NC State Extension

Storm Damaged Landscape Trees

Hurricanes, Tornados, and Ice Storms can all damage landscape trees

Prevention

Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

Plant Selection

  • Avoid tree species with brittle wood, weakly attached limbs, or spreading, weeping or vase like crowns that are more susceptible to storm damage.
  • Trees with upright, narrow crowns, or fewer and thicker branches are less susceptible to storm damage.
Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

Identify Trees at Risk and Monitor Regularly

  • Form:  Trees with Co-dominant leaders or Bark included crotch are more likely to be damaged in storms.
  • Roots:  Girdling roots can impede the root system and create a weak spot that is often the point of failure in storms.
  • Decay: Damage from insects or disease can weaken wood and make it vulnerable to storm damage.
  • Damage: Injury from improper pruning (flush cuts, topping)  and staking (with wrong materials or left on too long),  mechanical damage from lawnmowers and weedeaters, poor maintenance including mulch around the trunk, improper placement or amount of irrigation.
  • Site:  Confined space for roots; shallow, compacted, or waterlogged soil; wrong plant for the space.
Tree with limbs broken by ice storm

Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

Preventative Pruning or Removal – Consider hiring a certified arborist.

  • Some problems can be eliminated with proper pruning.
  • Other problems can not be corrected, remove the tree to prevent storm damage.

Management

First assess site safety. Check for downed power lines. Examine tree canopies for large broken limbs that could fall.  Identify broken, bent and twisted limbs under tension that may unexpectedly spring back.

Remove the Weight

  • After a heavy snow, remove the snow from limbs with a broom, brushing up from below the limb and away from the tree. Start at the bottom and work up so as not to add to the load on lower limbs.
  • Wait for the ice to melt.
Image by Lucy Bradley CC-BY

Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

Assess the damage and decide whether to remove or keep the tree

  • Remove:
    • Trees that have other issues: poor health, unattractive form, messy, wrong place, undesirable species, insect or disease damage.
    • Large, wind thrown trees, ripped from the ground.
    • Large, leaning trees.
    • Trees with extensive trunk damage
    • Trees with more than 50% of canopy damaged
    • Trees with major limbs broken
    • Trees where the central leader is broken
    • Trees that will no longer be a beautiful asset to your landscape
  • Consider keeping
    • Small trees that have been uprooted.  Immediately straighten, replant and stake.
    • Small trees with intact leader and scaffold branches.
  • When in doubt, postpone the decision and evaluate the tree again in a few months.
Downed Large Oak being removed

Image by Lucy Bradley CC-0

When to hire a certified arborist.

  • If a ladder or chainsaw will be required to prune.
  • If a crane or other large equipment will be needed.
  • If there are power lines in the area.
  • If there is potential for property damage.
  • It there are bent or twisted branches under pressure that may cause kick back.
  • If you want advice on whether to prune or to remove the tree.
  • The tree is of great sentimental or financial value.
Image by the Arbor Day Foundation

Image by the Arbor Day Foundation  CC-BY-0

Corrective Pruning consider hiringcertified arborist.

  • Use a three step process to remove split, cracked, torn, or extensively damaged branches at their point of origin. See General Pruning Techniques for information on where and how to make pruning cuts.
    • A.  Several inches out on the limb, away from the trunk, make a partial cut, 1/4 of the way through the branch from the bottom of the limb . This will prevent the bark from tearing.
    • B.  Several inches beyond the first cut make a second cut beginning on the top of the branch and cutting all the way through the limb. This removes the weight of the limb.
    • C.  Make the final cut from the branch bark ridge to just outside the branch collar. This will allow the tree to seal the wound quickly.
  • Remove jagged, rough edges.
  • Clean up wounds – remove torn bark at point of attachment.
  • Do not top trees.  Cutting back to a stub promotes the growth of weakly attached branches which are likely to be damaged in future storms.
  • Many deciduous and evergreen shrubs (excluding conifers like thuja, juniper, cedars and arborvitae) can be cut back to within a few feet of the ground and will regrow. However, they are unlikely to bloom the first year after pruning.
  • Do not prune other than to remove damaged wood.  The tree will need all its remaining leaves to produce food for regrowth.  Wait until the tree recovers to do cosmetic pruning.
  • Do not paint the wounds.

Straighten and stake small uprooted trees.

Cabling and Bracing

  • This is usually a preventative strategy rather than corrective.
  • Consult a certified arborist

Do not fertilize storm damaged trees

Select, stronger, better adapted species when replacing trees.

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More information:

Written By

Photo of Dr. Lucy BradleyDr. Lucy BradleyExtension Urban Horticulture Specialist (919) 513-2001 lucy_bradley@ncsu.eduHorticultural Science - NC State University
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