Storm Damaged Trees
I think we can all agree that none of us were expecting the severe winds, tornadoes, and the big storm we experienced this past weekend!
When tree damage occurs at your house, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or unsure about how to proceed. You can manage your trees after a storm by following the procedure outlined below.
What to do if a big storm damaged your trees?
After a big storm, you’re probably eager to clean up the debris and get your property back in order. However, you need to proceed with caution. When limbs and tree trunks fall over during storms, they often create safety hazards. Follow these steps to ensure your own safety before you attempt to clear away the damage:
- Make sure trees are safe to approach. Your visual safety check involves looking for fallen power lines and identifying loose limbs that could fall at any moment. If you notice safety issues like these, call for professional help. You should also keep people and animals away from the area until help arrives.
- Evaluate property damage. Sometimes a storm’s forces break off a large branch that falls onto or into your home. If your home sustains damage, you should examine it before you worry about trees and landscaping. As long as the tree (or a heavy branch) isn’t leaning against your home for support, you can cover the hole to keep out weather and animals. Then, call your insurance agent to place a claim.
- Examine the roots. A storm’s wind and water forces can wear away at the soil surrounding a tree’s root system. From a safe distance, look for signs that a tree’s roots are still firmly rooted. If you see lots of loose soil or newly exposed roots, call in an arborist to assess the tree’s structural integrity.
Determine What Stays and What Goes
Once you know your trees are safe to approach, you can start examining them. Although it may not look like it immediately after a storm, trees are strong and resilient. You can often save them with proper care.
How do you know which trees you can salvage? Look for these characteristics:
- Most large limbs are intact
- At least 50% of the branches and leaves appear undamaged
- The bark has no major wounds
- The leading upward branch has no major damage
- Also watch for these almost certain signs that a tree is beyond saving:
- Only the trunk remains
- You can see signs of rot in the trunk or major branches
- More than 50% of the branches sustained damage
Resist the urge to overprune
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 will heal, grow new foliage, and return to their natural beauty.
Staking Trees The Right Way
Stakes should be long enough to reach the lowest part of the tree’s crown, with an added 18-24 inches, which will be pounded into the ground. Placed the stakes about 6-8 inches on either side of a smallish tree trunk (and further away if the trunk is thicker). For young trees planted in an area that’s protected from strong winds, a 1×1-inch wood stake will work fine. A young tree placed in a garden spot that gets stronger winds should have 2×2-inch stakes.
The tree then needs to be tied between these stakes in a way that it can still sway in every breeze but not be blown over or snapped in half. If the young trunk is quite weak, it may require another set of ties somewhere along the trunk.
Where winds are stronger or trees bigger, you’ll need the thicker stakes and some sturdier ties, such as cut-up sections of bicycle inner tube.
Prevailing winds in Omaha and the surrounding areas come from the south in the summer and the north in the winter so you should take a stake on the south and north side of your tree.
The idea is to use the minimum stake and tie possible so the tree trunk can move in the slightest breeze and flex its “muscles.” Much like a human arm in a cast, if you keep a tree immobilized, it’ll lose strength. But if you let it bend and flex, it’ll become strong. Then you’ll be able to remove those stakes entirely within 18 to 24 months.
Don’t top your trees!
Untrained individuals may urge you to cut back all of the branches, on the mistaken assumption that reducing the length of branches will help avoid 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 will tend to grow back a lot of 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 will reduce the amount of foliage, on which the tree depends for the food and nourishment needed for regrowth. A topped tree that has already sustained major storm damage is more likely to die than repair itself.
Care for Damaged Trees
Whether you assess your trees on your own or with professional help, it’s usually best to bring in a professional before you start fixing any damaged trees. Many people make the mistake of lobbing off too many branches, which makes it hard for a tree to return to its former glory.
Instead of acting on your own, hire a professional tree care company. They can cut off the appropriate tree limbs to ensure a tree resumes healthy growth. They also know how to perform safe limb removal, protecting you and your property from further damage.