As Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension Horticulture Agent Ashley Ellis and FFL Community Educator Forest Hecker were leaving Evacuation Center duty after Hurricane Idalia, they spotted this newly formed ‘widow maker’. Which is a branch, broken off a tree, that is suspended in a tree until it falls much later.
Hurricanes can wreak havoc on our landscapes, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Lately this destruction seems constant, Irma, Ian, and now Idalia have all caused significant tree damage to our area in recent years. While many people focus on the immediate aftermath, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough inspection of your landscape once the storm has passed to ensure safety and prevent further damage. One of the most critical aspects to look out for is “widow makers,” which are limbs, branches, or debris lodged in trees that pose a significant danger. In this blog, we’ll explore what you should check for in your landscape after a hurricane, with a special focus on identifying and addressing widow makers.
A partially uprooted, leaning Red Cedar at the Extension Office that also features a widow maker branch. Unfortunately, it will have to be removed after the Ian/Idalia combo.
Before you start your post-hurricane landscape assessment, prioritize safety. It is extremely dangerous to go out and look over your landscape shortly after a storm passing. Keep this in mind, as we are barely at the halfway point for hurricane season. Be cautious of downed power lines, unstable structures, and standing water. Wear appropriate protective gear, including gloves, sturdy footwear, and a hard hat, if possible. Consider seeking professional assistance if you are unsure about any aspect of the inspection process.
Check Trees and Vegetation
Trees and vegetation can be significantly impacted by hurricanes, with the potential for loose limbs and branches to become widow makers. Here’s what to look for:
Widow Makers: Inspect your trees for branches or debris lodged high up in the canopy. These can be difficult to spot from the ground, so use binoculars if necessary. Widow makers are particularly dangerous as they can fall unexpectedly, posing a severe threat to people and property below. Do not stand under the canopy, especially if windy conditions are persisting while you check for them.
Leaning Trees: Trees that have been uprooted or are leaning at precarious angles can also be dangerous. Assess their stability and consult with an ISA certified arborist if necessary. ( TreesAreGood.org)
Hollow or Rotten Trees: Trees with signs of decay may be structurally compromised. If you spot any mushrooms coming out of the tree or under the canopy of the tree, consider having the tree inspected by an arborist and, if necessary, removed. Clear Debris Safely
Once you’ve identified widow makers and other debris, do not attempt to remove them yourself unless you have the necessary equipment and expertise. Instead, contact a professional tree removal service to safely address the hazards. A certified arborist is always recommended as they will have the appropriate training, certifications, and insurance to deal with trees. Attempting to remove branches without the right equipment and training can lead to serious accidents and injuries.
Salvage What You Can
While safety should be your top priority, you can salvage and repurpose fallen branches and debris. Prune damaged but salvageable branches for firewood or crafts and consider recycling yard debris into your landscape. Some ideas are; creating log landscape edging, wood chip mulch, or even inoculated edible mushroom logs!
After removing the immediate hazards, begin the process of cleaning up and restoring your landscape. This may include replanting trees and shrubs, repairing damaged gardens, and addressing erosion issues. While these frequent storms may make you wary of trees in general, remember we have many wind-resistant trees. The benefits of the right tree in the right place far outweigh the potential cons. (
In the aftermath of a hurricane, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough assessment of your landscape to ensure safety and prevent further damage. Pay special attention to identifying and addressing “widow makers” – branches or debris lodged in trees that can pose a severe threat. Always prioritize safety by seeking professional assistance when necessary and wearing appropriate protective gear. By taking these steps, you can start the process of rebuilding and restoring your landscape after a hurricane.
Declaration of Generative AI and AI-assisted technologies in the writing process
During the preparation of this work, the author used ChatGPT in order to help build out the blog post. After using this tool/service, the author reviewed and edited the content, and takes full responsibility for the content of the publication.
How to minimize wind damage in the south Florida landscape
Cleaning Up After a Hurricane
Preparing Trees for Hurricanes
Restoring Trees After a Storm
Trees That Can Withstand Hurricanes
Tree Risk Assessment
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert
Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.