 and Labor Day 1935

    Atlantic hurricane names

    When the the winds from these storms reach 39 mph (34 kts), the cyclones are given names. Years ago, an international committee developed names for Atlantic cyclones. In 1979 a six year rotating list of Atlantic storm names was adopted — alternating between male and female hurricane names. Storm names are used to facilitate geographic referencing, for warning services, for legal issues, and to reduce confusion when two or more tropical cyclones occur at the same time. Through a vote of the World Meteorological Organization Region IV Subcommittee, Atlantic cyclone names are retired usually when hurricanes result in substantial damage or death or for other special circumstances. The names assigned for the period between 2016 and 2020 are shown below. Names for Atlantic Basin Tropical Cyclones 20162017201820192020 AlexBonnieColinDanielleEarlFionaGastonHermineIanJuliaKarlLisaMatthewNicoleOttoPaulaRichardSharyTobiasVirginieWalter ArleneBretCindyDonEmilyFranklinGertHarveyIrmaJoseKatiaLeeMariaNateOpheliaPhilippeRinaSeanTammyVinceWhitney AlbertoBerylChrisDebbyErnestoFlorenceGordonHeleneIsaacJoyceKirkLeslieMichaelNadineOscarPattyRafaelSaraTonyValerieWilliam AndreaBarryChantalDorianErinFernandGabrielleHumbertoImeldaJerryKarenLorenzoMelissaNestorOlgaPabloRebekahSebastienTanyaVanWendy ArthurBerthaCristobalDollyEdouardFayGonzaloHannaIsaiasJosephineKyleLauraMarcoNanaOmarPauletteReneSallyTeddyVickyWilfred

    Dealing with mold

    A hurricane’s lingering calling card

    Its spores begin to bloom 24 to 48 hours after contact with water, warmth and darkness — three of the only items in abundance after a storm has turned South Florida into a giant powerless petri dish.

    Mold ruins walls, ceilings, carpets and clothing. It makes our houses smell and can cause health problems in susceptible people. If your roof leaks during a hurricane, expect mold to move in shortly afterward, say experts.


    The sniff test: If you detect a fusty, mildewy odor, you likely have mold. But some mold passes the sniff test.

    The next step is to inspect your house with a flashlight. You’re looking for any blotchy growth that starts out white and turns black. Black mold can be an indication that spores have been festering for a while. If you have allergies or a compromised immune system, wear a protective mask with a NIOSH N95 rating, available at hardware stores.

    Check your attic first, especially if you’ve had a roof leak.

    Check the sides of furniture, the undersides of area rugs, and walls and ceilings.


    Caught early, mold outbreaks can be stopped. Walls, ceilings and floors should be washed with a diluted bleach solution or trisodium phosphate as soon as possible then primed and repainted. Use rubber gloves.

    Mold on wooden furniture can be removed with isopropyl alcohol (test the finish first). Furniture polish will also destroy mold microbes.

    On leather furniture, wipe with diluted alcohol (1 C. denatured alcohol with 1 C. water.) If stain remains, use saddle soap or mild detergent. Dry in sun, if possible.

    Mold that has been growing for weeks requires more extreme measures. Mold-infested drywall must be cut out and discarded. Fiberboard furniture or cabinets infested with mold should also be thrown away.

    Be sure to check attics. Soaked insulation may need to be thrown out.

    Clean your air conditioner or have a professional do it, since the units frequently harbor mold microbes.

    There is no license for mold clean-up firms, so ask for someone with certification from an agency such as the Association of Specialists in Cleaning and Restoration, the National Association of Mold Professionals or the International Air Quality Control Commission.


    Mold’s favorite food appears to be wallboard, also called drywall. Its paper or cellulose backing contains a smorgasbord of organic treats that mold spores crave. A nasty black mold called Stachybotrys chartarum is particularly fond of drywall. The most insidious aspect of mold-infected drywall is that spores usually begin to grow on the back, where they can reproduce in the warm dark.

    The mold isn’t visible until the colonies accumulate in such numbers that they grow through the wallboard. New chemical sealants can make homes more resistant to mold.

    — Barbara Marshall

    Grills are convenient, but can be dangerous

    When the power goes out, you may be cooking on a charcoal, propane or natural gas grill, or a hibachi.

    Never leave grill unattended. Keep children away! Don’t grill near leaves, wood or other flammable objects.


    Safety first! Grills can kill. Charcoal emits carbon monoxide. It’s odorless and colorless and deadly. Grills emit it even if the lid is on, and they can emit it even if coals appear completely out. After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, a mother in a family of three died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a smoldering grill was left in a kitchen.

