NDSU Extension - Burleigh County


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Assessing Tree Damage

With the recent severe storms that have moved through the area this past week, many individuals experienced tree damage. Before writing off a damaged tree as a goner, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous?
  • Are major limbs broken?
  • Has the leader (the main upward-trending branch on most trees) been lost?
  • Is at least 50 percent of the tree’s crown (branches) still intact?
  • How big are the wounds where branches have been broken or bark has been damaged?
  • Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure?
  • Is the tree of a desirable species for its location?
  • The best decision may be to remove the tree if the tree is not only seriously damaged but also is in the wrong location, such as a potentially tall tree beneath
    • If the tree is basically healthy, is not creating a hazard, and did not suffer major structural damage, it will generally recover if first aid measures are applied.
    • The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage. If a majority of the main branches are gone, the tree may have little chance of surviving.
    • In species where a leader is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, this may have to be a judgment call. The tree may live without its leader but, at best, would be a stunted or deformed version of the original.
    • This is a good rule of thumb on tree survivability. A tree with less than half of its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through the coming growing season.
    • The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests. A 2- to 3-inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will seal over with new bark within a couple of years.
    • The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Check if branches are in place that can eventually fill out the tree’s appearance.


Storm Damaged Tree Options

When surveying storm damaged trees there are three ways to judge those trees, either you want to keep it, you wait and see what happens, or replace it. Below you will find some information about making that judgment call on those damaged trees.

1. Keep it
If damage is relatively slight, prune the broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around wounds, and let the tree begin the process of wound repair. A mature shade tree can usually survive the loss of one major limb. The broken branch should be pruned back to the trunk. In the following months, large wounds should be monitored closely for signs of decay. Young trees can sustain quite a bit of damage and still recover quickly. If the leader is intact and the structure for future branching remains, remove the broken branches and let the tree close over the wounds and recover itself.Tree 1

2. Wait and See

Resist the temptation to simply cut down the tree and be done with it. Wait a while and think it over. Remember, time is on your side. Carefully prune broken branches.Then, give the tree sometime to recover. you can make a final decision later.Also resist the temptation to prune too heavily. The tree will need all the foliage it can produce to survive the next growing season. Remove only the damaged limbs, then wait and see how the tree does. For large trees, a professional arborist should be brought in to assess damage on the borderline situation and to safely accomplish needed pruning and branch removal.


3. Replace itTree 2
Some trees simply can’t be saved or are not worth saving. If the tree has already been weakened by disease, the trunk is split, or more than 50 percent of the crown is gone, the tree has lost its survival edge.




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