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What to do about storm damage to yard, trees

John Marter, 45, uses a chain saw to

John Marter, 45, uses a chain saw to cut up a tree that fell from the adjacent yard onto the rental property he owns in Islip. (Aug. 28, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Jennifer Maloney

So Tropical Storm Irene has had her way with Long Island, rocking some of us like a hurricane. This morning, LIPA told me, power had been restored to 178,000 customers, but 345,000 remain  without. If you're among those whose lights have come back on, you might be wondering whether to toss the food in your refrigerator. Food writer Erica Marcus provides good tips here. For those still without electricity, my heart goes out to you.

But regardless of whether your power is on, danger may lurk in your garden that should be attended to immediately.

Remove any broken-but-hanging branches as soon as possible; they can cause more damage (both to tree and nearby structures) if they fall on their own.

If not overly severe, trunks split by wind might be mended if tied together tightly (or secured with metal bolts) and allowed to heal together. This must be done very quickly after breakage and remain in place for many months.

Be sure to clean up any fallen fruits and vegetables, lest they invite insects, rodents and disease.

Remember, too, that as long as humans roam the Earth, there will always be someone somewhere trying to profit from someone else's misfortune. Don't be surprised if a stranger toting a chain saw shows up at your door offering to "fix" your trees by removing broken branches, etc. It's not likely that person will be a certified arborist. It's not even likely that person will know much about trees. Only hire qualified and licensed tree experts or arborists to work on your property. And don't get any ideas about climbing a tree to do the job yourself. It's not worth the risk.

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 International Society of Arborists at isa-arbor.com. 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 ask).

Some don'ts

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 pruning 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 while the tree becomes 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 salvageable. 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.

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