Post-storm winter tree care: proceed with caution

Oregon Department of Forestry — December’s storm events including snow, ice, rain and winds took a heavy toll on many trees in Oregon landscapes, but arborists are advising homeowners and community leaders to exercise caution when dealing with the storm’s aftermath.

That’s because there are two very common mistakes people make when trying to clean up after a storm. The first is trying to save trees that have sustained too much damage, and are likely to become hazardous; the second is the use of harmful pruning techniques.

“Many people are anxious to have their trees examined so they can prune or take other actions,” observes Paul Ries, an urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry. “However, it’s often the case that more trees become damaged as a result of improper post-storm activities, than were damaged directly by a storm.”

In other words, while pruning a tree correctly is beneficial, pruning it incorrectly can actually create future hazards. Certified Arborists throughout Oregon know that many of Oregon’s older landscape trees still bear the scars of the 1962 Columbus Day storm – when many trees were “topped” or improperly pruned as an over-reaction to tree damage. Topping – the practice of removing large branches and tops of trees – creates trees that are likely to be hazardous in the future. That’s because a previously topped tree is much more likely to break or uproot in a storm, than a tree that has a normal branch structure.

And the opposite problem – trying to prune trees that have already lost too much of their crowns – is also common. Along the streets of Salem, for example, many older landscape trees lost major limbs and even bark from the main stem, or trunk, of the tree. Many of these trees will need to be removed.

Best approach following severe storms

Doing the right things after trees have been damaged can make the difference between giving trees a good chance of survival, or losing them unnecessarily. Properly selecting a qualified arborist is key. “Homeowners should use caution when selecting a tree service company,” said Ries, who manages the state’s urban and community forestry program. Ries recommends using an arborist whose name and company are familiar to your community – even if that means waiting longer for service.

Says Ries, “be careful not to overreact or you may end up removing valuable shade trees that are still sound, and take years to replace.” He also recommends that before home and property owners make decisions about removing a tree or trees from their property, they should have them evaluated by a certified arborist. Certified arborists must pass a certification exam administered by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the professional society for arborists. If you’re in doubt about credentials, the PNW-ISA maintains a list of certified arborists for hire on their website:

More Post-storm tips
For consumers seeking a tree service company to help them with downed or damaged trees, the Department of Forestry offers these additional tips:

*  Hire a company that is bonded and insured. Although Oregon requires tree service companies to register with the Construction Contractors Board, they are not required to adhere to proper pruning standards or even demonstrate pruning knowledge in order to obtain a license. In short, the fact that someone has a business license doesn’t guarantee they have the tree knowledge required to do the job correctly – which is why you should hire a Certified Arborist.

* Beware of door-knockers, whose low prices may ultimately prove costly. Most reputable companies have business cards, truck signs, and even uniforms that represent a professional level of service. Ask for references. Take your time to select a reputable company, and avoid hiring anyone who will top a tree.

It’s also possible that the storm removed the weakest limbs in your trees and all you need to do now is make a clean pruning cut and clean up the debris.

“Arborists are often in great demand for several weeks following a storm,” adds Ries, “so if your tree isn’t an immediate and visible hazard, it may be worth waiting a while.”

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Storm resources online

Can These Trees Be Saved?

Click to access CanTheseTreesBeSaved.pdf

Tree First Aid After A Storm –

Hazard Tree Prevention Webpage –

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