Storms and hurricanes, combined with the torrential rains of late, have wreaked havoc on our trees.

To many, losing a tree is akin to losing a member of the family. 

In recent weeks, massive oaks and willows, pines and sycamores have come crashing down. Many of those trees may have taken 20 to 30 years to reach a mature size, and now there are gaping holes in the landscape.

Some homeowners want to fill those gaps but don’t have the time for new trees to reach full maturity. So they turn to fast-growing trees and shrubs.

Although the landscape will look better sooner, one of the trade-offs for fast-growing trees can be weak wood, and you could find yourself back where you started when the next storm blows through.

Fast-growing trees that have weak wood are boxelder, Bradford pear, cottonwood, Leyland cypress, pines, river birch, silver maple, tulip poplar, white poplar and water oak.

But there are some sturdy trees that grow relatively fast. Consider planting bald cypress, Drake elm, lacebark elm, red maples, swamp tupelo, sweet bay magnolia, sycamore, live oak, nutall oak, overcup oak, pin oak, sawtooth oak and willow oak.

October to March is the prime season for planting hardy trees in Louisiana, and November through early December is an especially good time. The soil is still warm, which encourages vigorous root growth, and trees will have several months to get established before next summer's heat.

As you continue assessing your landscape, take care of your remaining trees. Any limbs on trees or shrubs that were bent or broken should be removed. Clean up the break with a sharp, clean knife or ax, leaving as much bark as possible to help the wound heal.

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Trees or shrubs that are leaning and have not suffered significant damage or limb loss can be straightened out. After removing broken limbs and pruning broken branches, straighten and stake the tree to reset and help reestablish roots. The chances of survival are best when one-third to one-half of the roots are still in the soil and the remaining exposed roots are relatively undisturbed.

Pull the tree upright and fill in soil as needed. Water the tree and gently step on the soil area surrounding the trunk of the tree to help firm the soil and remove air pockets.

Next, attach three guy lines to the trunk at about two-thirds of the height of the tree. Anchor in place with stakes at an angle, placing them 12 to 15 feet from the base of the tree, and secure the lines. Be sure to wrap ropes or cables with cloth or a rubber hose. Remove the straps within a year.

Irrigate deeply for the first week or two after resetting the tree, and continue watering afterward to encourage new growth. Do not fertilize it.

Reset trees have about a 50% chance of surviving long term due to root damage that will take years to reestablish. Shrubs, perennials, tropical and annuals are much more likely to recover more quickly.

Plants with large leaves typically shred during high winds but will put on new growth and recover in a short time. As for other woody shrubs that were damaged during the storm, they too can recover and reach full maturity within a few years.

Flooding is another concern with hurricane weather. Roots that are in standing water for extended periods can die due to no oxygen, toxins in the soil and fungal disease. Most plant casualties from temporary flooding are vegetables and seedlings.

Signs of water stress are yellow and wilted leaves. Improve drainage by trenching to allow water to flow away from the area. Before replanting, correct and prevent flooding from happening again.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.