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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2008

After a storm: How to care for trees damaged by nasty weather

During severe-weather season, it isn't uncommon for Mother Nature to rip through a neighborhood with straight-line winds one minute, then settle down into silence the next.

In their wake: downed trees and damaged limbs, which in recent weeks have caused local tree companies to fire up their chainsaws and work overtime.

After the storm blows over, the first thing you need to do is step back and assess the damage. Take a look at the overall structure of the tree, then look closer at the entire canopy, trunk, and roots.

Workers from All Seasons Tree Care remove storm-damaged trees.
Workers from All Seasons Tree Care remove storm-damaged trees.
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Shad Smith, a certified arborist and owner of All Seasons Tree Care, said you can break storm damage down into three categories:

Minor damage is anything that is obvious to any homeowner. Mr. Smith says, "We're talking mainly cosmetic damage. Minor damage can be a small broken limb that is hanging over a walkway or a play set [that] would be a concern, especially in a high-traffic area."

Medium damage may not be as obvious high in the canopy. Larger limbs of more than an inch in diameter may be damaged along with many small limbs.

Major damage is the worst. The central, dominant leader, trunk, or roots may have been ripped off a large tree. "Large limbs that are basketball-size in diameter would be considered major damage," Smith said. "A limb larger than golf-ball size in diameter in a tall tree can even be dangerous and potentially hurt someone."

Matt DeWitt removes limbs from a Toledo home. Matt DeWitt removes limbs from a Toledo home.
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If you have heavy-medium damage and major damage, it is time to call in a professional arborist to safely take the damaged wood out. They can properly prune trees with medium damage to grow back with a pleasing structure.

The buzz of chainsaws has been vibrating through neighborhoods all over northwest Ohio the past several weeks.

"All other work goes on hold after major storms," said Rich Savory, certified arborist and manager of L.E. Savory Tree and Lawn Service. His crews have been working around the clock to help people remove limbs that have been damaged in recent storms and have become dangerous.

"We are seeing a concentration of damage in Sylvania Township and Perrysburg," he said.

"And the damage is across the board, from just a few limbs to the whole tree. Most of the damage is on trees that were declining or were showing signs of disease and weren't strong enough to hold up to straight line winds."

"The biggest mistake most homeowners make is trying to clean things up before the storm is over," Savory said. "This can also be dangerous. The best thing to do is wait until the storm has completely blown over, then start picking up the pieces."

He said it is also dangerous to start tugging on dangling branches. "You never know what you are going to pull down. If it is too high for you to reach, you will have to call in a tree service to help. Tugging on a branch too hard from the ground could even cause more damage in the canopy, or end up falling on you, so you really need to be careful."

So, you've determined that you have minor damage and want to tackle the project on your own. First, you need a limb saw or sharp garden nippers. Always start out with clean and sharp tools. Be sure to clean the blade with alcohol before each pruning cut to be sure you are not spreading disease from one limb to another.

Don't forget your basic pruning techniques. Always trim the limb back to the actively growing part. Look for a swollen bud and make a diagonal cut at that point. If the whole limb is damaged, cut it back to the growth ring near where the limb grows out of the trunk. This is called the limb's collar. Make a diagonal cut and be careful not to cut into the collar.

If the limb is larger than your wrist in diameter, it is crossing over into the medium damage range. If it is low in the canopy and you feel comfortable reaching it, you can cut it down. If it is out of reach or too large for you to cut through easily, save it for the pros.

"Larger limbs have to be removed in stages," Savory said. "You might have to cut part of it off at least a couple feet from the trunk just to get the extra weight off the crotch where the damaged limb meets the tree. Then go back and finish the proper pruning cut closer to the collar of the limb.

"Sometimes big limbs high in the tree have to be lowered down with a rope so it won't cause damage below when it falls. That's where a professional service can take care of the situation safely for you."

Ohio State University and Michigan State University scientists don't recommend using any type of healing paint on the open wounds. Latest research shows that the tree heals faster on its own.

Stand back and let the certified arborist clean up your tree. "Major repairs might call for us to reshape the entire tree just to make it look nice again," Savory said. "It can also mean that we have to go in and do some heavy cabling to pull a section of a tree together to hide major damage.

He says a tree's canopy acts as a wind-break for all of the branches collectively. "Losing a major part of the tree can cause even more damage down the road because the other branches aren't there anymore to protect each other from strong winds."

Sometimes they can save trees even before a storm hits. Much of the damage limbs and trunks have been weakened by rot or insects. Then they aren't strong enough to withstand 30 mile per hour wind gusts that are common in severe thunderstorms. Arborists like Savory and Smith suggest getting ahead of potentially dangerous situations and have a certified arborist evaluate your trees every year.

A young tree can grow up to be a big problem if it isn't shaped properly. Trees that grow with two dominant leaders end up with two large trunks. This is called a v-crotch and can be very dangerous if the tree is near a house or high traffic area. The crotch area isn't strong and can easily break off in high winds and the heavy trunk will damage everything on its way down. One of the leaders needs to be pruned out as soon as possible for the tree to grow strong and safe.

"Wind damage is like maintaining your vehicle," Smith said. "You might not know what's going on with rot, or damage in the upper canopy. You need to keep inspecting the trees in your yard."



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