Tips for Checking and Caring For Storm Damaged Trees

Gardens & Landscapes, The Garden Professors January 05, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Storm damaged trees should be checked carefully for cracks in major limbs, cracks in the trunk, and broken or detached branches in the crown.

Storm damaged linden tree

Use Caution When Assessing Storm Damaged Trees

BE CAREFUL when assessing trees after a storm.  DAMAGED TREES are UNSTABLE AND POSE A SIGNIFICANT HAZARD.  Consider having a reputable tree care company assess any damaged trees on your property, as they have experience dealing with hazardous trees.  

Although you may need to remove severely damaged trees, those with minor damage usually recover. Follow these steps immediately after the storm.

1) Assess Whether the Storm Damaged Tree Should be Removed

Major limbs which are dead, which have cracks, or are broken should be removed as quickly as possible as this may pose a significant danger to people and property.  If the storm has exposed roots or caused them to be lifted out of the soil, this means that the tree poses a significant risk and needs to be assessed by a professional. Even a little root lifting can be a sign of weakness and may indicate that the tree should be removed.

2) Remove Dead, Broken, or Hanging Branches from Storm Damaged Trees

Heavy rains, ice, and wind can break limbs, damage tender plants, wash away mulch, and erode soil from around plant roots. Damaged or dead plant parts should be removed soon after a storm to allow the plant time to recover and reduce risk. Branches that are bent from snow or ice load should be removed, as they will not straighten themselves back up. Make clean pruning cuts back to lateral branches to help them close. Make collar cuts rather than flush cuts, which create a wound that will be slow to seal and may cause disease. Remove any debris so it won't pose a threat. For more information on making recommended pruning cuts, see How to Prune Trees: Pruning Cuts (p. 10, USDA, Forest Service).

3) Wait to Fertilize Storm Damaged Trees

Once hazardous branches and trunks are removed, the best treatment following a storm is to wait. Allow sprouts to grow until the crown regains much of what was lost, and then prune to remove conflicting branches. Learn more about restoring trees after a storm.

4)Wait to Treat Non-Hazardous Branches on Storm Damaged Trees

In most cases, fertilizer won't help your plants recover any faster, and the next heavy rain will wash it right off and into the nearest body of water. It’s best to wait to fertilize until next season unless you have evidence plants are deficient in a particular nutrient such as nitrogen.

5)Watch for ‘Door-Knockers’, Hire Certified Arborists

Reputable tree service companies rarely solicit business door-to-door.  Uncertified tree workers often descend upon storm-damaged areas with pick-up trucks and chain saws.  These workers may not be insured and homeowners may be left picking up the tab if their home or neighbor’s property is damaged. If you’re unsure about taking care of your trees or the recovery after a storm, use these tips for hiring an ISA certified arborist.

Although storm damage may seem devastating at first, many trees can be saved and preserved.  For more information on checking and caring for storm damaged trees, consult the additional resources below.

Additional Resources

  • Trees & Hurricanes website for detailed information on storm damage prevention and treatment.
  • ISA website for information on storm damage and locating certified arborists
  • Michigan State University FAQ page - answers questions on storm damaged trees, such as: I have a large limb removed, do I need to remove it? Or my tree blew over with the roots intact. Can I stand it back up?


Adapted from the University of Florida Trees & Hurricanes project conducted by Dr. Ed Gilman


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.