Storm-damaged tree repair and replacement checklist

DNR forester and landowner walking in landowner's woodlands

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.

1. 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.

Bur oak tree with large broken limb2. Assess the Damage

  • Ask the following questions
    • Other than the storm damage, is the tree healthy and vigorous? If the tree is 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 and removal should be considered.
    • Has the leader, the main upward-trending branch, been lost? In species where a leader is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, it's 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. Removal should be considered.
    • How big are the wounds? Larger wounds are less likely to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and insects. A 2- to 3-inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will seal over with new wood and bark within a couple of years.
    • Can remaining branches replace the missing branches? The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Look to see if branches are in places that can eventually fill out the tree's appearance

3. Make the Decision

basswood tree with large broken limbThe questions above will help you make informed decisions about storm-damaged trees. In general, the answer will fall into one of three categories:

  • 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. Examples of keepers

  • 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. Example wait and see

  • 3. Say Goodbye

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

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 or contact your city forester.

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