Tips to Save Your Storm-Damaged Trees

Don’t assume your storm-damaged tree needs to be cut down. Trees can easily bounce back if you follow these tips for pruning and storm protection.

If a tree is leaning over or touching your house, call a professional to have it removed. Image: FEMA/Win Henderson

Many tree-care professionals don’t have experience working on battered trees, cautions Ed Gilman, a University of Florida professor who researches the restoration of storm-damaged trees.

Too often, inexperienced arborists recommend thinning interior branches. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do to avoid storm damage.

“For storm protection and recovery, you should be doing the opposite,” Gilman says. “Removing branches from the end of long limbs and retaining the interior branches.”

Even if a storm is strong enough to blow the leaves completely off a tree and bust branches, the tree can remain viable and ready for a comeback. “One episode from a storm is not enough to kill the tree,” Gilman says. The energy reserved in the tree’s roots and limbs will fuel new leaves either that year or the next year.

Storm recovery tips for trees

  • Remove broken, separated, or hanging branches, but don’t prune any live wood that’s healthy. The tree needs the energy stored in its limbs to heal itself.
  • Check for cracks where branches connect to larger limbs. If you see cracks, cut the limb back to the next healthy, whole branch.
  • Make smooth pruning cuts — don’t leave small stumps or ragged pieces jutting out from your damaged tree. Leave the collar — the thickened base of a limb where it attaches to the tree — intact. Collars help heal pruning cuts.
  • Straighten and stake a small damaged tree (4” trunk diameter or less) that’s knocked down. Water it frequently as you would a new tree.
  • After flooding from a hurricane, water trees and plants freely to flush the salt water out of the soil.

When a tree can’t be saved

  • If a tree leans over your house, car, or areas where people walk or play, it has to come down.
  • If your tree is hanging over or touching power lines, removing it isn’t a do-it-yourself task. Call a professional tree removal firm for help.

Cost for tree removal varies according to the size and location of the tree. Expect to pay between $800 and $3,000 to remove a medium-sized tree.

Check tree roots after the storm

A few months after the storm, use a pitch fork to check the big roots coming out of the trunk to make sure they’re alive beyond the first foot or two of their length. Healthy roots are brownish or gray with hard, whitish centers. Dying roots are soft.

If your pitchfork hits solid root, great. If not, you may have to take down your tree before it falls down.