Dealing with trees damaged by storms can be upsetting, especially when it’s a tree you’ve nurtured for years or one with sentimental meaning. But there are ways to care for storm-damaged trees and possibly save them.
This guide shares tips to evaluate damage, restore vigor, and decide if a cherished tree is worth trying to save after a storm’s wrath.
Assessing the Damage
Storms can cause significant damage to trees, from broken branches to completely uprooted trunks. Assessing the extent of damage is the first step in determining whether a tree can recover or needs removal.
Examine the entire tree — both the canopy and the trunk and root system. An arborist can help with the damage inspection. Check if the trunk is cracked or split, indicating severe structural damage. Look for major broken or precariously hanging branches. Check the ground around the tree for exposed or damaged roots.
The amount of missing foliage matters, too. If over 50% of leaves and branches are destroyed, the tree may struggle to recover through photosynthesis.
Pruning Broken Branches
Pruning should be done during a tree’s dormant season for best results. If branches are broken, but the central leader and trunk are intact, the tree may recover with proper pruning. I found that it’s best to start by removing any split and damaged branches.
Cut them just outside the branch collar (the enlarged area connecting the branch to the limb). Avoid leaving branch stubs, which invite pests and decay.
Also, prune away smaller, secondary branches no longer connected to the tree. This pruning encourages new growth from the remaining healthy branches. Avoid removing too much healthy foliage needed for recovery. Disinfect pruning tools between each cut to prevent the spreading of disease.
Trees with trunk or root system damage often need physical support. Start by clearing debris and loose soil around the base. Install temporary bracing secured with straps or cables to stabilize weak areas and prevent further damage.
Common support techniques like guying and cabling can be used. A professional arborist can determine proper support methods based on factors like tree species, soil conditions, and damage patterns.
For uprooted trees, arborists may recommend staking the trunk and securing the root ball until new anchoring roots develop. Ongoing maintenance ensures the braces don’t encircle the trunk as the tree grows.
Fertilizing and Watering
Boost trees’ vigor with care after a storm. Water thoroughly around the roots, helping generate new root growth. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to aid recovery without encouraging succulent new growth vulnerable to wind damage. Fertilizer spikes driven into the root zone are often the easiest to apply.
Follow label directions for proper fertilizer application rate and timing. Avoid over-fertilizing, which can damage trees’ root systems. Monitor soil moisture and water during dry periods. Mulching around trees conserves moisture and insulates surface roots.
Knowing When to Remove
Despite best efforts, some storm-damaged trees never fully recover. If over 50% of the crown is gone or the trunk is split, survival odds are slim. A declining tree may need removal before becoming a safety hazard.
Consider removal if the tree was weakened by disease or decay before storm damage. Take out dangerously leaning trees. Work with a certified arborist to determine if removal is best for a given tree. They can also provide professional removal services.
Replanting After Loss
Having to remove a cherished tree is difficult. Look to the future by choosing a replacement suited to site conditions and with storm-resilient qualities. Allow enough distance from buildings, utilities, and other trees.
Properly preparing the planting site and providing attentive follow-up care gives a new tree its best chance to establish itself. In time, with growth, it can mature into an enduring replacement.
Assessing storm damage requires experience, which is why I recommend contacting a certified arborist for assistance. Arborists have the knowledge and skills to evaluate tree health and recommend solutions. They provide services such as:
- Detailed tree inspections
- Fertilization and soil amendments
- Pest and disease control
- Proper support techniques such as guying and cabling
- Storm damage repair plans
- Structural repairs through cabling and splicing
- Targeted branch pruning
For major restoration work, their expertise is invaluable. Contact a local arborist specializing in tree health care with proper certifications and insurance.
So, Is Trying to Save My Storm-Damaged Tree Worth the Effort?
Whether a damaged tree can be saved depends on factors like species, age, and damage extent. For younger, healthy trees, restoring structure and vigor after a storm is often worthwhile.
Pruning broken branches, repairing damage, and attentive aftercare give a tree its best recovery chance.
However, some mature trees that have lost major structural branches or sustained damage to their trunks may never fully regain their original beauty and function. Removing and replacing dead or severely declining trees is sometimes the most practical option.
Arborists help weigh tree recovery benefits and costs after storm damage. Their guidance informs the best decision for landscape goals.
FAQs About Storm Damage to Trees
What signs indicate my tree is damaged in a storm?
Look for broken, cracked, or dangling branches. Exposed roots, soil mounding at the base, or a leaning trunk point to root damage. Missing bark, trunk splits, or dead canopy foliage are other signs.
How much of a tree can be pruned when repairing storm damage?
Prune no more than 25% of healthy branches to retain enough foliage for recovery. Prioritize pruning broken and damaged branches.
What is the proper technique for pruning broken branches?
Pruning gets easier after you get past the first time. Make cuts just outside the branch collar, but avoid leaving branch stubs. Disinfect pruning tools after each cut. Pruning paints are generally unnecessary.
Should I fertilize my tree after storm damage?
A balanced, slow-release fertilizer can aid recovery. But avoid over-fertilizing, which damages roots. Follow product instructions for proper application rate and timing.
When is tree removal the best option after a storm?
If over 50% of the crown is damaged, the trunk is split, or the tree is severely diseased, removal may be best. Take down dangerously leaning trees. Consult an arborist.