Now that Irma has come and gone, the long task of cleaning up begins. Whether it is a hurricane, tropical storm or thunderstorm downdraft, our trees take the brunt of the wind’s force and sometimes they are damaged. Many trees that are damaged in storms can recover. The ability of the tree to recover depends on the health of the tree, the ability of the species of tree to compartmentalize wounds, the extent of damage, the skill of the arborist and, finally, the patience and persistence of the homeowner. Tree restoration may take more than one pruning and can take several years.
Split trunks and cracks are probably the most serious type of damage that can occur to trees during storms. They can occur because of weak branch attachments with included bark or from internal decay. Most trees with split trunks should be removed. However, some trees may be braced and cabled by a certified arborist. This treatment is expensive and should be reserved for high-value trees.
Leaning and blown-over trees are also a common sight after storms. A tree that is uprooted because it was pushed over by wind needs immediate attention. Roots that are left exposed for very long will dry out. If the tree is less than four inches in diameter, it may be straightened and then staked back up. The support should be left on for at least three months for every inch of trunk diameter. The larger the tree, the lower the chances of successful re-planting. Generally, trees larger than four inches will not recover from being blown over and should be removed.
A tree that is leaning because it was not blown all the way over by the wind is difficult to assess. Trees that are leaning because they were affected by wind will usually have an uplift of soil on one side and a depression on the other. Sometimes you can probe the root system to find voids or air pockets in the soil under the tree. The same rules that apply to trees blown over also apply to leaning trees. If they are larger than 4 inches in diameter they have a lesser chance of recovering and should probably be removed. Not all trees that are leaning were blown by the wind. Sometimes trees lean because that is the way they grew. For instance, the tree may be naturally leaning to capture sunlight from a far away opening in the canopy. If the lean is less than 40 degrees on a naturally leaning tree, it may be fine. Again, if there is some question about a leaning tree, an ISA-certified arborist should be called in to evaluate the tree.
Broken branches are the most common type of damage caused by wind. Branches that are broken above the branch collar can be pruned at the branch collar, making sure not to cut into the branch collar. If a branch is broken below a branch collar, then the branch should probably be pruned at the next branch union. In some cases, the next available branch collar is a long distance away from the wound, and a reduction cut can be used. A reduction cut is performed by pruning a broken branch back to a viable lateral branch. The lateral branch you are pruning back to should be at least 1/3 the diameter of the pruned branch. For a more detailed look at storm restoration go online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP30000.pdf. Pruning paint should not be used after a branch is pruned. It has been shown that it does nothing to help a tree callous over the wound. In fact it can hold moisture and decay behind the paint causing more decay than if the wound was left alone.
Follow these guidelines when hiring a tree company after the storm:
• Make sure they are insured for property damage, personal liability and worker’s compensation. Ask for proof of insurance and then call the insurance company listed to verify if the policy is current.
SLIDESHOWS: IRMA'S AFTERMATH
• Ask about the procedures involved, equipment used, price, and time frame. Get a written estimate that includes a thorough description of the work, such as cost, debris removal and stump removal.
• Avoid arborists who demand payment in advance, offer a bargain such as “if you sign today you can save 20 percent off the price” or do not provide a written estimate.
• Out-of-town tree companies will be coming our way soon. Most are here to help but be extra diligent with them because there is less accountability.
• Be on the alert for price gouging. Report any costs that seem to be too high.
For more information go to hort.ifas.ufl.edu/treesandhurricanes/treating.shtml.
Larry Figart is urban forestry extension agent from the University of Florida/IFAS.