Hurricane-Resistant Landscaping for Charleston

Trees and branches lay on the ground after a storm

From the beautiful Battery to Rainbow Row, Charleston is a slice of southern paradise. But we get some storms that certainly aren’t sweet as pie. Hurricanes love to make an uninvited appearance, which spells trouble for homes and yards.

When a hurricane heads our way, the last thing you want is to worry about whether your trees will blow over or if your home will flood. We have 11 tips to prepare your Charleston landscape for a season of storms, so you can enjoy the waves at Folly Beach without panicking when the surf gets choppy. 

1. Install a backyard buffer

If you live right on the water, a backyard buffer (AKA shoreline buffer or riparian buffer) is the perfect two-for-one deal: It both protects our waterways from polluted runoff and keeps your yard safe from flooding when Mother Nature visits. 

A backyard buffer is a strip of flowers, shrubs, and trees that lies between your backyard and the shore. Not only is it the first line of defense for your home when stormwater surges, but it offers a host of ecological and economic benefits: 

✓ Reduces erosion
✓ Increases property value
✓ Offers lawn privacy
✓ Prevents flood and wind damage
✓ Protects waterways from overheating
✓ Serves as a habitat to native wildlife
✓ Provides a shady area to enjoy nature

Choose native plants for your buffer area. Native plants have deep roots and won’t require pesticide, fertilizer, or additional water, so they’re ideal for a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant backyard.

Check out the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s “Backyard Buffers for the South Carolina Low Country” for helpful tips on how to install and maintain your buffer area.

Cost: The price of a backyard buffer depends on the size of your buffer zone and what type of plants you are installing. Small native perennials range from $4 to $25 each and planting a tree costs between $22 and $3,300

2. Choose salt-tolerant plants

Fierce, crashing waves can spray droplets of saltwater onto your lawn. If your lawn is on the water, it’s a good idea to pick out native Charleston plants that can handle a healthy dose of sodium. 

For plants that cannot tolerate salt, salty soil creates a drought-like environment as salt molecules bind tightly to water. Roots struggle to absorb water and nutrients, which leads to plant disease, wilting, and death.

By choosing salt-tolerant native plants, you won’t have to worry about your plants getting dehydrated and dying when waves splash saltwater into your yard. 

Salt-tolerant plants for Charleston:

  • American holly (Ilex opaca)
  • American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
  • Coastal sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
  • Wild olive (Osmanthus americanus)
  • Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)
  • American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata)
  • Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
  • Beach evening primrose (Oenothera drummondii)

Want more salt-tolerant landscaping options? Check out the Clemson extension’s list of salt-tolerant plants for the South Carolina coast.

Cost: You can buy small salt-tolerant perennials at the South Carolina Native Plant Society’s Lowcountry plant sale for $4 to $25. Professional flower bed installation costs between $585 and $3,300.

3. Plant wind-resistant trees

Charleston has had three category 4 hurricanes make landfall since 1851, and they’ve each caused enormous destruction (Hugo damaged 75% of homes in our historic district). With wind speeds of up to 156 mph, category 4 hurricanes can be especially tough on trees — and the last thing you want is a tree falling on your house during a severe storm. 

Wind-resistant trees serve two purposes: They resist being uprooted during storms and act as sturdy buffers to protect your home from wind damage. Here are some of the best deciduous and evergreen trees for your Charleston lawn.

Small trees:

  • Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
  • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
  • Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Large trees:

  • Sabal palmetto
  • Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
  • Red maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
  • Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana)

These trees are all native to Charleston, which means they’ll resist fungus and disease better than non-native species.

Trees to avoid: Sand pine, Chinese elm, water oak, and laurel oak can’t handle our windy summer weather.

Cost: Planting a tree costs between $22 and $3,300, depending on the species and size of the tree. A tiny sapling will cost less than a tall, mature tree. 

4. Plan tree placement

Eager to plant your new wind-resistant tree? Before you grab your shovel, follow these planting guidelines to keep your home and utilities safe. After all, you want your new tree to protect your home during the next big storm — not cut off your water or shut down your electricity! 

Tips for safe tree placement: 

  • Call 811 before digging to learn where utility areas lie. Do not plant a tree directly over a utility line: Shrubs are a safer choice.
  • Avoid planting trees underneath power lines. Opt for shrubs or tall grasses instead. 
  • Plant large trees at least 12 feet away from utility lines.
  • Place tree trunks far from your home’s foundation. You want at least 5 feet of open space between the building and your tree at maturity. (So, if a tree’s mature width is 20 feet, plant your tree at least 15 feet away from your home’s foundation.)
  • If planting small trees near your driveway, make sure the trees do not have low branches that could fall onto your car.
  • Do not plant over or near septic systems or drain fields. You don’t want growing tree roots to damage your system.
  • Before planting trees together, consider their width and height at maturity. This will determine the distance between them.

Tree placement is important for your safety and your wallet. Insurance companies may cancel your policy if they see that a tree branch is touching your roof, and if utilities and septic systems are damaged by tree roots, you’ll be responsible for the repairs.

Cost: Safe tree placement doesn’t come at a cost, but if you have a tree in an unsafe location, transplanting a tree typically costs between $158 and $880, depending on its size. Tree removal costs $347 to $1,117 per tree.

Palm trees are good choices to plant near your home due to their compact canopy and root system. A 3-gallon tree typically costs between $35 and $100, while professional installation of a mature palm tree costs between $500 and $2,000.

5. Group trees together

Ain’t no party like a tree party! Planting trees in groups of five or more increases their resistance to high winds by over 10%, which means better protection for your home during hurricane season. Plus, a display of five different trees, each with a unique aesthetic and different height, gives your lawn curb appeal. 

