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What to do about storm damage to trees

Storm damage to a tree branch.

Storm damage to a tree branch. Photo Credit: James Carbone

So a nor'easter ravaged the Island over the weekdend and left a mess of damaged trees and fallen branches in its wake. Now what?

If the damage is extensive or the trees are large, you should call a certified arborist, ASAP. And make sure the person you hire is, in fact, certified.

Someone holding a chainsaw might come knocking on your door today, offering to "fix" your broken tree for a fee. It's not likely that person will be a certified arborist. It's not even likely that person will know much about trees. (Scroll down for tips for hiring an arborist)

If the damage occurred to smaller trees, you might be able to fix them yourself, providing you take the proper precautions.

Don't ever climb a ladder when pruning.
Don't prune anything above your head.
Don't climb trees to reach broken branches.

And take care to ensure branches that you're trimming don't snap back and hit you.

Here's what you can do

1. Remove smaller broken branches. Consult my pruing guide for instructions and techniques and then prune branches to the next limb. For larger branches, use the three-cut pruning method.

2. If bark is torn, the tree will heal better if you use a sharp knife to score an area outside the perimeter of the damage and remove all the bark within. Don't use wound paint or tar, as research hasn't shown it to be effective and it might actually cause more harm than good.

3. If a small tree has been uprooted, you might be able to save it if you straighten and stake it immediately. Replant, tamping soil down firmly, and cover with a thick layer of mulch or straw. Insert stakes into the ground all around the trunk. Attach thin rope or guy lines to the stakes and  fasten securely, but not too tightly, to the tree. Apply rubber hose sections around the wire to avoid allowing it to come into contact with the trunk, which could lead to further damage. And stick to a regular watering regimen all season long while the tree become re-established. Don't leave the stakes in place any longer than absolutely necessary, or the tree will actually become weaker, sort of like becoming dependent on crutches. There's something about the wind sway that helps trees develop a strong supporting root system and even a stronger trunk.

If you need to replace landscape trees

Unfortunately, not all trees will be salvagable. If you need to replace trees in your landscape, consider carefully which are more likely to suffer the same fate in future storms and avoid them. The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County warns that rapidly growing species like Chinese elm, silver maple, sycamore, Bradford pear and Poplars River birches are more vulnerable to damage during storms than other trees.

If you're bent on planting them anyway, that's fine, just don't use them near your house or fence, under utility lines or near anything else that could be damaged should they fall.

And if you already have one of these trees growing in one of these unrecommended spots, take the time to prune or cable them now to cut down on the potential for future damage.

How to find an arborist

So how do you know if an arborist is certified? Ask to see insurance certificates, so you won't be liable for any property damage or worker injuries that occur on your property. Call the insurer to verify. Also check with the Int'l Society of Arborists at (Click here to connect.) If you're not in a super-has-to-be-done-today rush, call the Cornell Cooperative Extension and ask them to mail you a list of local ISA-certified arborists (they will not recommend anyone over the phone, so don't even ask.)

(Photo by James Carbone)

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