    Grill food in a well-ventilated area. NEVER bring a grill inside a home, camper or tent. Do NOT grill in a garage, carport or shed.

    Douse coals with water, stir and douse again. They are out when they are cool to the touch.

    Stock up early. Store in a dry area, away from flame.


    Fill your propane tanks now! Lines will be long once the storm approaches. If you have a big tank, have it filled regularly during the season. If you use small tanks, have two or even three full ones on hand.

    When refilling, have supplier check for dents, damage, rust or leaks. At home, check hoses for leaks, kinks or deterioration.

    If tank appears damaged after a storm, don’t use it.

    Keep propane tanks outside the home, but secure them so they don’t become missiles during the storm.

    Use and store propane cylinders outdoors in an upright position after the storm. Do not store spare tanks close to a hot grill.

    Don’t tamper with supply lines or permanent connections.

    Keep grill lid open until you’re sure it’s lit.

    Always make sure valves and dials are shut tight on both grill and tank. Escaping propane fumes, easy to detect by their strong odor, are deadly to breathe in quantity and can explode. If you smell gas, clear the area and seek help.

    Never smoke around propane! 

    Checklist: Inside the home

    Protect your family, home

    Don’t call police, emergency or utility officials unless you have a life-threatening emergency.

    If you must call loved ones, be brief to keep lines free.

    Use cellphones sparingly. They may be the only working phones, and a limited number of cells will be operating.

    Expect to redial several times before completing a cell call. If you find regular phone service is unsatisfactory, try your cellphone’s text messaging or walkie-talkie features.

    Keep children away from debris or dangerous areas.

    Plan to wear old clothes you don’t mind throwing away. They might well be stained or torn during cleanup.

    Wear sturdy shoes, such as construction boots, if you have them. NEVER walk barefoot! The ground likely will be littered with broken glass and other sharp debris.

    Watch your step. You easily can twist an ankle, or worse, and medical help likely won’t be easily available.

    Wash hands regularly and treat injuries promptly. Wear construction gloves if available. You’ll be handling dirty and perhaps contaminated or even toxic materials.

    Keep a flashlight handy. Even during the day you might be in dark spots.


    If water remains in your house, try to rent or borrow a pump or bail by hand. Then shovel out mud, sand or silt. Disinfect floors.

    Make only temporary repairs. Take photos of the damage before any repairs.

    Hose off wet upholstered furniture to remove dirt. If plaster or plasterboard walls are wet, do not rub them. Let them dry, then brush off dirt and wash walls with a mild soap solution.

    Wipe iron and steel furniture with a kerosene-soaked cloth to ward off rust.

    Don’t throw out damaged papers or art. Professionals might be able to restore them.

    Cleaning the fridge

    Here’s how to do the deep cleaning and deodorizing needed to eliminate foul odors in the refrigerator or freezer:

    You will need to clean deep to remove old food left behind and odor-causing bacteria lodged in the refrigerator’s fan, rubber seal, and air ducts.

    Unplug the refrigerator again if the power’s back on. Don your rubber gloves and really clean it.

    Remove every part of the fridge and freezer that’s removable — shelves, door trays, drawers and their gaskets and the drip pan under the refrigerator. Wash with pure soapy hot water; let air dry if possible.

    For stuck-on food residue, use baking soda paste and water to scrub. Rinse with a 50/50 vinegar-water mix.

    Scrub the interior of the unit, and include the gasket around the door, shelf and drawer gaskets and posts, using soapy water.

    For a mild, stuffy odor, use a 50/50 vinegar-water solution to swab down the entire interior of the unit.

    If you do not have power, prop open the doors; don’t seal it until you have power.

    If the power is on again, close it, stuffed with the newspapers and with a shallow pan of vinegar on the bottom of the unit (put another in the freezer compartment). Leave for 12 hours, running, and then remove the newspapers and sniff again. If needed, repeat.

    If a slight odor still remains in the freezer or fridge, lay newspaper on the bottom. Sprinkle unbrewed coffee grounds on the newspaper. Seal up the unit again, and check it after 12 hours.

    If that still hasn’t worked, scrub the interior with a water-bleach solution (1 tablespoon household bleach to 1 gallon of water).

    Use a spray bottle around the gaskets. If you have a drain in the freezer, pour 1/2 cup of this into it.

    Rinse well with clear water, then do the vinegar scrub as above. Before sealing, set a plate of activated charcoal (used in aquariums) in the bottom of the unit. Leave for 12 hours and check again.

