Stormy weather

David Holt/Flickr

David Holt/Flickr

We’re into that summer weather pattern where spells of excessive heat end in violent thunderstorms that often bring majestic trees crashing down.

In the aftermath of storms, you have to conduct a heart-breaking triage on your own downed trees. Some of them are goners but some can be saved. If they aren’t lying on structures, interfering with access to your property or likely to cause more damage should they fall, think hard about whether they need to be removed.

Don’t panic and think that the real solution is to cut every blessed tree to the ground. Trees not only shelter our homes from summer’s brutal sun but also add very real dollar value to any property. A home site without trees is impoverished, practically and aesthetically.

In hard-hit locations, you’ll probably have several days to think things over since qualified arborists will be in high demand. Don’t fall prey to opportunists with chain saws – you need a trained professional to correctly assess whether it’s worthwhile to save a damaged tree.

Above all do not think that tree work is a good do-it-yourself project. Every year, homeowners are maimed or even killed by tackling tree surgery or tree felling that should be left to the pros. Safety first and always!

Badly damaged trees will have to go. These include trees that have toppled, exposing their roots; those with more than 50 percent of their main branches broken; leaning trees over 15 feet tall with lifted roots; trees with cracks affecting more than half of the main stem and trees with splits at a major fork.

Beware of trees with large, dangling branches – they don’t call these “widow-makers” for nothing. These will need professional attention, sooner rather than later if they pose a hazard to life and property. But aside from dangerous hanging branches, keep pruning to a minimum for now on trees you hope to save. The tree needs live branches to manufacturer food and pruning creates wounds that put additional pressure on an already stressed tree.

Leave tree work to professionals             Jacob Avanzato/Flickr

Leave tree work to professionals             Jacob Avanzato/Flickr

Healthy trees, especially younger ones with trunk diameters of less than 10 inches, can sometime be saved. While high winds can defoliate the crown, trees that have lost their leaves during the growing season usually will leaf out again. You can help by keeping the tree watered in dry weather but don’t bother with fertilizer until the tree has recovered.

If only smaller branches are broken, these can be pruned out. In a few weeks, when tree professionals are more readily available, consider thinning the crown to admit more light and air and make the tree less vulnerable to wind damage. Wound “dressings” or tar are totally unnecessary on fresh cuts and actually interfere with the tree’s own healing process.

Do not let anyone talk you into “topping” trees, that is, cutting them back from the top, removing a good piece of the main trunk. This is just an invitation to decay – and ugly, besides. Any branches that form from the lopped-off trunk will only be weak and prone to future storm damage anyway.

Recently planted trees that haven’t established a broad network of anchoring roots can often be planted again as if they had just come from the nursery. Staking isn’t generally recommended for newly planted trees, but those that are top-heavy with a full crown of leaves might benefit from support.

Don’t use thin wire or rope, but rather a broad sleeve of fabric around the trunk to avoid damaging it. Note when the tree was staked and remove the supports within a year. Subtle movement of a tree’s trunk as it grows actually serves to make the tree stronger.

When storms strike and trees fall, landscapes that took decades to achieve their green canopies can be transformed in an instant into shadeless wastelands, lacking all privacy. If you face the prospect of losing your trees, vow to plant new ones this fall. It’s an act of faith and hope that won’t achieve its purpose for some long while, but it’s the right thing to do.

You can get a list of certified arborists in your county from the New Jersey Forest Service  by calling 732-833-0325 or sending email to