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Preparing Your Trees for Storm Damage

The horrific and destructive wildfires that are sweeping across California have thousands of homeowner asking, “What can I do to protect my home?”
Ned Patchett Consulting extends its sympathies to the families who have lost loved ones as a result of the fires and empathizes those who have lost their homes. We hope the healing process starts soon for everyone.

Trees – residential and commercial – provide neighborhoods and corporate campuses with beauty, identity and cooling from the heat. To keep these trees healthy and safe from potential storm damage, preventive steps should be taken. Regular care of your trees can set the stage for their long-term survivability and continued ability to rise high into the sky.

Getting ready for a storm. Conditions that can increase a tree’s chances of blow over include:

  • Trees on lots of homes that have been built in the last five years or so. Many of these trees will have root damage from lot clearing and home construction.
  • Newly cleared areas with scattered trees remaining. The trees have not adjusted to the newly open grown conditions and higher winds loads.
  • Areas with loose, gravelly soil.

Characteristics that can increase a tree’s susceptibility to storm damage:

  • Included bark where large stems meet.
  • Over-extended limbs with a concentration of end weight.
  • Rot and decay in the roots, stem or branches.
  • Lopsided and one-sided treetops from previous storm damage or from being suppressed be nearby trees.
  • Dense trees with numerous small branches and twigs that create a sail effect (topping/poor pruning often causes this).
  • Mechanical damage and poor maintenance (soil compaction, damaged tree, etc.).

Tree Inspection using liftHomeowners should have a certified arborist examine their trees and see if the following work needs to be performed:

  • Remove trees with large cracks or splits or severe root damage.
  • Selectively reduce or remove side branches on large limbs that are heavy and over-extended.
  • Install support cables or pipe supports to reduce the potential of failures in situations where pruning cannot effectively reduce the potential of a failure or would negatively alter the appearance of the tree.
  • Remove tree branches with rot or decay in them.
  • Advise power company of trees with branches interfering with power lines
  • Good branch angles are 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, closer together can cause weaker branches.
  • Remove rubbing and broken branches.
  • Prune properly – limbs should be pruned back to the outside of the ridge and collar and do not leave big stubs that can rot.

Some trees – cypress, maple, willow, ash – have more brittle wood while trees such as oak, sweet gum, sycamore are less susceptible to storm damage.

What preventive measures can homeowners take to make trees stronger and more resistant to storm damage?

  • Prune to encourage good branch angles. Narrow branch angles are weak. They are weak because neither has sufficient space to add wood needed for strength. This can be prevented by removing one branch when it is young. The strongest angle is 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.
  • Encourage strong branch/trunk size relationships. Ideally, lateral branches should be no more than 1/2 to 3/4 the diameter of the trunk. Branches larger than that often can’t be supported and require the installation of support cables or pipe supports to reduce the potential of a failure incident.
  • Prune to correct lopsided or one-sided crowns and maintain a stable center of gravity. Reposition a tree’s center of gravity by selectively removing branches on the leaning side and encouraging branches to grow on the opposite side.
  • Remove rubbing branches, suckers, water sprouts, and temporary branches. Branches that rub make wounds and allow decay. One of the branches should be removed. Suckers and sprouts are rapidly growing and weakly attached. They often use more energy than they produce. Temporary branches low on a tree when it is young protect the trunk from injury by the sun. After a tree is 3-4 years old, these should be removed. Never remove more than 1/3 of a tree’s leafy crown when pruning. Remove problem branches before they are 1″ in diameter when possible.
  • Don’t cut branches back to stubs. People often think long branches will break, so they shorten them. When a branch is left with a stub end, the new branches are weakly attached at that point.

Six Types of Storm Damage

  1. Wind Throw – The tree is pushed over by high winds. Past tree abuse, poor maintenance, pest and root problems make trees more susceptible.
  2. Stem Failure – Trees do not heal wounds. Trees grow over them and seal them off. Therefore, trees carry in its wood every injury they have ever had. These injured sites have weaker wood and can fail during wind loading and release. In trees with very large crowns, abrupt winds followed by a release can allow the tree to break by the inertia moving the tree back when it is released.
  3. Crown Twist – Trees with lopsided or one-sided crowns (more branches on one side) cause the trunk to twist in wind loads. The tree can adjust over time with new wood, but old injuries will be magnified and failure can result.
  4. Ground or Root Failure – Fine absorbing roots and woody structural roots. Stress is put on roots from construction, disease, etc., and can snap or be pulled up.
  5. Branch Failure – Heavy rains and wind downbursts leave branches unprepared and can snap or tear a branch downward. Included bark (when two or more stems grow closely together causing weak, under-supported branch angles) can also weaken the connection.

Are you looking for an innovative tree service and landscape design and maintenance company that will uniquely and passionately create and care for your trees and yard like they were their own?

Let the experienced professionals at Ned Patchett Consulting deliver for you. Connect with us at info@nedpatchettconsulting.com or 650-728-8308

#nedpatchettconsulting #stormdamage #treesafety #arborist #treecareprofessional

Note: Portions of this information were adapted from the Virginia Department of Forestry

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