Tree First Aid After a Storm - Tree Planting and Care

photo: Storm damage to tree because of high windsTree First Aid After a Storm

After a significant storm, the initial impulse of property owners is generally along the lines of "let's get this mess cleaned up." However, hasty decisions can often result in removing trees that could have been saved. Consult a certified arborist.

After a storm:

1. Don't try to do it all yourself.

Call a professional arborist if large limbs are broken or hanging or if high climbing or overhead chainsaw work is needed. Arborists have the necessary equipment and knowledge.

2. Take safety precautions.

Look up and look down. Be on the alert for downed utility lines and hanging branches that are ready to fall. Stay away from any downed lines. Even fence wires can become electrified when fallen or broken electrical lines are nearby. Don't get under broken limbs hanging or caught in other branches overhead. And, unless you know what you're doing, leave chainsaw work to the professionals.

3. Remove any broken branches still attached to the tree.

If done correctly, removing broken branches will minimize the risk of future decay. Prune smaller branches to the point where they join larger ones. Have an arborist cut large branches that are broken back to the trunk or a main limb. For smaller branches, follow the pruning guidelines shown in the illustration to make clean cuts in the right places, helping the tree recover faster.

graphic: Showing cutlines is removing a large branchBecause of its weight, a branch can tear loose during pruning, stripping the bark and creating jagged edges that invite insects and disease. That won't happen if you follow these steps:

  1. Make a partial cut from beneath several inches away from the trunk.
  2. Make a second cut from above several inches from the first cut to allow the limb to fall safely.
  3. Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch.

4. Repair torn bark.

graphic: Showing a cleaned up woundTo improve the tree's appearance and eliminate hiding places for insects, carefully use a chisel or sharp knife to smooth the ragged edges of wounds where the bark has been torn away. Try not to expose any more of the cambium (greenish inner layer) than is necessary because this fragile layer creates cells that transport food and water between roots and leaves. Don't apply paint or dressing to the wound—these materials interfere with natural healing processes.

5. Resist the urge to over-prune.

Don't worry if the tree's appearance isn't perfect. With branches gone, your trees may look unbalanced or naked. You'll be surprised at how fast they heal, grow new foliage, and return to their natural beauty.

6. Don't top your trees!

graphic: Showing a tree that has been over prunedReducing the length of branches will not help prevent breakage in future storms. While storm damage may not always allow for ideal pruning cuts, professional arborists say that "topping"—cutting main branches back to stubs—is one of the worst things you can do for your trees. Stubs tend to grow back weakly attached branches that are even more likely to break when a storm strikes.

Also, the tree will need all its resources to recover from the stress of storm damage. Topping the tree reduces the amount of foliage available to produce food for regrowth. A topped tree that has already sustained significant storm damage is more likely to die than repair itself. At best, its recovery will be slowed and seldom regain its original shape or beauty.

7. Provide some TLC

Help your tree recover by giving it a good soaking of water once a week. Consider applying a 2 to 4-inch mulch over the tree's root system, but keep the mulch off the trunk to prevent rot formation. Don't apply fertilizer.

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