Don’t just plant your trees in a row. The University of Florida recommends that you plant trees in a natural formation, with each tree within 10 feet of another. This formation will create a strong, natural windbreak.

Cost: Buying saplings or trees in bulk could lower the cost of each tree, and paying for professional installation of five trees will cost less per tree than the cost to install one tree. 

6. Add soft, organic mulch

When high winds come howling through Charleston, you don’t want hard mulches like stones and pebbles to pummel your windows and siding. Soft, organic mulches like shredded bark, decomposing leaves, and wood chips keep your plants in place, prevent erosion, and protect tree roots — and if they go flying into the air, they won’t do major home damage. 

Cost: Shredded bark mulch costs about $65 per cubic yard and aged wood chips cost about $70 per cubic yard. You can get fresh wood chips for free from your local arborist or tree recycling center, or compost your own leaves and grass clippings for homemade, nutrient-rich mulch.

7. Trim your trees

Branches from overgrown hedges become projectiles when high winds hit, and you don’t want to hear the smash of your car window as a tropical storm blows through. Regularly prune and trim your trees and shrubs so they’re tidy and safe for storm season. 

Pro Tip: Trim your plants at the beginning of storm season, not immediately before a storm hits. Twigs and branches lying by the curb can be picked up by gusts of wind and pose a threat to your landscape and home.

Cost: Professional trimming costs about $428 per tree and $9 per bush, or $57 per hour of hedge trimming.

8. Look to the sky

It’s time to think vertically. What’s above your head that could fall onto your home, car, or lawn?

  • Inspect your roof (or hire a pro): Remove loose roof tiles, shingles, and fallen branches that could become projectiles. 
  • Harvest coconuts and large palm seeds.
  • Remove bird feeders, wind chimes, and swing sets that could fly into the wind. 

Cost: A professional roof cleaning typically costs between $337 and $667. Otherwise, it’s free to walk around your yard and remove hazardous debris and hanging lawn ornaments. 

9. Clear the path to your storm drain

You can’t stop rain from falling from the sky, but you can keep it flowing in the right direction — away from your lawn. Clear the way for stormwater to flow directly to the storm drain, so it doesn’t flood your lawn and make its way to your home’s foundation. 

Clean your gutters, check your downspouts, and remove landscape features that block the flow of water. Then, clear out your storm drain and pick up leaves, rocks, and branches lying around your lawn. You don’t want them to clog the drain as rainwater flows across your lawn, as this can lead to both flooding and puddling.

Puddling may not sound dangerous, but standing water loosens roots and can cause trees to fall after storms — just when you think you’re in the clear.

Cost: Hiring a Charleston yard care pro to clean up leaves and yard debris typically costs $154 to $411.

10. Install a seawall

If you live on the waterfront, a seawall may be just what you need to protect your lawn from flooding and erosion. Seawalls are exactly what they sound like: Low retaining walls designed to keep the sea, well, at bay. When a wave hits a seawall, the wall redirects most of the wave’s force back out to the water, which keeps your shoreline safe. 

Seawalls are typically made of steel, vinyl, concrete, wood, or riprap (loose stone). You can choose the best material based on the intensity of the waves that hit your shore and your budget. For example, steel is sturdier than wood, but it’s also more expensive. 

Cost: Seawall installation costs most homeowners $113 to $770 per linear foot, depending on the material they choose and their particular landscape.

11. Build hurricane-resistant fencing

Fences are fantastic for keeping your home safe, offering your family privacy, and giving your kids and pets a secure place to play. But you don’t want to install a lovely wooden fence only to have it crash to the ground when high winds hit. 

Here are the best fence options for your Charleston yard: 

  • Metal or stone fences: These sturdy materials will stand up to wind and weather better than a wooden fence.
  • Slatted or chain-link fences: Gaps in your fencing allow gusts of wind to blow through the fence instead of knocking over the whole structure. 

Fencing to avoid: 

  • Wooden fences: Wood tends to rot underground, and it isn’t as strong as metal fences. Flying debris may damage your fence or topple it to the ground. 
  • Solid fences (like vinyl): Solid fences sound sturdy, but they’re actually more likely to fall over because they don’t have any gaps to let wind blow through. They may be perfect for privacy, but they’re not great for our stormy summer weather. 

Pro Tip: Want the privacy of a solid fence with the wind resistance of a chain-link fence? Spread a fabric privacy screen across your chain-link or slatted fence. 

Cost: Aluminum or iron fences typically cost $30 to $60 per linear foot. Chain-link fences are more affordable, ranging from $10 to $30 per linear foot

Why create a hurricane-resistant landscape

Every year, South Carolina has a 79.7% chance of being impacted by a tropical storm system. When a hurricane heads our way, you’ll want to stock up on groceries, cover your windows, and hunker down — not fret about whether this will be the storm to destroy your garage or blow down your fence.

By planting erosion-resistant native plants, choosing wind-tolerant trees, cleaning up your yard, and installing flood-resistant features, you’ll keep your home safe in the long term and save your wallet from expensive repair bills. 

Call a pro to put storms in their place

Charleston is a slice of sunny southern heaven, but we’re also one of the top 10 cities at risk from hurricane damage, which means we have to prepare for severe summer storms. We don’t want another Hurricane Hugo to damage our beautiful historic homes.

While some hurricane-resistant landscape designs are easy DIY projects, major storm-proofing requires a professional touch. Hire a team of Charleston lawn care pros to prepare your lawn for hurricane season, so you can enjoy the charms of Charleston and hunker down when the time comes.

Main Photo Credit: denisbin | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Maille Smith

Maille-Rose Smith is a freelance writer and actor based in New York. She graduated from the University of Virginia. She enjoys watching theatre, reading mysteries, and listening to psychology podcasts. She is an orchid enthusiast and always has a basil plant growing in her kitchen.