Information on Dealing with Storm Damaged Trees

(Editor's note: The following is a release from the Purdue Extension Service about how to handle trees damaged by this week's storms.)
The storms that rolled through the Tri-State on Sunday did a great deal of damage to homes, structures, utilities, and of course, trees. Here are some tips and general information on repairing your storm-damaged trees, provided by information from Iowa State University:
Certain tree species are much more susceptible to damage than others. For instance, silver maples, Siberian elms, willows, green ash, and hackberry can suffer considerable damage. Sugar maples, Norway maples, basswoods, and oaks sustain only light damage. Other factors that play a part in storm damage include age and maintenance history of the tree. Large old trees, improperly pruned trees, and those trees with narrow crotch angles can be particularly susceptible to damage. Severe injury can reduce the life of a tree. Wounds caused by storm injury can provide an entrance point for decay organisms and insects. Wounds can also disfigure the tree or ruin its intended function.
If your tree has been damaged, carefully examine the extent of damage. Give immediate attention to trees that are hazards to people or property. If a power line is involved, utility company personnel are the only ones who should be working in the area. After the elimination of hazardous situations, individual tree care can be assessed. Unfortunately, assessment is a judgement call with a large gray area. Severe splitting of the main trunk or an injury that removes more than 1/3 of the bark around the tree is a wound that few trees can survive. Broken tree tops are also severe injuries. Injured trees take time to heal. Repair methods are geared toward assisting the tree in healing as quickly as possible. Most repair work involves pruning. Use correct pruning techniques to minimize the size of the wound and avoid flush cuts. Remove large, uneven stubs by pruning back to an undamaged side branch. Wound dressings are not recommended.
After deciding the treatment necessary, the next decision is who will do the work. Many of us do the work ourselves or hire a tree care specialist. For minor damage on small trees a homeowner with knowledge of proper pruning procedures, access to proper equipment, and desire can handle the job. Severe damage is better left to someone who specializes in this area. When contracting repair work out, both the homeowner and the tree service professional must clearly understand the work to be done and the cost involved. If your area has received considerable damage, repair professionals may be heavily booked. It may take some time before they can get to your site. Please note that even in a time of emergency, the only people who may prune trees within the city limits of Evansville are tree companies who have an Evansville Tree Trimmer's license!
It's a sad commentary on human nature, but during emergencies, a lot of less-than-reputable people come out of the woodwork and offer to trim your storm damaged trees for you. Many of these people have no training on safe and proper pruning, or with working around downed utility lines. Many of these people don't have insurance, so if they get hurt while clearing your trees, or if they cause damage to your property or your neighbor's property, YOU are liable. It is highly recommended that you wait for a professional, licensed and insured tree company to get to your property, rather than take a chance on a poorly trained and unlicensed individual.
Tree topping: If a company offers to top your trees, it should only be a temporary measure for removing a hazardous limb. Topping is not only bad for long-term health of the tree, but it sets your tree up for future storm damage. If a company comes and tops out hazardous limbs, they should be prepared to return when the emergency is over, and finish pruning the branch(es) correctly.
It's important to keep people away from potentially dangerous situations until the necessary work is completed. If there is a utility line down, keep everyone away from it! Only an employee from the power company is trained and authorized to tell you if a downed line is live or not. Keep children out of fallen trees.
Here is a post-storm checklist, put out by Virginia Tech:
Check List:
*Cleanup is the first priority.
*Site analysis: If land forms have been altered, these need to be reshaped. Don't allow heavy equipment to move close to trunks of remaining shrubs and trees. Remember that most roots extend well beyond the outer branches; therefore, heavy equipment can damage roots and compact soil.
*Tilted plants should be reset and staked.
*If portions of uniform plantings, such as hedges, were taken out by the storm, select replacements as close to size as feasible. Don't buy little replacements and prune the remaining plants drastically to make them match. Wait until late winter before pruning to help re-establish uniform size.
*Trim partially damaged shrubs and trees as lightly as possible to reshape. Complete reshaping could take several growing seasons. Make a careful decision on this. For example, if one third of a plant is missing, replacement might be a better choice than commitment to "nursing" the plant back into shape with pruning, fertilizing, watering. A damaged plant will be a "shocked" plant.
*How much damage is too much damage to warrant replacement? If heavy splitting of bark occurred, exposing the cambium, a plant will probably not survive. Leave woody plants that are doubtful in place and wait. Check periodically by scraping bark lightly to check for green (living) tissue.
*Some uprooted plants can be reset if the root ball is fairly intact with a compact root system and white healthy roots are showing and most of the top growth remains.

For more information on dealing with storm damaged trees, Purdue University has a collection of web sites that you might find useful: