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Is storm-damaged tree worth saving?

Farmstead Forest: Some storm-damaged trees can be saved with a little help, and others require a wait-and-see attitude.

Curt Arens

August 5, 2021

3 Min Read
Storm damaged trees
LOST CAUSE: Wind and hail can batter trees during a storm. This tree is damaged beyond repair. But when should trees be saved? Mike Hollingshead/Getty Images

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.

Safety first

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.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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