6 Pointers for Restoring Storm-Damaged Landscapes

Image of a downed tree in the parking lot of apartment complex after severe weather


Cleaning up after storm damage and restoring your community landscape may go well beyond a few garbage bags, some rakes and traditional lawn equipment. Properties that are dealt a blow by Mother Nature’s heavy hand during spring – or any other time of the year – are best to take a step back and formulate a strategic plan to the cleanup.

Sometimes that means calling in the experts to remove debris and deal with fallen trees, which can turn a cleanup into a deadly situation even with the most experienced crews. A storm-damaged landscape can produce a number of hazards, including trees that may appear to be stable but have been damaged and downed power lines.

Use Professionals for Landscape Recovery

Cleanup of large fallen trees can be especially dangerous.

In 2012, an Annapolis, Maryland, man was killed while working for a tree care company to help clear trees downed by a severe storm. While in the backyard of a home damaged by heavy wind and rain, a tree fell on top of him. He was dead before emergency personnel arrived.

The story is evidence that not even professionals are exempt from the danger of cleanup. Imagine how dangerous it can be for those who don’t regularly work around tree removal, like the case of the apartment maintenance technician who became permanently disabled while attempting to cut up a tree.

Downed power lines or those that sag into trees are another story. Hot power lines can become tangled in fallen or damaged trees, requiring immediate attention from the utility provider. This is a job that should be left to the proper authorities, even if it adds a few days to the cleanup.

While the temptation is great to jump in and quickly rehab the landscape, it’s best to first draw up a plan. Here are a 6 pointers and precautions for restoring a storm-damaged landscape:

1. Prioritize the Cleanup and Identify Potential Hazards

Before starting any cleanup, it’s important to have good visibility (daylight, post storm, etc.) and take the time to fully assess any existing or potential hazards.

Prioritize the cleanup by first determining if access to units, cars or entrances and exits to the property are blocked. Also, identify potential dangers, like trees that are unstable and limbs hanging in tree canopies.

2. Use Extreme Caution When Cutting or Removing Trees

Trees are extremely heavy and can cause serious injury or death. During cutting and removal, trees can shift, jump or roll. Understanding how the weight of a tree will shift during cutting is paramount. For this reason, wear steel-toed boots.

Another potential danger is chainsaws and other cutting devices used to cut and remove trees. Only experienced operators of such equipment should be permitted to do the heavy lifting of cleanup.

3. Determine if Standing Trees are Safe or Hazardous

Once everything is cleaned and removed, carefully assess additional tree trimming needs to stabilize and rebalance the damaged trees. Trees should be closely inspected to see that there is no structural damage that may not necessarily be immediately visible. Also, some stable but unsightly trees may need to be removed.

4. Prune Smaller Trees, Shrubs and Perennials Affected by Storm Damage

In addition to large trees, smaller ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials often are affected by storm damage. These likely will need to be pruned and a determination made regarding the possible removal or replacement of these plants. Not every tree and plant recovers the same way.

Because different varieties of plants have different abilities to recover, it’s best to get an expert’s opinion before deciding what stays and what goes. Also, weigh the recovery time and unsightliness against replacement cost before making a decision.

5. Inspect Landscape for Drainage Issues

If a storm produces torrential rain, determine if soil erosion has caused changes to site drainage and create a plan to correct it. Heavy downpours will wash away more than just mulch from flowerbeds.

In the event of a mulch washout, beds may need to be re-graded to avoid low spots once new mulch is applied.

6. Handle and Remove Standing Water with Care

Standing water resulting from heavy rains and flooding can be a health hazard. In extreme cases, water from a flooded building that saturates the landscape may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing protective clothing and gloves, and keeping open cuts or sores exposed to floodwater as clean as possible by washing them with soap and applying an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection during cleanup.

While the damage from severe weather may appear to be done when the storm moves out, several factors should be considered before tackling cleanup. A well-organized plan will help properties safely get the landscape back on its feet.


(Image credit: Thomas Reggi via flickr.)



President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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