Storms and trees

Evaluate, and proceed with caution

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterA tree fell on a car near downtown McMinnville during a late September wind storm.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
A tree fell on a car near downtown McMinnville during a late September wind storm.

(Oregon Dept. of Forestry)  The weather forecast is calling for colder temps and wind gusts to 30 mph over western Oregon this week. Rain, high winds, and the snow and ice that sometimes hit us here in the Pacific Northwest during winter months can take a toll on our landscape trees.

What to do?

In most cases, unless a tree has caused property damage, homeowners will want to wait until the storm has passed to evaluate things and decide how to proceed. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating your trees:

Wind-firmness is important. It is tied to the structure (a tree's good structure can come naturally or be improved through good pruning) and natural taper of a tree -- formed in relation to solar access, and to being buffeted by weather through its life. Here's a tip: often, avoiding the use of planting stakes results in healthier, more wind-firm trees. If you do use them, remember to remove them after one year.

Trees with a significant lean may or may not indicate a problem; check for exposed roots around the base of your tree, especially if it has recently started to lean. Also look for hollow or decayed areas on the tree, which can indicate structural problems, and watch for any hanging or broken branches that are still lodged in the tree.

In many cases, saturated soil can lead to root problems, causing trees to topple over. This can even happen in the summertime because trees and lawns have different watering requirements.

Ideally, trees should be inspected on a regular basis, especially before and after storms. Conditions that can set your tree up to be particularly vulnerable include recent construction that has taken place near your tree, as well as trees that have been severely cut back, or "topped."

Tree do's and don'ts: remember, some storm-damaged trees are worth saving

What are the two most common mistakes people make when trying to clean up after a storm? The first is trying to save trees that have sustained too much damage, and are likely to become hazardous. The second is using harmful pruning techniques on a tree that perhaps only needs a light pruning.

"People naturally become eager to have their trees examined so they can prune or take other actions," observes Paul Ries, an urban forester who manages the Oregon Department of Forestry's urban and community forests program. "However, it's often the case that more trees become damaged as a result of improper post-storm activities, than were damaged directly by a storm." How so?

Pruning a tree incorrectly can weaken it, setting it up for big problems. Topping - the practice of removing large branches and tops of trees - creates trees that are likely to be hazardous in the future. That's because a topped tree is much more likely to break or uproot in a storm than a tree with normal branch structure.

The opposite problem - ignoring or pruning a tree that should be removed - is another post-storm mistake.

What to do after a severe storm

Taking the right action after trees have been damaged can make the difference between giving trees a good chance of survival and losing them unnecessarily. Properly selecting a qualified arborist is key.

"Homeowners should use caution when selecting a tree service company" says Kristin Ramstad, an urban forester and certified arborist with ODF. Ramstad recommends using an arborist whose name and company are familiar to your community - even if that means waiting longer for service. "Be careful not to overreact or you may end up removing valuable shade trees that are still sound, and take years to replace," adds Ramstad.

Other tips

Some tips to help you locate an experienced tree service company:

*Beware of people or companies that show up at your door - their low prices may ultimately cost you more money in the long run!

*Most reputable companies have business cards, truck signs, and even uniforms that represent a professional level of service.

*Take your time selecting a reputable company, and ask for references.

*Hire an ISA Certified Arborist - someone who has demonstrated the knowledge and expertise to care for your trees.

If you're in doubt about someone's credentials, the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (PNW-ISA) maintains a list of certified arborists for hire on their website, located at http://www.pnwisa.org/promotional_directory/ :

Lastly, Ries offers this bit of advice: "Arborists are often in great demand for several weeks following a storm. If your tree isn't an immediate and visible hazard, it may be worth waiting a while before taking action."

More information:

Can these trees be saved?
Tree first aid after a storm 

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