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Can You Save a Storm Damaged Tree?

Recent storm damage, Larchmont

The freak October storm was brutal in terms of tree damage. Shaking the snow off my shrubs, every 5 minutes I heard the unnerving “crack” of tree limbs succumbing to snow-laden leaves.

Most trees will survive lost limbs. The key is not to leave a ragged edge, which is harder to heal. It’s better to make a clean cut. This will allow the tree to grow over the wound and compartmentalize it.

Branches over 1″ thick, should be pruned using the three-cut method (below left).  To avoid tearing the bark of the trunk, make the first cut on the underside of the branch, 1 to 2 feet out from the trunk and halfway through the branch (1). The second cut is made on the top of the branch, about 3 inches further out from the first cut (2). As this cut is made, the heavy branch will break between the two cuts. If there is a danger that the branch may damage other limbs, overhangs or humans below, it must be tied, the rope slung over a stable branch, supported, then carefully lowered to the ground after the branch snaps on the 2nd cut. The remaining stub can then be cut back to the branch collar (3). Two people or a licensed arborist should do this job.

Illustration by the author


Trunk Damage is Major Damage
Unfortunately, some trees had a major limb “tear-out”, where a sizable lateral branch rips from the main trunk. These wounds are slow or difficult to heal. A wound like this could spell the end for the tree. This could take many years, though. If it’s a mature tree, it’s worth saving. As the tree ages, the load of large branches must be judiciously pruned opposite the break, to relieve stress on the trunk.

Clues that your tree is declining are loss of branches or less vigorous leafing out, then loss of leaves at the top of the canopy. Eventually it may get “bottle butt”, a widening of the base of the tree, which can signal a hollow interior. A licensed arborist can make an informed assessment about all of the above.

Saying Goodbye
Brittle fruit trees (cherry, pear, plum), which are smaller, may have snapped some major branches, but because these are multi-stemmed, the tree can survive. The problem is, it can look like a wreck. Removing the damage often unbalances the symmetry of the tree. If this happened to be the case for your tree, it might be time to say goodbye. Don’t be tempted to keep it out of pity or sentimental reasons. Saying sayonara to a tree is an opportunity to try something new in your garden.


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