The Plant Man column
for publication week of 09/19/04 - 09/25/04
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Storm-damaged trees: Here’s what you can do
In recent weeks, violent weather has been affecting a major part of
the United States. I’ve been receiving a lot of e-mails asking my
advice about what can be done with storm-damaged trees.
Many months ago, I wrote an article on this subject, and several
readers have requested that I reprint it, as it contained a lot of
information (and some useful Internet links) that landscapers and
gardeners need to know as they deal with the aftermath of a major
So here it is... an “encore presentation” as they say on TV!
As you know, it's quite common for me to praise the beauty of Nature.
But there is another side we tend to ignore until it lands, quite
literally, in our own back yard.
The forces of Nature can be extraordinarily powerful and terribly
destructive. Many years of careful nurturing will often be severely
damaged or even destroyed in a matter of seconds. Hurricanes,
tornadoes and severe storms of every type uproot and strip trees and
shrubs, and that can be heartbreaking for both the professional
landscaper and the average
The first thing you need to do is assess the amount of actual damage.
Sometimes, strewn branches and other debris can make a situation look
worse than it actually is. Take some time to clean up your landscape
and remove the odds and ends that are littering the site. Until you do
this you can't see the wood for the trees. Or is it the other way
Now for the damage appraisal. The damage can probably be categorized
as follows: Fallen trees, exposed roots, broken or torn limbs and
Here is a brief overview of each of these categories.
Sadly, a large fallen tree is a lost cause, as a general rule. Unless
you want to get out a chainsaw and turn it into firewood, you'll need
to call a tree service to haul it away. Of course that still leaves
you with the stump. You can level off the stump and make it an
ornamental feature, or have a landscaper pull or dig it out. If they
can pull it out (rather than dig it out) the process is generally
quicker and less expensive.
There's a good chance that a small, young tree will survive if you can
reset it quite quickly and if the roots are relatively undamaged. You
might want to stake it too, to help it "get back on its feet."
If the roots are exposed but the tree is not noticeably tilting, all
that might be needed is to re-cover the roots. I suggest you try to
use the soil that is already in the immediate vicinity and then add
some mulch, such as pine straw, to prevent the roots drying out.
Broken or torn limbs.
Cut back the damaged limbs to just outside of the branch collar. Be
very careful when cutting heavy limbs! You might need to make up to
three separate cuts, getting closer to trunk with each cut, to prevent
the weight of the limb tearing and stripping the bark as it falls. I
suggest you consider calling in a professional service to remove very
large limbs. This can be dangerous work!
Prune as lightly as possible after a tree or shrub has been storm
damaged to prevent adding to the "shock." Make clean cuts and only
remove those branches that have been damaged. Some experts suggest
painting the newly exposed cut with a tree-wound dressing; other
experts say there's no evidence to support such a course of action.
You have to decide which expert to believe. But like chicken soup, it
might not help but it probably won't hurt!
Speaking of experts, I highly recommend that you visit the following
web sites for a lot of very useful information about dealing with
storm-damaged trees and shrubs:
"The Storm-Damaged Landscape after a Disaster" (publication # 490-329)
from the Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech.
"Caring for Hurricane-Damaged Home Landscape Plants" by Robert J.
Black of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of
"Hurricane-Damaged Shade, Ornamental & Fruit Trees" by Dr. Richard
Mullenax, Extension Horticulture Department, Mississippi State
There are direct links to all three of these resources at my web site.
Simply go to www.landsteward.org and find this column archived under
"The Plant Man" heading. From there you can click on any of the links.
With a little TLC and a helping of sweat-equity, your storm-damaged
landscape can begin to regain - or even exceed - its former glory.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, including archived columns, visit