Thursday, November 9, 2017

Damaged Trees

Back in September, I wrote about the damage storms can do to trees and how to deal with downed ones. I finally got a chance to to talk to an arborist friend about damaged trees that are still standing, and he passed along some helpful tips in the form of questions to ask. He also mentioned that he gets more work from cleaning up after drunken/distracted drivers than he does storms, so there are multiple uses for this information.

Is the tree generally healthy? 
If it was struggling before the damage, it will have a poorer chance of recovery.

Is the trunk of the tree broken? 
Since the trunk is the main structural support of a tree, any serious damage to it will make the tree weak and unsafe. I have seen trees with splits in their trunks live a long time, but they rotted from the inside. Vertical breaks are not as bad as horizontal breaks or twisted trunks.

Are the major branches intact? 
If more than half of the main limbs or branches coming off of the trunk are broken, the tree will probably not survive and should be removed. Lost limbs take a lot of food and energy to replace.

Does the tree have enough leaves left on it? 
If more than half of the leaves and minor branches are gone, the tree won't be able to produce enough food to survive many more seasons.

How much of the bark is missing? 
Small tears in the bark on large trees is not a problem, but any time the bark is damaged or removed the tree will lose the ability to move water and nutrients up past the damage. Losing a patch of bark and the underlying cambium below a limb will starve that limb and kill it within a few years at most. A tree with a strip of missing bark that goes around the trunk has been “girdled” and will be dead in a year.

Keep or Replace
In the end, you're going to have to decide whether to keep the tree or not.

  • If the tree is placed to provide shade, are the remaining branches going to do the job? 
  • Is the tree a decoration in the yard (easy to replace) or does it serve a purpose (fruit production, wind break, etc,)?
  • Does the tree have any sentimental value, like being planted to mark a birth or death? 
These questions may lead to giving a tree the benefit of the doubt and trying harder to save it. If it is in the wrong place, or is a variety that is ill-suited to your area, then removing it is an easier decision to make.

After you have removed any broken limbs and made sure nothing about the tree is unsafe, take a step back and wait a while. That tree isn't going to walk away, so you can always decide to take it out later. It may surprise you and start to grow new limbs to replace the missing ones in a year or two.

Don't rush your decision and watch out for the inevitable scam artists who descend on every disaster scene. Just because someone has a business card and a magnetic sign on his pick-up full of chainsaws doesn't mean he knows what he's doing. Arborists are like any other professional service provider and are licensed by most states, so check with your state licensing boards to make sure you're not dealing with a scammer. Local people will also have a better understanding of your climate and native species of trees, so give them the first chance at looking at your trees.

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