Storm-damaged Trees Across State Need Proper Care

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  10/28/2005 2:42:33 AM


Get It Growing News For 11/04/05

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused extensive damage in South Louisiana, but their effects weren’t limited to that area. Throughout the state, high winds caused damage as the storms moved northward.

When it comes to landscapes, trees are especially vulnerable to the high winds created by hurricanes and tropical storms. Trees may be blown over, trunks can break, major branches can be broken, and trees can be blown into a leaning position.

Dealing with this damage properly is important.

Professional Arborists Should Do Most Work

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. Let’s face it – most of us simply do not have the equipment or expertise to safely remove large trees or fallen trunks.

By law in Louisiana, the 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. For the purposes of the parishes affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, however, the department has temporarily lifted the arborist licensing requirement for emergency tree work involving downed or broken trees related to the storms.

Even when such exceptions are granted, individuals and companies doing tree work should carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance, and the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry recommends you ask to see proof of insurance before hiring an individual or company.

You also should carefully supervise any tree work being done, and do not pay for the work until it is finished to your satisfaction.

Hanging Branches

After a storm, large branches that are broken but still hanging in the tree should be removed as soon as possible. These branches pose a significant risk, because they could fall at any time.

Less critical are broken stubs – where branches were lost – but these stubs eventually should 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. Pruning paint is not needed or recommended.

Standing Trees – Remove or Save?

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

Many larger trees that receive wind damage but remain upright can be salvaged, depending on how much damage was done to the canopy and the species of the tree.

Do not be concerned if the trees were stripped of foliage. 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 only lose secondary branches and few or no major branches generally can be pruned and saved.

Evaluating standing trees to determine if they need to be removed or can be saved often is 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.

Remember, there is no hurry to make these decisions. In fact, it often is advisable to wait until the next spring or summer to see how the tree grows out and recovers before making a final judgment.

Straighten Leaning Trees

Young trees planted within the past few years often are blown over by high winds. Others may be leaning. These trees, which generally are less than 8 inches in diameter and were planted within about seven years, should be saved.

Straighten them as soon as possible and they will usually survive and recover.

Keep in mind, however, that straightened trees will need to be supported with stakes or guy lines until they reestablish a strong new root system. Leave the support in place for about 9 months to 12 months.

Limited pruning may be done at the time of resetting to remove damaged branches, but do not prune excessively.

As for larger, more mature trees that have blown over, it generally is not practical to try to straighten them.

Foliage Stripped

The high winds of strong hurricanes will strip the foliage from trees – especially in South Louisiana. The good news is trees that have been stripped of foliage are not dead, despite their appearance, and they usually will recover.

Do not immediately cut down trees that have been stripped of foliage by high winds. If they do not produce new growth the following spring, however, they should be removed.

Winds also may damage the foliage without stripping it away. In this instance, the foliage of the tree may appear unhealthy or brown. Again, damaged leaves will not kill a tree, and you should wait until the next spring to determine whether or not the tree has survived.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture