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.