2019 has been the year of severe storms in the North Texas area. The last big storm we had in Dallas was deemed “Hurricane Dallas” on social media and knocked out electricity for days in whole neighborhoods.
Those neighborhoods were also some of our most beautiful because they are full of old growth trees. The only problem with these big beautiful mature trees is they often lose large limbs or even topple over during storms.
In the aftermath of major storms, some of the clean-up is easy to define: the tree that fell on your house, for instance, must be removed and the house repaired. The large branches stopping traffic in the road must be hauled off.
- But what about the more subtle damage?
- What about trees that look mangled but could be saved?
- And what about future prevention so that major damage doesn’t happen again?
Evaluating Subtle Damage
No one wants to destroy their favorite shade tree. And who wants to start another 100-year-old beauty over from scratch? It’s true after a major storm your trees may look ravaged.
- Broken or damaged limbs
- Shredded foliage
- Torn and gouged bark
The good news is these wounds are not necessarily fatal to trees as trees have an amazing ability to recover from storm damage. To assess the severity of the damage, take a closer look at your trees, and ask the following questions.
Is the Tree Basically Healthy and Vigorous?
If there is no major structural damage, your tree will likely recover if first aid measures are applied.
Are Major Limbs Broken?
If most of the main branches have broken off, there is little chance of the tree surviving.
Has the Main Upward-Trending Branch Been Lost?
This leader branch is necessary for the survival of some trees, while others may just become stunted or deformed.
Is at Least 50 Percent of the Tree’s Crown Still Intact?
A tree with less than half of its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another season.
How Big Are the Wounds Where Branches Have Been Broken, or Bark Has Been Damaged?
Large wounds that cannot heal, leave trees vulnerable to disease and pests. Smaller wounds can take 2-3 years to heal, but they will heal.
Can Remaining Branches Form a New Branch Structure?
The tree will try to replace missing foliage, which will cause these branches to grow more vigorously.
Now What? Tree First-Aid
If the damage is slight, prune branches, repair torn bark, and let the tree do the rest. Take some first aid measures and then wait and see how the tree responds, if you have a tree with more problems.
If there is no major structural damage and the roots are sound, you have plenty of time to make a judgment call later. Remember, young trees can recover from quite a bit of damage, and healthy mature trees can recover even if they have lost several major limbs.
If the trunk is split, more than 50% of the crown is gone, the trunk is rotten, or the tree is weak from disease, it’s time to let that tree go.
1. Remove Any Broken Branches Still Attached to the Tree
Simply removing the remains of smaller sized broken limbs will give your tree some of the help it needs. This will minimize the risk of decay agents entering the wound.
Prune smaller branches at the point where they join larger ones. Cut large branches that are broken back to the trunk or a main limb.
2. Repair Torn Bark
Not only will this improve the tree’s appearance, but it eliminates hiding places for insects. Use a chisel or sharp knife with care to smooth the ragged edges of wounds where bark has been torn away.
Be gentle and try not to expose any more of the greenish inner bark than necessary. These fragile layers contain the tree’s food and water lifelines between roots and leaves.
3. Be Safe
Look for downed power lines and dangerous hanging branches. Stay away from downed utility lines, low-voltage telephone, or cable lines and even fence wires that can become electrically by broken electrical lines nearby. Stay away from broken limbs that are hanging or caught in other branches overhead.
4. Don’t Overprune
The tree’s appearance may not be perfect for some time to come. A naked or unbalanced tree will heal quickly, and you may be surprised at how thick the new foliage is.
5. Don’t Top Your Trees
Cutting main branches back to stubs is one of the worst things you can do for your trees. Stubs will grow back a lot of weak branches that are even more likely to break during high storm winds. Also, keep in mind that the tree will need all of its resources to recover from the stress of storm damage.
6. Don’t Do It Yourself
If you are not properly trained to use a chainsaw or climb to the tops of trees, don’t. This is a job for professional arborists. Arborists are also experts at evaluating what a tree really needs to thrive, so getting a second opinion is always a great idea!
We Can Help
- Are you still trying to figure out what to do about the damage from the last set of storms?
- Are you concerned about preventing future damage?
- Or is it just time to have an expert’s opinion on how to best care for your trees?
Old-growth trees make North Texas a desirable place to live. We are also lucky that so many new trees are being planted in new and expanding neighborhoods. Keeping our trees healthy and happy not only honors them but the neighborhoods we live in!