Dealing with storm-damaged trees

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  8/28/2008 9:32:42 PM

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Get It Growing News For 09/05/08

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

September is one of our most active months for tropical storms and hurricanes. Although parishes in the southern portion of the state are most vulnerable, these powerful storms can and do produce high winds and heavy rains as they move into the northern part of the state. And tropical storms aren’t all we have to worry about. Violent summer storms can produce high winds and tornados as well.

Trees are particularly vulnerable to the effects of high winds and sustain various types of damage as a result. Much of the work dealing with trees after a hurricane should be done by professionals who have the equipment and training to do the job safely. Most people do not have the equipment or expertise to safely remove large trees or fallen trunks. Also remember that downed power lines are often present around fallen trees, and take necessary precautions.

In Louisiana, an individual or company you hire to do tree work must be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and carry the proper insurance. To find licensed arborist in your area or to check on a company you are thinking about using, go to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture website at www.ldaf.la.us and click on Find a Licensed Horticultural Professional.

Remove fallen trees as soon as it is practical (obviously, trees that fall on or near the house get top priority). If you want the stumps ground out, you need to check with the company removing the trees. The ground-up wood left from stump grinding (and also ground-up branches) may be used as mulch in beds, to cover walkways or composted for use as a soil amendment during bed preparation.

Smaller trees and branches can be handled by homeowners with chainsaws. This may be necessary to clear pathways and driveways or remove branches around a home. It is critical that you understand the safe use of such equipment and follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions carefully. Read user instructions thoroughly, and do not attempt to tackle jobs that are beyond your ability to carry out safely.

Remove large branches that are broken but still hanging in the tree. These branches pose a significant risk because they can fall at any time. This should be taken care of as soon as possible. Less critical are broken stubs where branches were lost; however, these stubs should eventually be pruned off to allow the trees to heal over the wounds. Make the final pruning cut just outside of the branch collar at the base of the branch when removing broken branches or stubs.

Remove older trees that are so badly damaged they cannot be saved or those that are significantly leaning. Unless a tree appears to be leaning so far that it poses a hazard of falling, these jobs can be put off.

Young trees planted within the past few years are often blown over by high winds or may be leaning. These trees – generally less than 10 inches in diameter and planted within about seven years – should be saved. Straighten them as soon as possible, and they will usually survive and recover. If the roots are exposed, cover them with soil or mulch to keep them moist until you get a chance to straighten the tree.

Newly reset trees will need to be supported until they reestablish a strong, new root system. This can be done with stakes or guy lines depending on the size of the tree and the situation. Leave the support in place for about 9 to 12 months. Limited pruning may be done at the time of resetting to remove damaged branches and to lighten the weight of the canopy, but do not prune excessively. It is generally not practical to straighten larger, more mature trees that have blown over.

Many larger trees that receive wind damage but remain upright can be salvaged, depending on how much damage was done to the canopy and on the species of the tree. Do not be concerned if the trees were stripped of foliage, something that may happen in the high winds of hurricanes and tornados – it will grow back. Focus more on the damage done to the branch structure. Loss of or severe damage to most of the main branches likely means the tree should be removed. This would be particularly true for brittle wooded species such as pecan, pine, maple or hackberry. Trees that lose only secondary branches and few or no major branches can generally be pruned and saved.

Evaluating standing trees to determine if they need to be removed or can be saved is often best done by a knowledgeable individual. If you have difficulty determining which standing trees could be salvaged, contact a local licensed arborist to look over the trees and help you decide. There is no hurry to make these decisions. It is often advisable to wait until the next spring/summer to see how the tree grows out and recovers before making a final judgment.

Trees are among the most valuable and irreplaceable parts of our landscapes. After storms with high winds move through an area, properly dealing with damage to trees primarily involves determine what can be saved, how to do it and what should be removed.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu  

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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