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Should You Remove or Restore a Tree After Storm Damage?

Broken branch Toronto storm cleanup

The latest summer storm hit your property hard, and now you’re facing a tree with major storm damage. What happens next? When there’s serious storm damage, it’s hard to know whether the tree needs to be removed or if it can be restored.

There are a few factors arborists consider. We’ll take you through some of the problems and risks with storm damage repair, and help you understand when your tree may be able to be saved.

Tree Cleanup: Don’t Try to Do It Yourself

After a major storm, many homeowners’ first instinct is to start tackling the mess on their own.

If you’re only picking up a few loose twigs and small branches in the yard or driveway, this isn’t a problem. But if you’re dealing with big limbs or a large broken tree, STOP!  Arborists are trained in safe hazard removal.

Many homeowners in North America injure themselves every year attempting to use a chainsaw or other power tools for tree removal and pruning. These incidents spike upwards after storms, where there can be widespread damage and a longer wait for professional assistance if an area has been badly hit.

Power Lines: Really, Really Don’t Try to Do It Yourself

If there are any downed wires near your tree, or a broken branch is close to electrical wires, stay well away and don’t touch anything. Assume all downed wires are live. Live wires are extremely dangerous and can kill very quickly and easily. Live wires in contact with water, metal or another source can even transfer the electricity to these materials, causing increased danger and likelihood of severe injury or death.

Keep children and pets far away from these hazards. Call the city 311 line right away, or your utility company, depending on the nature and location of the issue.

Only trained utility arborists can work safely close to power lines. If you contact a tree service company that doesn’t provide this service, they should be able to refer you to a service who can.

Typically, the hydro company will send their arborists to deal with downed wires around trees or tree issues adjacent to hydro lines. However, it may be difficult for residents to tell if a given wire is a power line or another utility, like phone or internet. 

What Kind of Damage Does Your Tree Have?

Broken branch after summer storm with Toronto garbage and recycling bins

What seems to be damaged on the tree? Is the tree a large mature tree or a smaller young tree? A mature tree may be more resilient and more worth preserving. However, some mature trees may have preexisting damage or breaks and may not recover as well.

Serious damage to the trunk usually means a tree will need to be removed.

Loss of leaves and twigs or small branches is normal after a storm. With this type of damage, you usually don’t need to do anything. If nothing is broken on the tree itself, it’s safe to collect this material yourself and place it in a yard waste bag or out for collection. New growth will occur quickly on a healthy tree depending on the time of year, or the next spring.

Long broken branches often hang precariously following storm damage. Depending on the size and weight of the branches, these may appear more serious than they are. Sometimes, safe hazard removal and some pruning will solve this issue.

If your tree has uprooted and fallen over with the soil and roots intact, do not go near it or stand under the root ball. Sometimes, trees that have fallen over can suddenly right themselves again, hitting or crushing people. It is extremely difficult to know if and when this might occur without a professional assessment. Surprisingly, sometimes these fully uprooted trees may be easy to restore after a storm. If the tree isn’t broken and the root ball is intact, it may be possible to simply upright the tree and repack and fertilize soil around the roots. This can require specialized equipment, and will only work for trees on a smaller scale.

A partially uprooted tree will need to be removed, as the root damage will be severe.

How Serious Is the Damage?

An arborist will consider a few factors, like:

  • Is the tree healthy? Healthy trees are better candidates for removal
  • How old is the tree? Trees take many years to grow tall — preserving a large mature tree may be more valuable to the residents and the neighbourhood
  • Is the trunk damaged?
  • Is the heartwood (the wood in the centre of the tree) exposed?
  • Are there many broken branches larger than 10-15cm in diameter?

These latter types of damage can make it difficult to restore a tree.

If the tree has a major broken limb or dangling branch, you’ll need to have this hazard removed as quickly as possible. Same thing if a tree or limb has fallen or partially fallen on a building, driveway, or roadway. These are priority jobs for city arborists and private tree service companies following a storm. A service will typically work with you to have your property serviced right away (as will your municipality).

Extensive damage to the trunk is another situation that usually calls for removal.

Restoration Options

Some trees can be restored with careful pruning. This will mean removing broken, dead and damaged limbs. Structural pruning means removing branches to provide a tree with a better structure and shape. It helps make a tree more resilient against future storms and breakage.

Broken branches should be properly pruned to keep the tree healthy. An arborist will make cuts so that wounds from storms heal quickly. Depending on the tree and location, an arborist might also apply some preventative pest treatments.

Deadwooding or canopy thinning is another common type of pruning, which involves removing dead, broken and excess branches (water sprouts), along with debris like old hooks, clothesline attachments, etc. Many damaged trees may only need some simple pruning of this sort after a storm.

For some trees that have damaged structural branches, cabling or bracing the tree may be an option. This involves installing a metal wire or other support in the crown of the tree to provide additional support. An arborist can advise you on whether this is an option for your tree. Once installed, cables or braces need to be checked every 2-3 years to ensure the tree remains stable and the wire is in good condition.

When to Remove the Tree

If the tree has lost multiple large limbs, it may not be possible to restore it. The tree could be structurally unsound without the limbs. Additionally, every large branch removed can leave a tree more vulnerable to further breakage in future storms and winds, or infection by insects, fungi and disease.

Serious trunk damage almost always calls for removal.

Cracks also leave a tree vulnerable. Major cracks on a tree that’s still standing may make removal the best choice. A tree may also become off balance due to broken or removed branches. An unstable tree could also become a threat to a building where it wasn’t earlier. In this cases, typically tree removal is the best option for everyone’s safety. Sometimes, cabling and pruning are an option but you’ll need a professional arborist to assess the damage.

Are you puzzling about how to handle your tree following storm damage? Contact Vista Tree for a consultation

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