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Do your trees have wind damage? Here’s what you should be doing about it.

In the Garden

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It’s an understatement to say the Labor Day storm was impressive and caused a great deal of damage. Many people are now looking at their trees and wondering what they can do with broken branches, split trunks, or major bark tears to try and help them heal.

The answer to that question is variable and depends on the type of tree, the age of the tree, how much damage occurred, overall health of the tree before the storm, its structural integrity after the damage, and ultimately the long-term safety of the tree.

The timing of this storm was unusual, as most windstorms occur in the spring. With this storm occurring in late summer to early fall, it may affect trees differently than if it had happened back in April since most trees are starting to get ready for fall and going dormant. Ultimately, they will probably start doing most healing next spring since its later in the season. file photo

But right now, what can, and should be done with wind-damaged trees? Here are a few guidelines:

  • Look thoroughly at all of your trees and examine them to identify any damage. Damage may include the base of where branches broke off, partially broken branches that are still attached, structural cracks in the trunk or main branches, tilted or leaning trees due to poor anchorage, or any other visible damage.
  • If a branch broke, but is still partially attached, you should do a clean-cut removal at the base of the branch to help the tree begin to heal over the scarred location. If not removed, it can take years or decades for the branch to rot off and the tree to close up the wound.
  • Avoid leaving stubs or stumps where branches were broken off. This means using a sharp set of pruners or a sharp pruning saw to remove any stump or stub left from where a branch broke.
  • Avoid using dull pruners or saws, as they don’t give you a clean cut and can cause further damage to the already wounded location. The bark surrounding the base of a branch is commonly referred to as the branch collar. If this is damaged by a saw or blade, it will take longer to heal or may not heal properly. Many times the branch collar will be torn due to the branch ripping away from the tree. Sadly this will take the tree longer to heal over the wound when compared to a nice clean cut. There isn’t much you can do about the damage to the branch collar, but try to remove tissue that is dying / dead and will ultimately impede the tree from closing up the wound.
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  • If you don’t know how to properly prune branches without damaging the branch collar, research how to do this by finding resources from the various University Extension services. This will give you the most research-based information. There is a vast amount of guidance on how to properly prune your trees from the land grant universities here in the US, and more applicably from the states in the Intermountain West.
  • If your tree has major structural damage, like the trunk or major branches have been injured, it is best to seek the advice of a certified arborist to help you determine if the tree is salvageable.
  • If your tree is now tipped at an angle due to poor anchorage you have a few decisions to make regarding its future. Identify why it tipped in the first place. Perhaps the soil was moist when the wind hit, which if that was the case you will need to stabilize the tree to prevent it from continuing to tip over. If that was the case and the tree is young, you may be able to soak the ground around the tree, and then tip it back upright. If you do this, it is essential that you anchor it in place for at least a couple of years to prevent it from re-tipping over and give it the time to develop its root system and become secure. Trees that didn’t have moist soil and have tipped over in the storm will need to evaluated on a case by case basis as some most not be salvageable, and may need to be removed. Others (typically the smaller trees) could just be anchored and will root out again and survive, but just be crooked. All these questions and the subsequent decision to keep them are subject to the type of tree, the amount of tipping and damage, and ultimately the BIG question—if you keep this tree, will it be a safety hazard in the future? Keep in mind that an unstable tree is never worth keeping as it poses a threat to life, bodily injury, or further property damage.
  • For questions on gardening and trees you can contact Lance at 208-624-3102.