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Storm-damaged trees: Here's what you can do

In recent weeks, violent weather has been affecting a major part of the United States. I've been receiving a lot of e-mails asking my advice about what can be done with storm-damaged trees.

Many months ago, I wrote an article on this subject, and several readers have requested that I reprint it, as it contained a lot of information (and some useful Internet links) that landscapers and gardeners need to know as they deal with the aftermath of a major storm.

So here it is... an "encore presentation" as they say on TV!

As you know, it's quite common for me to praise the beauty of Nature. But there is another side we tend to ignore until it lands, quite literally, in our own back yard.

The forces of Nature can be extraordinarily powerful and terribly destructive. Many years of careful nurturing will often be severely damaged or even destroyed in a matter of seconds. Hurricanes, tornadoes and severe storms of every type uproot and strip trees and shrubs, and that can be heartbreaking for both the professional landscaper and the average homeowner.

The first thing you need to do is assess the amount of actual damage. Sometimes, strewn branches and other debris can make a situation look worse than it actually is. Take some time to clean up your landscape and remove the odds and ends that are littering the site. Until you do this you can't see the wood for the trees. Or is it the other way around?

Now for the damage appraisal. The damage can probably be categorized as follows: Fallen trees, exposed roots, broken or torn limbs and "wounds".

Here is a brief overview of each of these categories.

Fallen trees.

Sadly, a large fallen tree is a lost cause, as a general rule. Unless you want to get out a chainsaw and turn it into firewood, you'll need to call a tree service to haul it away. Of course that still leaves you with the stump. You can level off the stump and make it an ornamental feature, or have a landscaper pull or dig it out. If they can pull it out (rather than dig it out) the process is generally quicker and less expensive.

There's a good chance that a small, young tree will survive if you can reset it quite quickly and if the roots are relatively undamaged. You might want to stake it too, to help it "get back on its feet."

Exposed roots.

If the roots are exposed but the tree is not noticeably tilting, all that might be needed is to re-cover the roots. I suggest you try to use the soil that is already in the immediate vicinity and then add some mulch, such as pine straw, to prevent the roots drying out.

Broken or torn limbs.

Cut back the damaged limbs to just outside of the branch collar. Be very careful when cutting heavy limbs! You might need to make up to three separate cuts, getting closer to trunk with each cut, to prevent the weight of the limb tearing and stripping the bark as it falls. I suggest you consider calling in a professional service to remove very large limbs. This can be dangerous work!


Prune as lightly as possible after a tree or shrub has been storm damaged toprevent adding to the "shock." Make clean cuts and only remove those branches that have been damaged. Some experts suggest painting the newly exposed cut with a tree-wound dressing; other experts say there's no evidence to support such a course of action. You have to decide which expert to believe. But like chicken soup, it might not help but it probably won't hurt!

Speaking of experts, I highly recommend that you visit the following web sites for a lot of very useful information about dealing with storm-damaged trees and shrubs:

"The Storm-Damaged Landscape after a Disaster" (publication # 490-329) from the Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech. http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/disaster/490-329/490-329.html

"Caring for Hurricane-Damaged Home Landscape Plants" by Robert J. Black of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY_EP066

"Hurricane-Damaged Shade, Ornamental & Fruit Trees" by Dr. Richard Mullenax, Extension Horticulture Department, Mississippi State University. http://msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is1355.htm

There are direct links to all three of these resources at my web site. Simply go to www.landsteward.org and find this column archived under "The Plant Man" heading. From there you can click on any of the links.

With a little TLC and a helping of sweat-equity, your storm-damaged landscape can begin to regain - or even exceed - its former glory.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org

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