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Repair Storm Damaged Trees with Care

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Tree damage is just part of the devastation that severe storms afflicted throughout Illinois. It is important to use proper pruning techniques to help restore these plants' beauty and health, as well as to protect the safety of the home area and workers. University of Illinois Extension Educator Rhonda Ferree suggests the following procedures.

"Tree damage, unless it's a hazard or liability, isn't critical now." Most of tree repair work can be done later this winter, and winter is the best time to prune most woody plants anyway.

If a tree has been severely damaged, it may not be especially attractive for a few years, but proper pruning can help extend its life, and eventually, its beauty. Remove damaged limbs as promptly as possible to prevent possible personal injury and also to help prevent insect and disease problems from developing on the trees. When doing repair or routine pruning, make the cuts back to the nearest desirable limb or to the branch bark ridge on the trunk. Do not leave stubs of limbs showing after the pruning. Such stubs are good "conduits" to start wood decay and increased insect activity, especially if ragged and torn.

Also, do not "top" trees to remove damaged branches. Use judicious selection and proper pruning methods on only the limbs that need repair. "Topping", or simply trimming off the ends of the branches at the top or sides of the tree, often results in a very unattractive tree with a flush of weak branches sprouting from the pruning cut, called a "witches broom". Such branches are usually weak and have narrow branching angles, which can lead to further breakage. Topping also may not repair the damaged parts of the tree.

For the first year or so after the damage, the tree may produce many unbalanced branches. Remove the weaker or undesirable limbs as they appear. The storm damage and pruning can cause a severe "shock" to the tree. Routine annual pruning should be done when most trees are dormant, but repair pruning needs to be done as soon as feasible.

Professionals may be needed to do the work, especially on large trees. Following storms, some contractors may approach homeowners to do repair work on trees. Homeowners should remember these tips on proper pruning when approached by contractors. Be sure to ask about their pruning and clean-up techniques, experience, insurance, local references and other pertinent information. If possible, soliciting several bids may be appropriate on larger jobs. Find a certified arborist at

For more information on care of storm damaged trees and general pruning guidelines, check out these on-line fact sheets:

eXtension: Tips for Checking and Caring for Storm Damaged Trees

Iowa State Extension: Managing Storm Damaged Trees

Minnesota DNR: Storm damaged trees repair & replacement checklist

Find a Certified Illinois Arborist

Iowa St. Extension: Pruning Trees: Shade , Flowering and Conifer

University of Illinois Extension: Selecting Trees for Your Home

University of Illinois Extension: Illinois Tree Selection



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.

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