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Dealing with Wind-Damaged Trees

Kathy Zuzek, Extension Educator

High straight-line winds and tornadoes have been all too common in Minnesota in June and July. If trees on your property were damaged during these storms, you may be wondering whether to salvage them and how to salvage them. Here are some considerations.

Safety always comes first!
  • As you start to assess tree damage, check for any downed power lines. Stay away from any power lines and call 911. 
  • Check tree canopies for hanging large limbs that may drop to cause injury. If they are present, call a professional arborist

Assess the damage to determine if your tree should be salvaged. Many factors play into this assessment:

  • Health of the tree prior to wind damage: If previous issues – unattractive habit, poor health from diseases, decay, insects, soil problems, salt damage, etc. – were already present before the wind damage, you may want to remove and replace your tree. 
  • Windthrown trees with roots ripped out of the ground: This usually occurs on larger trees because of some already-present root defect. Larger trees are not salvageable. Smaller trees less than 25’ in height may be salvageable. Uprooted trees should be straightened, replanted and staked immediately after the storm so that root desiccation is avoided. More information on staking can be found here
  • Leaning trees are hazardous and should be removed.
  • Trees with major trunk failure, such as large noticeable cracks and snapped off canopies should be removed. 
  • Canopy condition: Were large structural limbs broken off? How much of the canopy is left? If more than 50% of the canopy was damaged, the tree should be removed. 
  • How will the tree look in the landscape after pruning to correct wind damage? Is the tree too damaged for it to be an asset in your landscape? If so, consider removing and replacing the tree. 
  • If you are unsure about retaining or removing your tree, seek the advice of a professional arborist.
Determine how much of the corrective work you are capable of doing: 
    Never prune through a branch collar
     or a bark ridge. Graphic credit:  U of M
  • Consider safety factors again! Ask yourself if you are experienced enough to handle all of the pruning work ahead of you. If corrective measures require a chainsaw, removal of large overhead branches, working off the ground and in the tree canopy, or removal of trees or branches near electrical lines or structures, consider hiring a professional arborist with the expertise to do this work safely. Also check your tree for bent and twisted branches that may be under pressure. Removal of these branches can be dangerous as a sudden release of pressure can cause a sudden and unpredictable kick back. 
Use proper pruning techniques:

The last thing you want to do is create more problems for your damaged tree. Poor pruning cuts serve as entry points for decay: Jagged storm wounds on branches are slow to heal and allow decay to enter. Remove these wounds with a clean pruning cut.
Don't leave branch stubs.
Photo credit:  K. Zuzek
  • Never cut through a branch collar (the swollen base found on some branches) or a bark ridge (a horseshoe-shaped raised bark ridge formed at a branch and trunk union and extending down both sides of the branch/trunk juncture) during branch removal. 
  • Never leave long branch stubs. 
  • Damaged branches that are long and/or heavy should be removed with a 3-step removal cut to prevent bark stripping below the cut. 
  • Wound dressings should not be applied as they usually do more harm than good. There is one exception. Wound dressing applications should be made to fresh pruning cuts on oaks if pruning occurs from April through mid-July in areas where oak wilt is a problem. This deters the insects that spread oak wilt when they feed on fresh wounds such as pruning cuts.
3-step removal.  Graphic credit:  U of M Extension
Bark stripping.  Photo credit:  K. Zuzek

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