October 23, 2014
Tree Care After Storms: Part I of III
By Steve Scheuring, Horticulturalist
Snow, ice, icy-rain, hail, high-velocity/straight-line winds and even tornadoes, are just a few of the natural perils Michigan trees experience. When storms damage trees, cleanup and recovery can be bewildering. Some injured trees can be treated and repaired to maintain their health and value to your home. Others should be removed. Below are tips that will help you make the right decisions for your trees.
- Check homeowner insurance policy before starting tree work. In all but life threating situations, you may want to contact your insurance carrier before any tree work is performed. Many homeowner policies will cover at least part of the cost of the tree removal if some structural damage has occurred.
- Take photographs of the damage.
- Damaged trees often are tangled with overhead or down utility lines, creating a dangerous situation. Under no circumstances should you remove limbs that have electrical lines running through them. Treat all lines as if they were live. Do not touch or approach them. Alert you electricity provider immediately to the danger, and allow these experts to assess the danger. Special training is required to prune branches near power lines.
- If there is no danger from electrical lines, the first step is to remove trees or limbs that have fallen on your home or are blocking access. Also look for hanging limbs up in the trees that could drop on your home and family. Any remaining tree damage can wait until the immediate crisis has passed.
- As long as there isn’t a safety risk, take you time to assess the damage and make decisions on which trees to cut and which ones to save. Small-sized tree debris on the ground can be cleaned up by most homeowners. Be sure of you footing before you start, especially after ice and snow storms. Unless you are familiar with the safe operation of chain saws and climbing equipment, major tree repair and cleanup should be left to professionals. If you do any of the work yourself, wear eye and ear protection, a hard hat and leather gloves. If operating the chain-saw, also wear chain-saw chaps.
- Don’t take on more than your skill level allows. Chain saw and other heavy work, especially off the ground, and all work on large trees should be done by professionals who have the correct special equipment and training. Be patient. If a tree doesn’t present a hazard, take the time to figure out the best way to care for the tree. If you need the help of professionals, you may have to wait several weeks or months to hire the best ones after a major storm has hit an area.
- Assess the situation. Often damage is relatively minor, with only the smallest branches of the tree being injured. Usually injury of this type results in little or no permanent damage to the tree. All that needs to be done is to clean up the broken twigs and perhaps lightly prune to restore a pleasing shape. Remove loose or loosely attached branches, but don’t over prune.
- If you experience more severe damage such as large broken limbs and splitting, ask yourself, “Given the condition, is it worth saving the tree?” In general, save a tree only if more than 50% of the crown remains intact and if, when repairs are made, the tree will be attractive and of value. Other factors to consider include the tree’s age, species, location and sentimental value. When all of these are considered, it may be more desirable to replace the tree than repair it. If you are not sure, ask a local professional landscape or tree service company.
- When to remove the tree completely? Some trees simply cannot be saved or are not worth saving. If a tree has already been weakened by disease, the trunk is split, or more than 50% of the crown is gone, the tree should be removed. Wind and heavy rain can put severe stress on tree roots and the trunk. If a tree tips in a storm, it often means the roots were damaged or poorly developed before the storm pushed it over. Trees leaning from root breakage usually do not survive well and should be removed. If a tipped tree does survive, it still poses a risk of falling at a later date. A very young tree may survive if it is gently pulled back to its vertical position.
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