Yes, we do get hurricanes in Central Florida, but not very often... actually they're uncommon. In 1960 Orlando was hit with Hurricane Donna and then in 2004 came Hurricane Charley. That's only 2 direct hits of any significance in more than 56 years at this writing.
Hurricanes aren't anything like what you see on TV or in the movies either. They don't come up suddenly and catch you unawares. Hurricanes are large, averaging 400 miles across. The strong hurricane force winds are close to the center and decrease to below hurricane speeds as you move away toward the edges. They move slowly, only a few miles an hour, and they tend to meander. You will have days and days to prepare. Hurricanes take weeks to develop, do their hurricane thing, and then finally dissipate.
What if a hurricane comes? What can you do to protect your garden? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. You will have damage - that's a given. But some pre-storm preparation can minimize that damage from wind, rain, and a possible tornado or two.
What to expect if a hurricane hits. Hurricanes tend to ooooze more than hit. You get the outer rain bands long before you get the hurricane. You will have had days of warning and plenty of time to prepare.
Winds usually degrade significantly when the storm makes landfall, but even a weakened hurricane is a mighty force. Often it isn’t the hurricane’s winds that cause much of the damage but tornadoes that are spawned by the hurricane. Damage is also caused by hail, flying debris and sand and salt, and falling trees...
Hurricanes can be very wet or pretty dry. If the season has been a wet one before the hurricane, then there will be more flooding, water damage to your garden, and plants will uproot more easily.
Go out to your garden and look around. Think low. Your objective will be to reduce wind resistance. Do these things.
- Trim and cut back bushy plants and vines
- Lay things down
* Lay potted plants over on their sides
* Lay trellises over onto the ground
* Pull up stakes on plants like tomatoes and lay the plants down
* Try to point the base of the plants into the wind (more about that later)
* Lay fencing down if you can
* Lay down/turn over bird baths and fountains
- Move tools, watering cans, mowers, wheelbarrows, etc. inside, or lay them down or turn them over
- Take down bird feeders and hanging plants
- Don’t forget to take down or lay over garden art, statues, gazing balls, flags, wind chimes and mobiles…
- Secure sheds with straps or tie downs and secure windows and doors
- Stake and securely support newly planted trees
- Put down mulch to preserve your soil
- If possible, remove the plastic covering of greenhouses
Estimate the hurricane hit at your house and garden. Hurricane winds blow counter clockwise. Pay attention to the weather forecast (which will be frequent and become constant as a hurricane approaches) and where the eye of the storm (the center - which can be 20 miles across and has clear sky above and no wind or rain - fascinating to go through one) is expected to pass in relation to where you and your garden are.
If you are hit by the north part of the hurricane your winds will be primarily out of the east, by the south part winds will be from the west, if you’re on the east part then winds will be from the south and if you’re on the west part your winds will be from the north. If the eye passes over you the winds will blow from one direction, then they will stop for a short time and then resume from the opposite direction.
Get some tracing paper and a map of Florida. Draw a circle on the tracing paper and some counter clockwise directional arrow lines inside. Draw a small circle in the center to represent the eye. Place this over your Florida map, move the circle over your map as you track the path of the eye of the storm from weather forecast, and you can determine the wind direction and changes for where you are.
What If A Hurricane Comes? Aftermath
The wind is gone, the rain has stopped, the power is probably out, and it’s time to go home, if you evacuated, go outside, and assess the damage.
What you might find
Take some tissues with you and try not to cry. You will probably see all manner of debris scattered all over the place… leaves, limbs, trash, your stuff, other people’s stuff, bits of buildings, shingles, metal panels, and things you might not even recognize right away. If a tornado has blown through, the things you find in your yard and garden could get very interesting.
It’s likely that there may be trees or limbs down in your yard and garden area(s) too – and they might have crushed things. BUT DON’T GET TOO UPSET ABOUT IT!! Just about everything will be fixable or replaceable, though some things may take time – such as a tree to grow to fruiting age.
Take care of YOUR needs first
I know you want to get out there and start fixing your garden right away, but it can wait. Take care of you and your family’s and your pet’s and your neighbor’s needs first:
- Everybody safe and accounted for, people and pets
- Food – manual can openers, a way to cook it like a grill (USE GRILLS OUTSIDE ONLY) with a full LP tank
- Fluids to drink that don’t require refrigeration (you did fill tubs and containers with water beforehand didn’t you.. please tell me you did)
- Dry shelter, etc.
In the garden
As with everything, make sure your garden area is safe for you to go into first – no power lines down or precariously poised trees or limbs that could fall on you. In your dismay you could forget to look out for dangers. DON’T! Be careful where you walk. Watch for broken glass and metal, things that could trip you, posts and sticks sticking up that you could fall on, SNAKES, FIRE ANTS and bugs that might scare you or bite you..
You have to first attend to roots. If you loose a plant’s roots you loose the plant. If you see exposed roots, cover them with compost or soil or mulch.
If there are flooded areas scrape/dig some drainage ditches.
If plants have blown over or been uprooted, straighten them up and/or replant them.
Next remove debris so that you can see what’s going on and get to your plants to begin their rescue. Wear gloves. Get help. Pulling and lifting and dragging and carrying by yourself is exhausting and can totally wreck your back and leave you unable to finish your garden rescue.
- Prune broken and damaged plant limbs
- Wash left over flood nasties off your plants
It may take days or weeks for your soil to dry out enough to really see how your garden has faired and before you can replant where needed. Don’t get in a hurry. Seeds planted in soil too wet will rot. While you are waiting:
- Take stock of what seeds you have or will need to purchase then get them gathered up
- Add soil or compost or mulch in places where these things were washed or blown away
- Rain and flooding will leach (wash away) nutrients out of your soil, particularly our sandy soil. Consider testing your garden bed dirt for nutrients and pH (acidity/alkalinity) then make corrections accordingly (or just use your common sense, put down some compost and some lime [not much lime -according to package directions] and expect it will self correct)
- Be on the lookout for fungal diseases that flourish in warm wet conditions attacking your plants
- Watch for ants, fire ants, setting up house in your garden beds
- Keep an eye on snail and slug populations that may skyrocket and have your veggies for lunch
- If you have anything to harvest, be sure to wash it very very well and mist it with hydrogen peroxide to kill harmful pathogens (particularly foods like lettuce, ones where the skins or peelings are eaten, or that are not cooked
- Watch for wilting plants that may have root rot
- Be careful of scams and cons coming around offering to help you clean up... prune, clean up debris, fix roofs, repair fences, cut down trees, haul stuff off... - very common after a storm
Final word...Know that this too will pass.