Cleaning up storm-damaged trees

Wow.  The heavy duty wind and rainstorm that blew through the Omaha metro area on Friday June 16th caused lots of damage to shade and fruit trees.  Many, many good specimens were damaged or lost altogether.  Clients have reported damage to large and small trees, decks, gutters and fences, which emphasizes the issue of “target” that we refer to commonly.  Targets, in terms of tree hazards are items of value, such as people and property.

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The storm produced some interesting results in terms of damage.  The damage to Bradford pears and silver maples was to be expected, but some other damage was hard to explain…at first.  Some trees, such as crabapple and honeylocust also had damage.  A closer look at least one crabapple indicated that it blew over due to overly deep planting and subsequent lack of development of the lateral roots, which is why it’s always important to spread them out at planting time and locate them evenly with (or slightly above) the grade; not bury them deep in the planting hole.


If your house was damaged, you’ll need to call a roofer or contractor.  If your tree was damaged, you’ll need a licensed or certified, professional and experienced arborist.  It’s important to check out their credentials, including liability insurance, municipal license and CPR/1st aid training.  This will help separate the legitimate businesses from the fly-by-night out of towners that are trying to take advantage of homeowners in need.


Though it may be tempting, it’s wise to avoid tackling large tree pruning jobs yourself.  A good rule of thumb is if the tree limb is 1-3 inches in diameter or less and you can reach it without the use of a ladder, you may be able to take care of it on your own – if you have the right equipment.  A pruning saw that cuts on the pull, (not push and pull), and a large lopping shears are essential.

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When making cuts, use a 3 cut method to remove branches outside of the branch bark ridge and collar.  First, make an undercut about 6 inches away from the trunk or branch that is larger than the one being removed.  Next, cut the bulk of the branch off by sawing all the way through about two inches to the right of the undercut.  The third cut is just outside of the branch collar, not flush with the trunk.  Allow the new cut to remain open to the air; don’t paint it with a wound dressing or spray-on pruning paint. An exception to this guideline is when pruning oaks and elms, because fresh cut wounds have been linked to invasive pest species, painting them may be helpful.

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After the broken limbs have been taken care of, evaluate the tree’s condition for defects that remain such as basal injury, crossing limbs, decay, co-dominant leaders and leaning.  Leaning may become more of an issue over the summer, as roots begin to loosen due to being subjected to high winds.  A NAA or ISA certified arborist can assist you with evaluation.  For more information on Tree Hazard Identification, see:

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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