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Caring for Storm Damaged Trees

Immediate care should be given to trees damaged by storms. For best results, follow proper methods for removing damaged limbs and repairing stripped bark.

Caring for Storm Damaged Trees
Caring for Storm Damaged Trees

Trees are a beautiful part of any homeowner’s landscape, but with damaged limbs after storms, the trees can become an eyesore or a safety hazard. Assessing the damage done and making the decisions to attempt to rehabilitate or remove the tree entirely must be done. Advice from a certified arborist can be helpful.

Caring for Storm Damaged Trees


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Making the Assessment

Broken limbs are dangerous and not eye appealing. If more than 50 percent of the tree crown is damaged, the ability for the tree to survive is small. Parting with an older established tree is difficult, but making decisions based on realistic evaluations are necessary. Sometimes a professional arborist should be consulted before removal of the entire tree.

The peeled bark is another common type of damage to trees after a storm. Peeled bark greatly impacts a tree’s longevity as the opening allows infection, plant diseases, and pests to enter the core of the tree.

Removing Hazards

The first and most important step is pruning to remove hazards such as hanging limbs, cracked branches, and unstable trunks. Proper care is necessary. Do not top trees. Topping the tree permanently ruins the structural integrity of the tree and will lead to unusual growth patterns. This new growth will often break away with the next storm or high wind.

Removing Broken Limbs

Broken limbs should be cut back. There are proper steps to this procedure. Because of the weight of the limb, a branch can tear loose during pruning, stripping the bark and creating jagged edges that invite insects and disease.

Follow these steps:

  1. Make a partial cut beneath the limb at a point several inches away from the trunk.
  2. Make a second cut from above, several inches out from the first cut, to allow the limb to fall safely.
  3. Complete the removal with a final cut just outside the branch collar, the raised area that surrounds the branch where it joins the trunk.

Avoid cutting the limb flush against the trunk. This creates a wound that will not seal properly.

Treating Peeled Bark Damage

With a sharp knife, cut away the peeled bark. Trim the affected site like an oval with rounded ends, cutting away the bark until sound tissue is reached. Do not cut any deeper than necessary. If more than 50 percent of the truck is involved, the growth of the tree will be diminished. It may lose limbs and grow in an unsightly manner.

If less than 25 percent is involved, the wound should heal completely. Do not use paint or wound dressing to cover wounds. These products do not help the tree and may actually inhibit the wound sealing process.

Caring for Damaged Pine Trees

As well as broken limbs, pine trees may have damaged leaders (the central top shoot). Without a leader, the pine tree will no longer grow upward but rather spread outward. Sometimes a new leader can be established on pine trees.

The first step is to cut off the old leader cleanly, just above a newer side branch. Attach a sturdy stake to the tree trunk, allowing a section of the stake to extend beyond the cut of the old leader. Securely attach the newer side branch to the stake, pointing the tip upward toward the sky. Over time, the lateral branch will become the new leader.

Oftentimes, storm damaged trees are too large for a homeowner to handle. In that instance, the homeowner should contact a local company to assess the damage and discuss the desired correction. The Tree Care Industry Association (formerly the National Arborist Association) has a search site to locate accredited tree care companies in any area.

Storm damaged trees that are safety hazards should be managed as quickly as possible. Save the aesthetic trimming until a later date. Wait one growing season before adding fertilizer to give the tree time to recover from the shock of the initial damage. With proper care, a tree will recover and within a few years, no signs of the initial trimming will be identifiable.


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