The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

September 5, 2011

Recommendation for damage trees after a storm

Bob Filbrun

TARBORO —     Twisted trunks, splintered branches and upswept roots are images etched in my mind compliments of hurricane Irene. A casual observer passing through Edgecombe County might be inclined to reason that high winds and aging trees were largely to blame for the mess that resulted  from last weekend’s disasterous storm. While 60 mph sustained winds, driving rain, declining trees and sandy soils certainly did play a role, a closer inspection of the fallen timber revealed some interesting detail about the overall condition of many of these trees.

    Overall health of your trees While I certainly wish to give Irene the due credit she deserves, there was a pervasive problem of internal decay in many of the fallen trees that I observed. mSome of the trees exhibited only subtle signs of decline; however, a distinct area of decay near the point of collapse was evident in many of the plant casualties. This type of internal tissue decline often results when the “walls” of the tree’s system are unable to compartmentalize the damage. As a result, fungi are introduced into the plant’s system and decay often begins.

    Then, insects acting as secondary pests contribute to the deterioration of the wood. When storm conditions persist, these weakened areas within the tree become extremely vulnerable to damage. As a preventative measure (when maintenance budgets and manpower allow), proper pruning of branches to the branch collar should follow any “damage” event. This enables a tree to develop proper “callus” tissue over the wound preventing the onset of such decay.

    Damage considerations Specialists at N.C. State suggest that you must first decide if the tree is worth saving. In most cases, this is dictated by whether the tree provides an essential function or offers sentimental or historical value. While the answer may be “yes,” you also need to assess the total amount of tissue damage. If over 30- 50 percent of the main branches or trunk are severely split, broken, or mutilated, the benefit of extensive attention is questionable. In addition, it can also be beneficial to assess the quality of the species in question; some tree species are more desirable than others and warrant a greater level of “nursing” care. Small trees which are uprooted should be straightened and staked immediately.

    However, if the tree exceeds 25 feet in height or is leaning in excess of 45 degrees, the prognosis is less than encouraging. A winch or ‘come-along’ can be used to straighten a leaning tree and then staking and guying will be necessary to maintain its upright position. After this procedure, be sure to firm the soil around the roots system to remove any air pockets and then water thoroughly. Keep the tree mulched and well watered during subsequent stress periods.

    Gradually prune and reshape the tree for balance and general appearance over a period of 3 to 5 years. Bruised and peeled bark When the level of damage does not exceeds 30-50 percent of the trunk’s circumference, trim bruised and peeled bark all the way around the wound to sound tissue. This technique will promote rapid healing. Use a sharp knife and do not cut any deeper than necessary. The top and bottom of the cut should be rounded instead of forming a sharp point. This will facilitate movement of moisture and nutrients around the damage area. Bob Filburn is an Edgecombe County Extension Service agent specializing in horticulture. Look for his Garden Guide each month on the Community page.