Tips for preventing storm damage to trees
Hurricane Irene left Jamestown littered with fallen trees and limbs. Some areas of the island fared better than others, specifically those that have been landscaped to their natural state, using native plant species that thrive in these unique New England conditions. These include our coastal areas that are accustomed to being battered by salty, harsh winds, as well as the more forested areas, which provide ample bufferage from the strong gusts we experienced over the weekend.
In our coastal neighborhoods you’ll find that healthy red maples, shads and cedars suffered minimal damage. Further inland, oaks and beeches stayed upright while nonnative species around them were unable to make it through the storm.
In our older and more developed neighborhoods, the damage was more apparent. These neighborhoods have the oldest trees, which are taller and offer less protection from the wind. They are also more likely to have weaker or broken limbs that can become dangerous in high winds or heavy rain.
In addition, a lot of the original trees have been removed, and those open spaces leave more room for wind damage. Some of these sturdy original trees have been replaced with non-native species, which are not as hardy. Some examples of these non-native species are Norway maples, black cherries, black locusts, and other ornamentals. Many of these species have V-shaped branching habits which tend to be weaker and more prone to splitting.
A lot of damage can be prevented by proper plant selection, positioning and regular preventative maintenance. Select trees that are native to our coastal community are known to be salt and wind tolerant. Before planting new trees, you should research their mature height and be sure that they will not become a danger to power lines, your home, or any other structures you may have.
Stake your new trees while they are becoming established to limit the damage high winds can inflict. To prevent damage in the event of a storm, identify diseased or aged trees that will be vulnerable to the elements. Prune trees to promote healthy branching habits, and eliminate weak and diseased limbs. Larger trees can be cabled to reduce the possibility of splitting. Making the decision to remove dangerous trees ahead of time could potentially save you – or your neighbors – a lot of trouble.
Once the good weather has returned, it is important to clean up not only the fallen trees and limbs, but the plants that are still standing. Rinse off your evergreens, particularly the exposed sides. The salty spray carried by the storm will quickly burn their leaves. Where branches have broken, it is important to prune the ragged wood and stubs left on the trees. These stubs can attract disease and prevent healing. Consider removing trees that have been damaged beyond repair – they will only become weaker and more dangerous with time.
During your maintenance and cleanup process, please be safe. Notify the town of any trees or branches that fell onto your property from town land. Be cautious of power lines – live tree limbs can conduct electricity and become dangerous. Notify your power company immediately if a tree is touching the power lines. When pruning, be aware of possible tension and elasticity in limbs. Be sure that you are choosing the proper tools for your work, and wear appropriate safety gear. When in doubt, consult a professional.
The author is a licensed arborist and the owner of Atlantic Lawn & Garden.