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Over the Garden Fence

Storm Damage to Our Trees

Our recent strong winds got our attention as damage to our deciduous and evergreen trees became a real issue. If we were lucky those downed limbs and trees missed our homes and cars. Trees that were already compromised were the first to be damaged. Trees with narrow crotch angles, poor root systems and interior decay did not have the structural strength to resist the winds. Trees that are still holding their leaves and have damaged root systems from another cause are often completely blown over. Trees with interior decay or those narrow crotch angles will typically lose canopy branches.

Needled evergreen trees are often blown over from a combination of the strong winds accompanied by so much rain that the root system will literally pull out of the soil from the direction the wind is coming from as the soil becomes saturated with water.

Losing an entire tree is of course the worst thing that can happen. The loss of shade to the home and yard will be really evident next year. The electric bill goes up as the air conditioner works harder and those shade grasses and ground covers will immediately suffer.

Trees that have lost canopy can be repaired by making proper cuts to clean up the tears and splintered wood. When the branches have been torn away from the trunk itself, cleaning up those areas is much more difficult. Tree wounds heal from the outside edge of the wound into the center. Callous tissue does not grow over sharp angles or splintered wood very well. Being able to round the edges and smooth the surface as much as possible will encourage healing. In many cases the way the branch broke out leaves the damaged area dished out in a hollow fashion the wound will likely never callous over.

There may be justification in removal of a standing but damaged tree if there is substantial decay found as the damage is surveyed. Major decay points to future problems and potential damage to nearby structures and other landscape plants.

If trees have fallen on other landscape plants, they will need to be repaired as well. Shrubs should have any broken branches removed. If the break is up in the canopy, using heading back cuts is the right way to take care of the damage. This leaves the undamaged parts of the shrub to fill in and recover. If the majority of the shrub is damaged, the best practice would be to cut the entire shrub down to the soil line and allow it to start all over. This method is called renewal pruning. Those shrubs are dormant and all the stored food will be available next spring.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.