Originally created 02/04/05

Remove storm-damaged limbs to protect health of tree

I had some damage to a couple of pine trees during last week's ice storm. Do I need to remove the damaged limbs?

A: I was so relieved we did not have a repeat of last year, but I did notice some minor damage to plants.

As usual, the trees that had the most problems were the evergreens such as pine trees. Darlington oaks in the Hill section of Augusta also had some damage since they are evergreen coupled with the fact that many are in decline. We have Carolina cherry trees everywhere and they, too, suffered some damage. Many dead limbs that were in trees came down, too.

With the pine limbs, some might have broken completely off and hit the ground or they still might be hanging up in the tree. If they are still in the tree, you might want to have a tree professional cut them out. Depending on where they are, they could be a safety concern because eventually the limbs will fall down. While the arborist is in the tree, it would be a good idea to have jagged branches cut back to the main trunk or to where they join another branch.

Damaged pine trees are always more susceptible to beetle attacks. Last year, other tree "experts," along with me, thought that the torn limbs would not necessarily be more susceptible to beetle attacks. Based on the number of pine beetle infestations I saw and heard about last year, however, I am not so sure they were not more vulnerable. Keep this in mind as you assess the damage to your trees.

With evergreen hardwood trees, broken limbs will eventually allow decay to enter the main trunk. Again, prune the torn limbs back to the main trunk or where they join another limb. In most cases with a large tree, you are going to need to have this done by a professional. You might be able to prune the Carolina cherry or other small trees.

Some trees will have torn bark. To improve the appearance and eliminate hiding places for insects, carefully use a chisel or sharp knife to smooth ragged edges of dead or dying bark. Remove the bark back to a point that is attached to the tree. Try not to expose any more cambium (inner bark). Shaping the tear into an ellipse has more aesthetic value than effect on wound closure. Round the ends to prevent dieback of the cambium at these points. Keep the wound as narrow as you can to hasten wound closing. Wound paints or tar do nothing to promote healing on these tears and pruned branches.

Some damage occurred on small trees or shrubbery that got hit and broken by the limbs falling on them. For any small trees that were split close to the ground, you might have to cut them down. If only a few limbs were broken, you can prune them out, cutting below the injury, and again to where it joins the trunk or another limb. Same thing with your shrubbery. Pruning out this injured wood cuts down on the possibility of infectious diseases and insects that might attack later on.

I don't know that we had any uprooted trees, but if so, and if one is small enough, lift it back and try to do so before the root ball dries out. You might need to get the help of several neighbors or a winch. Before you start, trim any broken roots and excavate the hole under the root ball. As the tree becomes vertical, the root ball needs to settle back in its former hole without obstacles. Use a strong rope or wire tied to sturdy stakes to hold the tree in place until it gets anchored again. If you use wire, pad it thickly where it touches the trunk. A short piece of water hose to pad the wire works well. Even better would be to use a wide nylon strapping, which is even less likely to harm the trunk.

Even though you cannot see them, roots under the root ball on the other side of the broken ones might have snapped or bent when they were tilted at such an angle. Plan to water your uprighted tree as though it were a newly planted one. Pay special attention to its needs this summer. If the tree is too large to move back up, you might have to cut it down.

Broadleaf evergreen trees eventually might show signs of wilt because of root loss. If this occurs, prune back the canopy by one-third to compensate for the loss of roots.