Storm damaged trees repair & replacement checklist- Tree Planting and Care

photo: Ice storm damage to Silver Maple

After a severe storm, many homeowners wonder: "Can my trees be saved?" Trees have an amazing ability to recover from storm damage; hasty decisions can often result in removing trees that could have been saved. Follow these simple steps for dealing with damaged trees after a storm.

Trees have an amazing ability to recover from storm damage.

photo: Ice Damage to tree with power lines. From Forestry Images1. Look around

  • Approach damaged trees with extreme caution - stay clear of downed wires and call 911.
  • If a large tree or branch is hanging or under tension, seek professional help.

image: Basswood Limb broken by high winds.2. Assess the Damage

Ask the following questions:

Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous?

If the tree is basically healthy, is not creating a hazard, and did not suffer major structural damage, it will generally recover if you take first aid measures immediately.

Are major limbs broken?

The larger a broken limb, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage. If most of the main branches are gone, the tree may have little chance of surviving.

Has the leader, the main upward-trending branch been lost?

In species where a leader is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, it may have to be a judgment call. The tree may live without its leader, but it will be stunted or deformed.

Is at least 50 percent of the tree's crown (branches and leaves) still intact?

This is a good rule of thumb on tree survivability. A tree with less than half of its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough food to survive another season.

How big are the wounds?

The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests. A 2- to 3-inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will seal over with new bark within a couple of years.

Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure?

The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Look to see if branches are in place that can eventually fill out the tree's appearance.


photo: Basswood with large limb missing. Make the Decision

The questions above will help you make informed decisions about storm-damaged trees. In general, the answer will fall into one of three categories:

1. It's a Keeper


  • If damage is relatively slight, prune broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around wounds, and let the tree begin the process of wound repair. Some examples

2. Wait and See

  • If a valuable tree appears to be a borderline case, it may be best to stand back for a while and think it over. After carefully pruning broken branches, give the tree some time to recover. A final decision can be made later. Some examples

3. Say Goodbye

  • Some trees simply can't be saved or are not worth saving. If the tree has already been weakened by disease, if the trunk is split, or if more than 50 percent of the crown is gone, the tree has lost its survival edge. Some examples


Don't Try to Do It All Alone

Some of your trees may have hidden damage or damage that's too close to call. In such cases, you may need  a tree professional to help you decide what to do. Don't hire just anyone who shows up at your door following a storm. Look for a qualified arborists external link or contact your city forester.