Some asters that got knocked over in the recent storm. Photo by Tom Atwell

Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Lee’s visit a couple of weeks ago made me wonder: How should we prepare our gardens for a hurricane?

We escaped Lee with no major damage, as did much of the state – despite one tragic death and some power outages.

On our property, several branches, most already dead or at least weakened, came down during the storm, but that has been happening all summer during unnamed rainstorms.

This banana plant came inside earlier than usual in preparation for Hurricane Lee. Photo by Tom Atwell

We took a few precautions for Lee. We brought two tall tropical plants indoors, including a banana plant we have had for years. We do that every winter, and this year’s move was a little earlier than normal. It’s heavy enough that it isn’t going back outside until spring.

We lowered and stored away some sun umbrellas and moved some light furniture to protected areas. I also went through the vegetable garden, making sure supports for the tomato and taller pepper plants were firmly in the ground. I did not want to lose the plants because they were just beginning to ripen.

If another hurricane is in the forecast, we will do more. The only damage from Lee is that several self-seeded asters in the vegetable garden got blown over before they bloomed. Not a disaster, but we and various insects would have enjoyed the flowers.


Hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30, but the peak is Sept. 10, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Although the risk is now decreasing, you can bookmark this column for next June 1, when the season officially begins – although NOAA is considering making the date earlier.

So, what should we do when the next hurricane is forecast?

Supports for tomato plants were secured before the storm. Photo by Tom Atwell

It depends on when it will hit. If a hurricane is coming in July or August, I would want to do as much as possible to protect all our plants from the high winds. There is a lot of gardening to be enjoyed between those early storms and the first frost, which can hold off until late October. Both flowers and vegetables would have a lot of production ahead of them.

For hurricanes that strike now or later, I would let them do what they want to herbaceous perennials, which are going to die back to the ground as soon as frost hits.

Trees and shrubs might need some work.

Start with the ones planted near the house. If they have grown so tall and wide that limbs are touching part of the house, or could touch it if pushed by high wind, they should be pruned back. Branches banging against the shingles, or even worse the windows, could cause serious damage.


Those foundation plantings would have benefited from pruning even if a hurricane wasn’t coming, but the storm makes it essential.

It also makes sense to look at your larger trees. If you see dead or damaged branches that could damage your house, sheds or vehicles when they fall, they should be removed. If you can reach them with a pole saw, this is a good time to cut them down. Before Lee hit, I did work with the 26-foot saw I wrote about in November.

If you can’t reach troubled branches with both feet on solid ground, call an arborist. Most of them are booked months ahead, but at least you will be on the list to get the work done before next year’s hurricane season.

For smaller trees, pounding in stakes near the trunk and tying them to the tree with rope will keep the trunks from bending too far and perhaps breaking in the storm. Put rags, foam rubber or other material between the rope and bark to prevent abrasions on the tree trunk. And take down the stakes at the end of hurricane season.

Perennials also can be protected. Tall ones can be staked, as with the small trees. Smaller plants can be covered with a pail or other material securely held down with rocks or other heavy material. Or they can be wrapped in burlap.

I hope these precautions won’t be needed during the rest of this year’s hurricane season, but with climate change it is expected there will be more such storms in the future.

One side note: After the storm our lawn and driveway were covered with acorns – two 5-gallon pails of them that we took to the transfer station to compost. They would have fallen sometime, but probably not all at once.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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