Caring for tress damaged in a storm

Steve Allgeier
Carroll County Master Gardener Program

Interesting and dangerous things can happen to trees during a storm. During a recent storm I watched my recently topped Silver Maple (This was topped prior to my ownership. Topping greatly increases the chance of significant structural problems for trees) moan and groan in the winds, I was already thinking, “this tree needs to be removed if it survives the storm”. The tree did survive, like a great majority of other trees, but a significant number of others were damaged or destroyed.

The days after the storm I spent much of my time surveying downed trees and speaking with arborist about what common trends and problems could be found from the wind damage of this storm.

Bradford pear
Pyrus calleryana

The storm helped to expose a lot of problems inherent to several species of trees. Many weak wooded trees broke apart. The Bradford Pear led the pack with this particular problem. Even the “improved” Pears suffered significant limb damage. Many of the essentially weak rooted Purple Plums were toppled, but may yet live to see another day if appropriately staked. These Plums should probably be replaced though, with a more reliable small tree, since they are typically plagued with a variety of other problems such as insects and disease.

Many Leyland Cypress, a favorite screening tree, were either pulled completely out of the ground or knocked several “degrees out of square”. Again like Purple Plum these can probably be staked in to an upright position.

Root failure, where the root system pulls out of the ground, occurred frequently in Black Locust and other large trees such as oaks. Fast growing cottonwoods and hybrid poplars had significant breakage, thus helping to reinforce the general fact that fast growing trees tend to have week wood.

As easy as it is to blame storm damage on the storm, man has contributed significantly to many of the storm related tree problems. Trees that were in poor health should be accessed by a reliable arborist and removed in a timelier manner. Alan Summer of Carroll Gardens was surprised at how diminished the root systems were on theses upended trees after observing them post Isabel.

Several large apparently healthy trees toppled over because they had been planted too deeply or planted so that the roots would eventually girdle or encircle the root collar. Strong reliable trees that should have been standing were snapped off at the base because of improper planting at the time of installation. These trees had been girdled by their own roots, the wire cages that are used for balled and burlapped trees or had been strangled by the plastic twine that encircles the root collars of balled trees. Cutting away any twine, caging or burlap (there is much synthetic burlap out there that does not decompose) at planting will help to reduce the chances of trouble later on.

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