Tree Damage from Storms – What Comes Next?

After a storm rips through your yard, it often leaves in its wake significant damage – both seen and unseen. Beyond the leaves and sticks that are left around the yard (which could be collected and used for compost), there is often structural damage caused to your trees.

All trees in the yard should be inspected by a professional following a storm to ensure their structural integrity.

Note that it’s not just fallen or dangling branches that are the danger. Some branches may appear to be structurally sound but may have been seriously damaged by the storm which professionals will be able to identify, but the average layperson may not. This is why it’s important not to let children under tree branches until the all-clear has been given and the professionals are confident the trees are structurally sound.

Inspecting the Tree

When inspecting a tree for potential damage, remember it’s important for a professional opinion. Professionals will look out for key danger signs such as (but not exclusively):

1. SPLIT BRANCHES
Splits in the branches are often a sign that the branch is irreparable. They show up as visible ‘cracks’ in the branches, often leading to fresh wet splinters pointing outwards from the branch. You might also notice that a split branch sags or is twisted. If the split branch is not attended to, it may die off and become hanging dead lumber, which can be very dangerous for people passing under the tree.

2. HANGING BRANCHES
Hanging branches are one of the more obvious signs of tree damage. These branches are prone to falling in the weeks after a storm and often need to be cut down. Depending on the height of the branch, an arborist may use a chainsaw or gas pole saw to get access to the branches. They will clear the area and make all important precautions before getting to work removing the branches. 

3. HOLES OR CHUNKS TAKEN OUT OF THE TRUNK
When branches are torn from a tree, they will often take with them chunks from the tree’s trunk. When chunks are taken from the trunk, the structural integrity of the tree may be compromised. An arborist’s assessment will be required to see whether the tree needs to be removed.

4. RAISED SOIL OR NEWLY EXPOSED ROOTS
Serious storms may push or lift the tree from its roots. While a tree may appear to not be on a lean and – to a naked eye – structurally sound, arborists will look for signs that the tree has been displaced by looking at the soil around the base. Raised soil and exposed roots could be a sign that the tree is unstable and may need to be cut down.

Pruning and Repairs

Once the tree has been professionally inspected, the arborist will put in place some procedures to ensure the tree is safe and will recover. Alternately, they may completely remove the tree.

REMOVING BROKEN BRANCHES
Broken branches that are hanging dangerously or unlikely to recover will need to be removed. A landscaper or arborist will use a cordless pole saw to reach higher-up branches and remove them.

CAREFUL AND LIMITED PRUNING
One of the dangers of pruning the tree is that pruners focus on aesthetics rather than tree health. It’s important not to over-prune with the goal of making the tree look symmetrical. Instead, each branch should be assessed based on its health and the safety of people and property nearby.

Another common mistake is to top the tree (where the trunk is cut at the base of the canopy. Topping the tree reduces the tree’s energy-producing capacity, causes it to grow back in an aesthetically unpleasing manner, and in extreme circumstances could cause the tree to die. Usually, arborists recommend that you should not remove more than 50% of the canopy.

WOUND TREATMENT
Wound treatment is a strategy that is controversial and increasingly discouraged by professionals. Wound treatments that involve petroleum solvents such as tar and paints are today seen as both environmentally unfriendly and ineffective. Some new wound treatments that are based on natural products can be found on the market, but wound dressings and sealants are often regarded as less effective than allowing bark to grow over the wound and allowing the tree to heal on its own.

RECYCLING OF REMOVED BRANCHES
After the tree has been repaired, there will be a lot of removed branches and foliage that can be put to good use. Thicker trunks and branches can make good firewood. This can be seasoned on a firewood rack before it is used for domestic fireplaces. Similarly, twigs and smaller branches can be dried out and used for kindling in domestic fireplaces.

Foliage can also be utilized as compost for helping to regenerate and grow your gardens.

Tools used to Work on the Tree

One of the many reasons we think an arborist is the best person to do this job is that they have the knowledge and tools to go about attacking the problem. Key tools in an arborist’s toolkit include:

CHAINSAW
Central to the arborist’s work is the chainsaw. This is used to both prune branches and cut down entire branches or trunks. The arborist will climb the tree using their climbing gear to access the appropriate branches. They will then feed up the chainsaw using a pulley system. But sometimes it’s easier to use a portable electric pole saw which has a high reach so they can work on the tree from the ground level.

HAND SAW
A hand saw is often used when a chainsaw is just too crude for a gentle job. It can also come in useful when working high up or in spaces where the weight and size of a chainsaw is not conducive to effective work.

CLIMBING GEAR
All arborists need climbing gear to get up into the trees. Examples of climbing gear include their ropes, harness, carabiners, radios and climbing gloves. Depending on the type of climbing gear, belay devices may also be required.

PRESONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
Given that arborists are often working at heights, with loud power tools, and with falling and chipping branches, they need serious personal protective equipment. PPE for an arborist will include wrap around eye protection, earmuffs, an N95 mask, and a helmet. On top of this, their climbing gear (discussed above) will be designed with safety in mind to ensure the arborist gets the job done without any injuries to anyone in the region.

WOOD CHIPPER
Once the job is done, the leftover wood needs to be disposed of. If the land owner doesn’t want to keep it for compost or firewood, the arborist may dispose of it for you. This will often mean they will chip the wood using their wood chipper and either sell it on, dispose of it, or use it themselves!

Final Thoughts: Contacting an Arborist

This information has been a brief introduction to what happens when tree damage occurs due to storms. Now that you know some of the steps that arborists take, it’s time to get in touch with an arborist to get their assessment of the tree’s structural damage and what needs to happen next.

It’s usually best to use a professional arborist for this sort of work, and be sure not to operate a pole saw on a ladder!

We’re not professional arborists, so we can’t provide professional advice for your circumstances. It’s best to contact an arborist in your area for an assessment of what needs to be done to ensure the structural integrity of your trees. People in the United States can use the Tree Care Industry Association’s search page to find a qualified arborist in your region.