5 things to know about storm-damaged trees.
The wild winter weather that’s raked the region this year has taken a heavy toll on everything from school calendars to Delaware’s exhausted fleet of snow removal equipment.
And Mother Nature seems to have come out a little worse for the wear herself.
Driving along the area’s slush-covered roads, it’s hard not to pass a tree that’s felt the season’s wrath. All over the state, heavy snow weighed down limbs to their breaking points, snapping off branches and sometimes splitting trees down to their trunks.
For homeowners, the prospect of tidying up a snow-damaged tree might sound like a simple job requiring a good saw and a Saturday afternoon.
But the experts have a few words of wisdom for would-be lumberjacks.
1 Thoroughly inspect trees for signs of damage.
Even if a tree doesn’t have broken limbs hanging off of it, it could still have been hurt by the heavy snow accumulation.
Henry Poole, urban forestry coordinator with the Delaware Forest Service, said homeowners should take a close look at their trees.
Trees that could be ready to break or fall down exhibit telltale signs of damage, he said.
“If you see vertical cracks, it could be split or getting ready to split. If you see horizontal cracks around the bottom of the tree or up the stem of the tree, that might be a sign it’s ready to snap,” Poole said. “If it develops a lean it didn’t have before and there’s soil pushed up on one side, that might be a sign that it’s going to fall over.”
2 Consider how bad the damage is.
Poole said horizontal cracks are the worst and often mean the tree will have to be cut down completely. If left standing, it would likely die and leave dangerous dead branches hanging overhead, ready to come down in a stiff wind.
Vertical cracks can be just as bad too, depending on where they form. A cracked branch can be cut off, sparing the rest of the tree, but a lengthwise crack in the trunk might mean the tree has to come down.
Ron Loockerman, of Loockerman’s Tree and Stump Removal in Dover, said tree branches downed by snow often tear large strips of bark off the trunk when they fall.
The severity of such a tear can determine whether a tree will survive and heal itself or not.
“The one thing [homeowners] want to look at when it comes to storm damage is what it’s done to the tree; whether the rip-out is just a branch that’s split in half, or something that’s ripped into the trunk of the tree, the heart of the tree,” Loockerman said. “If a rip is too deep, the tree could die.”
3 Tackle minor trimming and branch removal carefully.
Branches that have broken cleanly off a tree and fallen to the ground can usually be removed and cut up by a safe homeowner with a well-maintained chainsaw, depending on how big the limbs are.
Homeowners can also handle low branches in easy reach from ground level. But, Poole said, it’s important not to cause more damage to the tree when removing damaged limbs.
Branches should be cut using a three-step method: make an undercut a third of the way through the branch approximately 1 foot from where it meets the trunk; cut the branch off approximately 6 inches further out from the undercut; finally, cut off the branch stub above the collar where it meets the trunk — do not make a flush cut along the trunk. The undercut keeps the bark from peeling back along the underside of the branch during the cut, and finishing the cut above the collar allows the tree to heal over the wound.
Poole said homeowners shouldn’t bite off more than they can chew when it comes to chainsawing.
“Make sure you’re properly trained in using a chainsaw and make sure you have the proper equipment,” he said. “If you’re a user of a chainsaw, you can probably do it yourself.”
4 Prune and trim at the right time.
The best time to prune trees is in the late winter or early spring, when they are dormant and haven’t yet put out buds for new leaves and growth. It’s better to have the tree use its energy to close a wound before budding, instead of wasting energy and growing potential on buds that will be cut off anyway.
However, Poole said it’s never too late to get rid of dead limbs.
“Now is the time to do it, while the tree is still dormant, but you can prune deadwood at any time,” he said.
5 Know when to call a professional.
Poole and Loockerman said it’s easy for homeowners to get in over their heads when tree trimming. It’s often a tricky and dangerous project, especially as the limbs get bigger and higher off the ground.
Climbing a ladder with a saw is a big safety hazard, Poole said, and a good point at which to call in an expert with specialized tree-climbing ropes and equipment designed to reach those limbs.
“You don’t want to get on a ladder and prune from a ladder,” he said. “If you’re at that point, you don’t want to be doing it.”
Loockerman said big limbs that are hanging by a splinter or still attached to the tree by split bark can be very dangerous.
Those limbs can be unpredictable when cut free and might snap back violently when released.
“If it’s a rather large lead and it’s partly attached to the tree, you could have a lot pressure, and the springing action could hurt you,” he said.
A tree expert can also help a homeowner determine if a damaged tree is salvageable or will have to be cut down.
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org.