On our farm, we are surrounded by huge, century-old maples and cottonwoods. These stately trees are part of what gives our family farm its character. However, they are continually prone to storm damage, especially severe thunderstorms that strike every summer. One of the big questions farmers and ranchers have about their trees is what to do with one of those old giants if a storm strikes. The National Arbor Day Foundation, in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the International Society of Arboriculture, along with several state forest service agencies, offer numerous tips for how to treat trees after the storm. Gleaning from these numerous sources and my own personal experiences, I’ve written my list of considerations that may be useful if your place is hit by a storm this summer.
• Assess the damage. Make sure it is safe. Check if large limbs are broken or hanging. If they are, observe whether they are hanging on power lines or are hung up against structures or other trees. Such hazardous limbs must be dealt with first, and normally, you need to call in the professionals. Be sure to contact power company technicians to deal with any power line issues immediately. If the broken limbs are high, you will most likely need to get professional arborists involved with their equipment to drop the limbs safely. In the meantime, make sure everyone stays clear of these dangerous situations, because any breeze or disturbance could bring the limbs crashing down.
• Remove broken limbs safely and carefully. Smaller broken limbs need to be removed. Removing and pruning these smaller jagged limbs will help minimize any chance of decay agents and insects entering the damaged area of the tree.
• Don’t overdo it. While you have the pruning shears in hand, you might be tempted to try to even things out. However, recognize that the tree is already stressed, so don’t worry about unbalanced branches for now. Just clean up the jagged, broken branches, prune back to the branch collar correctly and allow the tree to heal itself over time. Never top the tree out or cut back the main trunk or branches of the tree.
• How about the bark? Simply use a sharp knife or handsaw to cut away damaged bark and even out the torn areas where bark has been ripped away from the wood. You do not want to expose the inner cambium any more than you have to, because this provides the nutrient source for the tree. Cleaning the torn areas is the best you can do to help the wounds heal and eliminate any potential hiding places for insect pests.
• How about severely damaged trees? You will have to make the tough decision whether the tree is a keeper or if it needs to go. If the damage is light, you can follow the steps already outlined and allow the tree to heal. If the tree has some family or historic significance on your place, it might be worth the time to repair the tree as best you can and wait to see how well it recovers. Certainly, if the main trunk and branches of the tree are severely damaged, or if the trunk is split and more than 50% of the crown is gone, the tree most likely has a low chance at survival. This would be a candidate for removal and replacement. Your local forestry or arborist professional can help you make those decisions.
For more information, visit arborday.org.