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Storm damage: Can your tree be saved?

A storm can leave trees looking like there's no tomorrow. Major limbs may be broken or damaged, foliage can be shredded or stripped, or the bark may be torn or gouged.

But what at first glance may look like mortal wounds are not necessarily fatal to a tree. Trees have an amazing ability to recover from storm damage. First, assess the damage.

Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous? If the tree is basically healthy, is not creating a hazard, and did not suffer major structural damage, it will generally recover if first aid measures are applied immediately after the storm.

Are major limbs broken? The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage. If a majority of the main branches are gone, the tree may have little chance of surviving.

Has the leader (the main upward trending branch on most trees) been lost? The tree may live without its leader, but at best would be a stunted or deformed version of the original.

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 foliage to nourish the tree through another season.

How big are the wounds where branches have been broken or bark has been damaged? The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests.

Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure? The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Look to see if branches are in place that can eventually fill out the tree's appearance.

Making the decision. If damage is relatively slight, prune any broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around wounds. A mature shade tree can usually survive the loss of one major limb. The broken branch should be pruned back to the trunk. Large wounds should be closely monitored for signs of decay.

Young trees can sustain quite a bit of damage and still recover quickly. If the main leader is intact and the structure for future branching remains, remove the broken branches.

If a valuable tree appears to be a borderline case, resist the temptation to simply cut the tree down. Resist the temptation to prune too heavily. A tree will need all the foliage it can produce in order to survive through the next growing season. Remove only the damaged limbs.

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

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Storm damage:
Can your tree be saved?

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Storm Damage
Treatment of storm-damaged trees requires wise decisions and prompt action if the maximum benefit from repair work is to be achieved. Repairs come in two stages: first aid for immediate attention; and follow-up work to be distributed over a period of months to several years. Care for damaged large trees is best left to professionals.

First decide if the tree is worth saving. Does the tree serve a needed function or does it have sentimental or historical value? If over 30 to 50 percent of the main branches or trunk are severely split, broken, or mutilated, the benefit of extensive repairs is questionable. You probably would not want to save less desirable trees, such as black locust, Siberian elm, box elder, mulberry, poplars, and silver maple. More desirable trees, such as oak, maple, pecan, pine, magnolia, holly, and beech may be worth saving unless severely damaged. If the trees are close to power lines, building or other structures, the tree should be removed by a professional. Extremely old, low-vigor trees might not have the ability to recovery.

Small trees which are uprooted should be straightened and staked immediately. Left exposed to sun and wind will severely damage any upturned roots. Remove any damaged roots or branches. Some staking or cabling may be necessary.

Cut off broken and split branches but delay pruning to reshape the tree. Too much removal of wood in one season can create such problems as sunscald, weak branching habits, and sucker growth. Reattach trunk bark to the inner wood with galvanized nails if healing seems possible or trim the wound edges to promote healing. Promptly remove all debris such as broken branches and pruning to help eliminate breeding grounds for insects and diseases.

Lightning strikes can cause various symptoms. They usually loosen bark which hangs in strips. The amount of bark loosened depends on the severity of the strike. The lightning bolt may have passed through the trunk and caused considerable internal wood damage that may not be visible. If only a small amount of damage occurred, remove damaged branches and loose bark and provide excellent cultural practices (mulch, water during drought, and fertilize). Damaged trees can die within a short period of time or years later following a period of stress.

Snow/ice damage
Snow and ice on branches can cause them to break or bend from the extra weight. High winds will compound the damage. The result is often misshapened plants from broken or split branches. Little can be done about removing ice from plants. Snow can be removed with a broom. Always sweep upward --- lifting snow off. When the branches are frozen they are quite brittle.

Do not be in a hurry to prune to correct plants bent out of shape by snow or ice. Often the plants will straighten up in a few days by itself. Broken branches, however, should be pruned as soon as possible. Proper pruning is effective in minimizing potential damage from ice and snow. Particularly important is the removal of weak, narrow-angled, v-shaped crotches.

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