What to Do After a Big Storm Damages Your Trees

In early September 2014, Calgary experienced some intense snowfall that damaged quite a few trees in the city. City officials had to prioritize efforts to clear away the fallen trees and branches.

Tree-damaging storms often occur throughout Western Canada, and they don't limit their casualties to public trees. Trees in more established neighbourhoods can also undergo severe damage due to severe weather. It's not a problem most homeowners think about until a tree falls in their yard.

When tree damage occurs at your house, it's easy to feel overwhelmed or unsure about how to proceed. You can manage your trees after a storm by following the procedure outlined below.

Ensure Safety Before Assessing Individual Trees
After a big storm, you're probably eager to clean up the debris and get your property back in order. However, you need to proceed with caution. When limbs and tree trunks fall over during storms, they often create safety hazards. Follow these steps to ensure your own safety before you attempt to clear away the damage:

1. Make sure trees are safe to approach. Your visual safety check involves looking for fallen power lines and identifying loose limbs that could fall at any moment. If you notice safety issues like these, call for professional help. You should also keep people and animals away from the area until help arrives.

2. Evaluate property damage. Sometimes a storm's forces break off a large branch that falls onto or into your home. If your home sustains damage, you should examine it before you worry about trees and landscaping. As long as the tree (or a heavy branch) isn't leaning against your home for support, you can cover the hole to keep out weather and animals. Then, call your insurance agent to place a claim.

3. Examine the roots. A storm's wind and water forces can wear away at the soil surrounding a tree's root system. From a safe distance, look for signs that a tree's roots are still firmly rooted. If you see lots of loose soil or newly exposed roots, call in an arborist to assess the tree's structural integrity.

Determine What Stays and What Goes
Once you know your trees are safe to approach, you can start examining them. Although it may not look like it immediately after a storm, trees are strong and resilient. You can often save them with proper care.

How do you know which trees you can salvage? Look for these characteristics:

  • Most large limbs are intact
  • At least 50% of the branches and leaves appear undamaged
  • The bark has no major wounds
  • The leading upward branch has no major damage
  • Also watch for these almost certain signs that a tree is beyond saving:
  • Only the trunk remains
  • You can see signs of rot in the trunk or major branches
  • More than 50% of the branches sustained damage

If you can't decide about a particular tree, ask an arborist to evaluate the tree with you. They have trained eyes that can make quick, practical assessments about a tree's possible future. Arborists want to save as many trees as possible, so you don't have to worry that they'll recommend drastic, unnecessary tree removal.

Care for Damaged Trees
Whether you assess your trees on your own or with professional help, it's usually best to bring in a professional before you start fixing any damaged trees. Many people make the mistake of lobbing off too many branches, which makes it hard for a tree to return to its former glory.

Instead of acting on your own, hire a professional tree care company. They can cut off the appropriate tree limbs to ensure a tree resumes healthy growth. They also know how to perform safe limb removal, protecting you and your property from further damage.

The tree care company you choose should perform the following post-storm tree services:

1. Cut off damaged limbs. This keeps them from falling and causing more damage. It also makes the tree less vulnerable to diseases, insect invasions, and other problems that can hinder its recovery.

2. Prune the appropriate areas. A professional can give your tree an aesthetically pleasing shape without overpruning.

3. Remove trees and stumps that are beyond saving.

4. Haul away organic debris. Calling a tree service saves you the hassle of hauling damaged tree parts off your property. If you want, you can ask to keep some or all of these pieces to use as firewood or for other purposes.

Protect Trees from Future Storm Damage
Guess what? A big storm doesn't have to mean the end of your property's big trees. You can act now to protect your trees from big-time damage. Enlist a professional arborist to prune and shape your trees so they are less vulnerable to harm.

If the storm has already hit, don't fret. Follow the safety tips above, and call a trustworthy tree care service. They can help you save the salvageable trees and clear away the damaged ones. They can return your yard to its former glory and help you recognize the majesty of your remaining trees.