The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

What to do with storm damaged trees

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Our recent reminder of the power of nature is a humbling and unnerving experience at best. My heart goes out to all who have lost so much. Even if you were not in the line of severe storms high wind damage can be devastating to trees and to our scene psyche.

If the tree is still standing but has obvious branch damage and is not a hazard or liability, remember pruning can wait until later in the winter. Don't be pushed into doing it yourself or hiring someone you are not confident of in order to "get 'er done".

First, evaluate the tree and its after storm survival. If over half of the tree has to be removed, then it's time to ask yourself; "is the tree worth saving?" If the tree is no longer aesthetically pleasing or considered hazardous after the damaged limbs are removed, perhaps it is time for a new tree. Also consider if the tree is a species vulnerable to future ice and wind damage. Siberian elm, American elm, silver maple, river birch, honeylocust, hackberry and 'Bradford' pear often suffer storm damage.

Decide if you can do the pruning or if it requires a professional. Hire a certified arborist if overhead chainsaw work is needed, limbs are hanging or climbing is necessary. While a fast clean-up is important to many homeowners, not hiring a reputable tree service may create additional problems. Be patient, local reputable companies are very busy.

Be sure to ask professionals about their pruning and clean-up procedures, experience, insurance and local references. If possible, solicit several bids with large jobs.

A list of International Society of Arboriculture certified arborists can be found at

A few tips when dealing with storm damaged trees:

Sometimes broken branches strip the bark. If more than one third of the bark around the circumference of the trunk has been stripped, the odds of the tree's survival are reduced. Smoothing the ragged edge of torn bark helps the wound "heal" faster. Carefully use a chisel or sharp knife to remove the ragged edges of wounds where the bark has been torn. Avoid cutting deeply to reduce additional damage. Remove only hanging bark. Do not make the wound any larger than necessary. It is no longer recommended to shape the wound into an ellipse.

Use correct pruning techniques. Avoid flush cuts. The branch bark ridge (the roughened bark area between the branch and the trunk) and the branch collar (the swollen area on the bottom of the branch) should be maintained after pruning. The branch collar appears similar to the first knuckle (closest to your palm) of your thumb.

Remove branches to the nearest lateral branch, bud or main stem. Do not leave branch stubs that can lead to insect and disease problems. Refrain from removing live branches in a quest to develop a symmetrical shape. It's like trying to correct a bad haircut. You always end up with too much good stuff on the floor that you can't glue back on. Allow the tree time to recover before doing any major shaping.

Do not top trees. It causes a proliferation of small branches which are susceptible to future damage. Plus it's just ugly.

Branches smaller than 3 inches in diameter can be removed with pruners, loppers or pole pruners. Larger limbs will require a bow or pruning saw. Large branches should be removed by the three-cut method. The first cut is an undercut partially through the branch beyond the final pruning to prevent bark stripping. The second cut is beyond the undercut and removes the majority of the branch. The third cut is the final cut. Do not apply any wound dressings.

Check out our website for more info about post disaster issues

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