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Trees after Storms


Helping Your Trees Survive Storm Damage

A tree damaged during a storm does not mean the tree is lost. With proper pruning, you can restore the shape and health of many of the damaged trees. A tree that appears damaged can still be structurally sound, and capable of providing benefits to you and your community.

Where broken limbs can be accessed safely within easy reach, pruning can be done immediately but it will not harm the tree to leave clean-up cutting until March or just before the spring thaw. Unless you have hanging or drooping branches that pose a safety hazard, it is best for now to leave trees alone if ice remains on them, since removing ice-laden branches may damage the tree and there may be personal danger at this time.

If work is out of easy reach, hire a certified professional and supervise any work that is done, particularly ensuring that clean-up cuts are made properly. Do not attempt to remove branches where hydro wires are involved. Report them to Hydro and wait for their staff to remove them.

Clean Up Broken Branches

Cutting a straight, clean edge close to the mother branch or trunk is critical because broken branches and loose or torn bark can harbour insects and disease organisms. Pruning cuts should be made close to but beyond the branch bark ridges' and the collar at the branch attachment (Figure 1). Avoid making a wound too close or flush to the trunk, which will open it up to infection and slower closure. Do not cut into the branch bark ridges or branch collar, since this zone is an effective barrier to decay between the branch and trunk or a mother branch. Flush cuts also make the wound size bigger than it needs to be, exposing trunk tissue to organisms that cause decay. It is preferable to cut the branch back to the collar rather than leaving a branch stub, even though the wound area will be larger than that left by a stub. For smaller trees, curved shears make closer cuts than straight ones, causing less damage to stem tissue. Place the blade so that it cuts upwards or diagonally, instead of down.

Branches over 25mm in diameter should be cut with a saw. Be extra careful with chain saws, not only for personal safety, but because they can damage live bark on trees.

Figure 1: Branch Bark Ridges, Branch Collars and the Three Cut System

Remove large limbs (over 50mm in diameter) by making three cuts to avoid splitting and bark tearing. The three-cut system is as follows:

  1. on the bottom side of the branch 300 to 600mm from the branch attachment, one-quarter of the way through:
  2. on the top side of the branch 25mm out from the first cut (away from the branch attachment) and saw until the limb breaks off; and
  3. just beyond the outer portion of the branch collar. This can be done in two phases, initially from the bottom halfway through and then from the top.

When removing a terminal branch be careful not to cut the branch bark ridge of the lateral. For a mature tree, use the three-cut system and make the final cut at an angle parallel to the branch bark ridge of the highest major lateral branch, leaving no stub.

When cutting a terminal branch back to a lateral on a young tree, cut up parallel to the direction of the lateral. Leave a short stub, 1/4 inch above the topmost bud. If you cut down, you will usually cut into the branch bark ridge and often split the lateral.

Pruning should be done before the spring growth spurt. Early priming will minimize the size of the wounds and hasten their closure. When temperatures plummet below -20oC, the hardiness of tissue near pruning cuts may be reduced, thus, it is best to wait until just before growth begins in the spring.

Remove Torn Bark

Torn and damaged bark should be removed to avoid surface areas that can harbour insects and disease organisms. When cleaning a wound, use a sharp wood chisel, gouge or pruning knife to cut the loose bark at right angles to the wound surface. Cut it back to firm bark. Smooth bark so it will not trap water and debris. Ensure that the bottom is tapered rather than squared-off to avoid collecting water at the base of the wound. Leave as much firmly-attached live bark as possible, even if the live bark forms islands or peninsulas in a wound area.

Maintain Tree Vigor

Wounds caused by breakage and tearing of limbs and bark begin the process that can lead to decay, caused by fungi and bacteria. In a healthy tree, wounds and decay are compartmentalized by protective zones that prevent the movement of microorganisms into and out of wounded wood, confining and deterring the progression of decay. Callusing around the wound or cut will form, which will be doughnut-shaped if a proper cut was made, and eventually close over. However, the rate of callusing or closing depends on the tree's vigor. Practices that encourage growth not only speed wound closure but reduce the possibility of decay. Vigor can be maintained by wise irrigation, pest management and fertilization.

Painting and dressing of wounds have proven to be of little or no value in hastening wound closure. These serve a primarily aesthetic function. Sealing compounds have also been found to be of little use. Trees will seal, form a callus and close wounds themselves. The best action is to minimize exposed surface areas by pruning back to the branch collar, remove torn and dead bark, maintain healthy conditions and allow the tree to close or form a callus on its own.

Replant In the Spring

If, after receiving advice from a certified tree-care professional, you are faced with tree removal, consider planting new trees in the spring or fall. Try to plant locally hardy native species; for example, Sugar Maples, Red Maples, Green Ash, and Red Oaks. For smaller trees, consider serviceberries.

When selecting the tree species, consider the tree's ultimate size, shape and preferred growing conditions. For example, if planting underneath overhead hydro lines, ensure that the tree's mature height is lower than the hydro lines. Re-establishing trees will take many years, so get started with the replanting this year. Fact sheets on planting are available at the Land Owner Resource Centre in Manotick at 1-888-571-4636.

Split Crotches Can Be Bolted

If the split is clean and most of the wood is still intact, push the branch back to its normal position as soon as possible, and support it by tying or propping. Clean up the rough edges, and drill through the wood, from one side then from the other through the centre of the split. Place a threaded rod through the hole and use washers, being careful to trace around the washer and cut bark behind it.

Insert two more rods above it, separated by a distance equal to twice the diameter of the limbs. Avoid too much pressure. If the split is not clean or most of the wood has separated, it is best to remove these branches to begin the process of forming a callus and closing.

Leave Bending Trees Alone

Unless breakage occurs, tree branches can bend until the tips touch the ground and eventually retain their original position after the spring growth spurt. If breakage does occur, remove the branch. This process of bending back into place can be hastened by pulling branches up and tying them together, providing cross support to hold them in position. However, this should only be done in spring. Do not try to pull branches up if their tops are stuck in the ice, particularly with evergreens. You will damage the branch tips.

Deciduous vs. Coniferous

The above tips apply to conifers as well as deciduous trees. When the top breaks off most conifers, branches in the topmost whorl will bend upward and one usually dominates to become the leader or a latent bud may grow into a new leader. If no leader develops naturally, tie one of the topmost branches upright to induce its transition to becoming the new leader.

Hiring a Contractor

If broken branches are out of easy reach, contract the work to a reputable tree maintenance company. Make the decision to keep or remove trees on a case-by- case basis with the help of a tree expert, such as a tree care company with a certified arborist. When hiring a contractor for either tree removal or clean up cuts:

bulletcheck for liability insurance, workers’ compensation and chain saw certification
bulletensure the company is listed in the phone book, and preferably employs a certified arborist or tree care professional
bulletget at least two estimates
bulletset the terms of the contract clearly in writing
bulletask for references
bulletdo not give a down payment

The Benefits Of Trees

Trees provide many tangible benefits to homeowners, including:

bulletincreasing property values
bulletproviding privacy shade and micro- climates
bulletbeautifying any location
bulletcreating human scale and a green natural appearance
bulletcooling your home in the summer and blocking winds in the winter. Benefits to society include:
bulletreducing the urban heat island effect and creating micro-climates
bulletreducing particulates in the air
bulletabsorbing storm water
bulletreducing erosion and sedimentation
bulletproviding recreational opportunities
bulletcreating shelter for wildlife
bulletirreplaceable aesthetic benefits to any community.

If you’re thinking of removing a damaged tree, reconsider these benefits and get advice from a certified tree care professional. Good luck with your tree care.


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