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Winter storms cause tremendous stress and severe damage to trees in the urban forest. Snapped or downed trees should be removed, but what about a tree that only suffers minor damage? How can a homeowner tell if a tree is safe enough to keep?

Assessing the tree damage

Minor damage – with only the smallest branches of the tree being injured – usually results in little or no permanent injury to the tree. All that is required is cleanup of the broken twigs and branches and perhaps a crown cleaning to restore a pleasing shape.

More severe damage – large broken branches, split crotches, removal of bark and splitting or splintering of the trunk – can be caused by strong winds and heavy ice storms and require more maintenance. When a tree is severely damaged, homeowners must ask: “Is this tree safe, and in good enough condition to keep?” A tree care professional should be consulted to answer this question.

“We strive to save a tree only if the tree will remain healthy, still be appealing and of value to the property owner after repairs,” explains Brad Petree, ISA Certified Arborist, and owner for Petree Arbor Lawn & Landscape. “A tree care expert may recommend removal of a tree that has fragile wood, or if the trees structure makes it vulnerable to damage from future storms. Trees that have been topped, for example, can be prime candidates for removal,” says Petree.

Other factors to consider when determining if a tree is worth saving:

Species – Is this type of tree prone to pests and other problems?
Age – Is the tree mature or over-mature?
Vigor – What health condition was the tree in before the damage?
Value it adds to the property – Does the tree still have value, even if partially damaged?
Sentimental value – Is the tree a living monument?
If a tree is not worth saving, remove it as soon as possible. If it is not removed and the tree dies, it could become a hazard tree. Removal of hazard trees is dangerous to the tree care crew and requires special techniques, adding to the cost.

Treating the tree

If the homeowner decides to save the tree, the next question is: “Am I capable of repairing the damage myself, or should I seek professional help?” Major repair will undoubtedly require the use of a chain saw and climbing equipment. Unless one is experienced in the use of such equipment and comfortable working off the ground, it is best to have the work performed by a competent professional.

Inspect your trees for damage after a storm. If a tree has hazards, such as broken, hanging limbs or a split branch union (sometimes called a branch fork), you should have a reputable tree care company give an assessment. This is important because you could be held liable if the hazard branch or tree falls and damages property or causes personal injury.
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