Post Hurricane Tree Maintenance
Ok, the big storm has finally blown through and now your trees are looking pretty bad. Some may have even come down during the hurricane. What do you do to save the ones still standing, and how can you tell which ones will make it? This is where the expertise of a professional tree service can be an excellent investment; because once the storm is over, proper maintenance of the surviving trees will have a direct impact on their long-term viability.
EVALUATING STORM DAMAGED TREES
For storm damaged trees that are still standing, knowing which ones are likely to recover and which ones should be taken down is often difficult to determine. The expertise of a tree service professional is invaluable in evaluating your options, performing necessary maintenance, and post-storm clean-up.
In general, trees should be removed if at least one of these applies:
- large limbs are broken
- the lower trunk is cracked or broken
- the tree is leaning towards a structure or other target
- a large stem has split from the tree
- the remaining tree structure is highly susceptible to further damage
- major roots are severed or broken
Trees that can be restored might have any of the following damage:
- defoliated canopy
- small branches that are dead or broken
- some major limbs are broken in decay resistant species, such as live oak or if the tree is young and less than 10 inches in diameter
- most of the canopy is destroyed in decay resistant species
- leaning trees that were recently planted or have trunk diameter of less than 4 inches
RESTORING DAMAGED TREES
Immediately after the storm your tree professional will begin the restoration program by cleaning the canopy. At that time, hazards such as large dead branches and broken limbs should be removed, and smooth pruning cuts made behind jagged branch tips to allow for healthy new growth. Avoid removing all but the most necessary live wood, in order to give the stressed tree as much stored energy as possible to recover.
Next, manage sprouts to build good structure back to the tree. Sprouts work to restore the tree’s ability to manufacture food, taking the place of the leaves lost in the hurricane. Sprouts should be allowed to grow for several years before any major pruning is performed. As sprouts grow and start to compete for light and food, their growth rate will slow. At this point, 1/3 of the sprouts can be removed, 1/3 cut shorter and the rest left to become new branches. This process will need to be repeated over a period of years.
To help protect you, your property and trees, contact Simpson’s Tree Service after hurricane season.
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For uprooted trees, place wet burlap on the roots until the tree can be uprighted. Once the tree is standing upright, cover the roots with dirt and support the upright position with a soft rope attached to stakes placed in the ground away from tree to keep the tree standing.
If a tree is only partially uprooted, fill in any voids in the root base soil. Alternate soil and water until all pockets are filled. To avoid rotting the stem or trunk, be careful not to pile the dirt too high over the roots.
After a hurricane, all trees should be rinsed off with fresh water as thoroughly as possible, as hurricanes carry a large amount of salt inland, and salt will kill most trees and plants.
Because palms grow differently from other trees, it is often difficult to tell if the tree will recover, unless the trunk is snapped in half, in which case the tree is dead. Allow 6 months or longer for the palm to put out new fronds. (These might initially be stunted or discolored.) It may take up to 2 years for the palm to again appear normal with a full canopy of fronds.
Be sure to irrigate 3 times per week for 6 weeks if there isn’t sufficient rainfall—longer if drought continues.
To clean the canopy, your professional will follow 4 steps:
- Remove dead or hanging fronds that could fall and injure person or property
- Remove fronds that cover the bud, so new fronds can emerge
- Leave bent fronds attached to the palm until new fronds fully emerge as green fronds accelerate recovery
- Leave fronds with any green color at all and establish fertilization program.
Do not over-prune palms. A tree service professional knows that an abundance of fronds is necessary to protect the growth-producing bud in a storm or hurricane and that over-pruning weakens the tree and leaves it less likely to withstand the stress of and recover from the storm.
Because they are tall and their wood brittle, pines are very sensitive to wind damage, causing them to snap, lean or uproot. It may take from 6 months to 2 years for a damaged pine to die, and weakened pines are susceptible to insect infestation. Pines whose needles have turned entirely brown should be removed.
To try to save damaged pines, the canopy can be cleaned as follows:
- Remove dead, broken, hanging branches
- Remove branches with brown or no needles
- Leave branches with yellow needles alone, and then see if the tree recovers by the following year.
POST-HURRICANE TREE CLEAN UP
Maybe not surprisingly, most natural disaster related deaths and injuries occur during the clean-up phase. Chainsaws are actually considered to be the deadliest hand tool available, and storm damage clean-up can be extremely dangerous, even for professionals. Although you may be able to do some of the work yourself, knowing when to call in an expert can save lives, limbs and trees. Non-professionals should only use chainsaws on the ground; never try to cut while standing on a ladder or using a rope.
Always make sure your tree service is legitimate, insured, capable and has all the necessary equipment. Always hire a professional with adequate equipment and insurance to:
- Take trees down in open areas
- Remove dead or hazardous limbs
- Remove a leaning tree or broken limb that is endangering a house or other structure
- Reach limbs that require climbing
- Restore a damaged tree that is capable of being saved
- Prune to promote good structure
It is advisable to forge a relationship with a reputable tree service well in advance of any hurricane possibility, to not only ensure that your trees are prepared for any eventuality, but also to be as assured as possible of service by that company in the aftermath.