August 5, 2021
Summer storms come and go. High winds, large hail and tornadoes take their toll on crops, farmsteads, and rural windbreaks and trees. In the wintertime, ice and heavy snow, always accompanied by wind, leave branches and entire trees in shambles.
One of the first questions many rural residents ask after reviewing storm-damaged trees is if the trees will survive and what can be done to help them along. These are not always easy questions to answer, and they often require a little patience and time to answer properly.
This subject is addressed in a release from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, Division of Resource Conservation and Forestry. It states that immediately after a storm rages through your farm, safety is the first priority.
Assess damages, but stay away from damaged trees, and make sure to stay far away from downed power, telephone and cable lines, as well as fence lines that can be charged. Any hanging limbs should be taken care of by professional arborists.
Questions to ask
Next, to determine if the trees will survive, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. Are the trees in question healthy and vigorous? If there are broken or downed limbs, how big are they? Is the leader and main trunk of the tree broken or severely damaged? How much crown of the tree is left? How big are the wounds on the branches and limbs? Is the tree of a desired species, and is there enough structure in the tree left to salvage?
If the main structure is still intact, trees can typically be saved if they:
were healthy before the damage
are of a desirable species
have sustained only slight damage
Small broken limbs can be removed, and the tree can sometimes survive the damage. However, you will need to keep an eye out for disease and insect issues down the road. Damaged trees may look worse over time if the injuries to the tree are too great, and weather conditions or insect and disease pressures further stress the tree.
For trees sustaining moderate damage, their survival is uncertain. The decision depends on where the tree is located and how bad the damage is. If it falls or drops more branches, will it cause property damage, or threaten human or livestock safety? In these cases, a professional arborist can prune off broken limbs, assess the damage to the tree, and advise about the safety of keeping the tree and waiting to see how things turn out.
If more than 50% of the crown of the tree is damaged, or if the tree has a split in the trunk, it may need to be removed right away for safety reasons and because it simply will not survive.
Some farmstead trees are like old friends, offering protection from storms, and shade and shelter from the sun and weather. However, storms can wreak havoc with them.
Often enough, it is a good idea to employ the local arborist, Extension forester or horticulturist, or forest service professional to help decide if the old friend can survive the storm damage.
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