ANSWER: It sounds as though your tree has experienced some pretty significant damage and an older tree will have a difficult time of repairing itself. At this time you may want to have an expert in your area look at the tree to see if there is a chance it will be healthy enough to do this. Check with your local agricultural extension agent, your local conservation district office (also known as NRCS) or an arborist.
Quite often, younger trees can get by on a broken limb and, without any sealing, make it through and remain healthy. Older trees are different in that respect and a 5 foot hole is quite large.
Do try to contact one of the people that I suggested and I hope your tree makes a good recovery.
RaDonna's question reminded me that a lot of people all over the country have experienced weather-related damage to trees and shrubs recently. This prompted me to do some online research to find information that readers with storm-damaged trees would find useful.
First up: an article, by Consumer Horticulturist Erv Evans, at a Web site hosted by North Carolina State University.
"Treatment of storm-damaged trees requires wise decisions and prompt action if the maximum benefit from repair work is to be achieved," says Evans. "Repairs come in two stages: first aid for immediate attention; and follow-up work to be distributed over a period of months to several years. Care for damaged large trees is best left to professionals."
All the experts agree that the first thing to do is decide if the tree is actually worth saving. Is there a sentimental or historical value to the tree? Does it serve a particular function that makes extraordinary action worthwhile?
Evans makes the point that if more than 30 to 50 percent of the main branches or trunk are severely split, broken, or mutilated, the benefit of extensive repairs is questionable.
If a damaged tree does need to be removed, it's probably a job for experts, particularly if it's a large, older tree or has precariously hanging, damaged limbs. Removing a tree that's close to overhead power lines or with roots possibly near underground utilities is always a job for the professionals!
To read the entire article, go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/text/tree_damage.html or go to my Web site, www.landsteward.org and click on a direct link from this column.
"Repairing Storm Damaged Trees," is a very practical "how to" article by Melvin R. Koelling and Russell P. Kidd of the Michigan State University Forestry Department.
Before you start cutting, they say, assess the damage to decide which branches should be removed and where to cut. There are several good diagrams with the article that show you where - and where NOT - to cut.
Koelling and Kidd state that branches smaller than 3-inch diameter can best be removed using a pruning shears or a pole-pruner. A sharp, properly aligned shears or pruner will make a clean cut, not crush or tear bark tissue and reduce clean-up time.
Use a sharp saw to remove larger branches. If a power saw is used, a safety rope and harness are essential, they say. Be particularly careful when footing is unsure. At all times, use common sense and follow all recommended safety precautions when working with equipment in and around trees.
Again, my personal advice is to leave anything more than minor trimming to the experts to avoid the possibility of serious injury.
You can find the entire article at http://www.kbs.msu.edu/extension/storm / which is a "must read" if you are unsure what to do about a tree that has taken a hit from a recent storm.
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, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org