How to Assess Tree Damage
Q: Can our hurricane damaged tree be salvaged?
How do you know when a severely damaged tree can be salvaged? Some of ours came through a hurricane in bad shape.
—Jann Krieger-Wittneben, Pearland, Tex.
Roger Cook replies: Trees have an amazing ability to survive and keep growing even after being badly damaged. The question is, what will they look like and how safe will they be? If the main trunk is broken or split, or all the limbs on one side of the tree are all gone, removal is probably a good idea. Before you replace it, look around the neighborhood to see which trees survived the hurricane with little or no damage. Those are the types you want to plant.
If the damage is less severe, take these steps to get your trees back in shape:
Remove any damaged branches you can safely reach from the ground. As you cut, leave the swollen collar at the base of the branch. If you cut flush against the trunk and injure the collar, the tree may not heal well. Don't try to remove high branches by climbing a tree or working off a ladder; instead, call a certified arborist.
When the pruning is done, fertilize the roots at the tree's drip line, directly below the outermost branches. An arborist can recommend a fertilizer. Water deeply during dry spells.
Finally, monitor the tree to ensure the damaged areas and pruning scars heal. If they start to rot, a large limb or even the whole tree is liable to fall without warning.