Addressing Tree Damage Following a Storm
by Gabrielle Harden, Forestry Extension Educator
Make sure there are no downed utility lines or trees touching lines. If you see lines near trees or on the ground, do not approach them or try to guess which wires might be dangerous or safe. Contact the power company to report down lines or trees touching utility lines. If you will be using a chainsaw, get training and use personal protection equipment or hire a professional.
Assess the damage
Look for how bad a tree is damaged. Are there large branches that are broken and remain hanging overhead? Does the tree have a broken top and if so, how much is broken off? Is the trunk split? Is the tree leaning or has it been completely uprooted? Is the leader broken? What proportion of the crown is damaged? How big are the wounds? Can the remaining branches form a new structure? You may need to decide fairly quickly whether an injured tree needs to be heavily pruned or removed. Hire a professional arborist to work on more severely damaged and large, valuable trees.
Minor damage such as small broken branches or minor splits can be dealt with without professional assistance. However, use extreme caution when pruning. Damaged branches that are bent and under tension or compression could shift or break and be thrown or fall as you are cutting them, resulting in injury. Do not over-prune or top your tree. This can increase tree stress and make the tree more vulnerable to insect attacks. Cut broken branches back to the spot where they join a larger, healthy branch. For more information on pruning, visit https://forestry.usu.edu/news/utah-forest-facts/pruning-landscape-trees-an-overview. Leave damaged bark alone. Only remove it if it becomes clear that it will not survive. Wound wood or callus will begin to grow at wound edges in response to the damage.
Decide what to do
If 50% or more of the trees canopy is undamaged, it should recover. Take some time to remove broken branch stubs to help the tree heal. A stressed tree with fresh wounds may attract insects and diseases. Watering injured trees will reduce stress. If greater than 50% of the canopy is damaged, consider calling a professional for help and possible tree removal. This much canopy damage will make it difficult for your tree to recover. Older, slow growing trees will have a harder time recovering from injuries. After pruning and cutting trees down, you can use the wood for firewood or other purposes, though this may encourage spread of insects or diseases to remaining healthy trees.