    For particularly offensive odors (fish or spoiled meats), these procedures may need to be repeated up to three times before the smell is entirely gone.

    NEVER USE: Toilet deodorizers, moth balls or flakes, laundry deodorizers, carpet deodorizers, pet deodorizers and other products that are not made to come in contact with food.

    Kitchen flooding cleanup

    Photograph the damage for insurance.

    Throw out all food packages that were wet.

    Wash unopened jars and cans in a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 2 gallons water. Dry thoroughly; label with permanent marker.

    Do not plug in any electrical appliances that were wet — they are a fire hazard.

    Avoid being victimized by contractors

    Avoid being victimized by following these steps:

    Don’t allow an unlicensed contractor to make repairs. Following a disaster declaration, anyone working as an unlicensed contractor is committing a third-degree felony.

    Ask to see a contractor’s license before requesting a bid. Make sure the company name on the permit matches the name on the contract. The name on the license and on the insurance must match the roofer’s identification.

    Call to make sure the contractor’s license is current. After a storm, the state may allow counties to issue temporary licenses for licensed roofing contractors from other states or Florida counties, but even temporary licenses should be verified. State- or county-certified general, building or residential contractors may also allowed to do limited re-roof work.

    Ask to see a contractor’s liability and workers compensation insurance. Make sure both are in the name of the person doing the work and on the contract. You may have to pay for bids. Many roofers charge $50 to $125, but most will deduct the cost from the contract price. Don’t agree to obtain an owner/builder permit. It can be a signal that your contractor isn’t licensed.

    Try to get two or three written bids. The bids should specify what work will be done, and the materials to be used. This may be difficult at a time when roofers are scarce. Be wary of low-ball bids or “limited-time offers.”

    If your contractor insists on a down payment, it should be no more than 20 percent to 50 percent. Never pay in cash.

    Read your contract carefully. Many contracts have escalation clauses which pass increasing costs of materials on to clients.

    Know how much extra you’ll be expected to pay. Don’t sign a contract you don’t understand or which has blank spaces.

    Check your permit before work begins. Make sure it specifies the same materials that are in your contract.

    After work begins, check to be sure you’re getting what you’re paying — and are permitted — for.

    Before making final payment, ask for a copy of the release of lien and certificate of completion. The release shows that suppliers and contractors have been paid and can’t place a lien on your property. The certificate shows a final inspection was made.


    Do not climb onto the roof until you know it is stable and that there are no downed power lines on it or unstable tree limbs above it. If you do go on the roof, wear rubber-soled shoes with good grips. Make a note of broken tiles or shingles, bent metal flashing or other damage.

    Inside, inspect your attic, walking only on the wooden supports. Look for leaks, cracked supports or broken tie-downs. A plastic tarp, nailed into place, will stop further leaks until repairs are made. Take pictures. Call your insurance company as soon as possible. 

    Business help: Federal disaster loans

    The U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest disaster loans to help firms and nonprofit groups recover after a storm.

    The loan amount and terms depend on the size of the business, the extent of losses and ability to repay.

    For details, go to

    Are you a good neighbor?

    The days following a storm can be a time of camaraderie between you and your neighbors. But it also can be a time of strife. Before letting tempers flare, keep in mind that we’re all in this together.

    Assign people to check on neighbors, especially the elderly, until everyone’s accounted for.

    If you’re alone, find companionship.

    Share your meals. One of you has two dozen eggs, another a freezer full of snapper. Some have tanks with full grills and others don’t. Rather than waste perishable foods, have a neighborhood feast.

    Pool everyone’s supply lists and send just one person to the store. This cuts down on traffic.

    Heat and humidity add to stress and can shorten tempers. Understand that if your temper is short, it might just be the weather. Be patient. Cool off with a dip in the pool (if it’s healthy to do so), a cold drink or some quality time at the air conditioner.

    Remember the Golden Rule.

    Forget old disputes.

    Don’t let new disputes boil over. Most damages will fall under “acts of God.” If you believe your neighbor is culpable for damage to your home or property, don’t fight it out in your front yard. Keep a cool head. Make sure to gather information, take photographs and preserve evidence. Call a lawyer when things calm down. Don’t call police unless necessary; they’ll be overwhelmed.

    Help those less fortunate around you.

    Keep perspective. You’re alive, and property can be replaced.

    Be patient. Everyone’s trying as hard as they can to return life to normal.

    Look for healthy escapes such as listening to music, playing games and sharing reading materials.

    Sources: Florida International University; University of Florida; St. Mary’s Church, Pahokee

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