Evaluating and Treating Landscape Trees Following a Hurricane

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General Information

The damage to trees, pines and broadleaf trees, can be difficult to evaluate. Easily detectible damage includes defoliation, broken branches, split trunks and leaning trees. Defoliated trees that were healthy before the storm often leaf out quickly after a hurricane; if this is the only damage, no special treatment is required. There is no need to apply fertilizer or other chemicals. Time is the best treatment for this type of damage. Broken branches should be pruned back to an existing, intact, undamaged branch. This technique, called drop crotching, is less damaging to the tree than topping. Pruning paint is not needed and will not help the tree. If there is a crack or split evident where a major limb meets the trunk and the crack goes into the trunk, it is best to remove the limb. If the branch is very large and the crack extends well into the trunk, consider removing the tree. Limbs with this type of damage are not well-secured to the tree and will not heal. The limb could easily fall from the tree in a storm. If small-sized trees are leaning, they can be righted and staked as you would stake a transplanted tree. Treat this tree as if it were transplanted, watering it frequently. If the tree is not too large and the area receives adequate rainfall in the next several months, the tree has a good chance of recovering. Less obvious damage includes cracks or splits in the trunk or major limbs and breakage of the root system. Trees with cracks in the trunk and branches are very dangerous, and serious thought should be given to removing the tree. These cracks will not heal and will remain for the life of the tree. If there is any question as to the safety and health of a tree that is close to a building, school yard, park, parking lot or other place where people live, work or play, consult a professional arborist. They are the only people qualified to evaluate the severity of this type of damage.


There are several treatments a homeowner may use to correct the minor damages that storms inflict. Before any of these techniques are attempted, consider hiring an arborist. Except for the cases of pruning small branches, and straightening slightly leaning, small trees, consult an arborist. The following are the most common types of corrective treatments:

  • Corrective Pruning: Small branches that have been damaged extensively should be removed to the next branch, but never cut off the branch collar. Use the proper pruning techniques to safely remove broken branches. If a branch is too heavy to support with one hand, a three-cut method should be used.

Figure17Proper three cut method for pruning limbs. © USDA-Forest Service.

  • Straightening, Staking and Guying: For minor uprooting of smaller trees(<25-ft.), straightening and/or guying is an option if correction takes place immediately after damage has occurred. When staking an uprooted tree, be sure that the roots remain covered and moist. Stakes should be placed evenly around the tree and attached securely without pulling on the tree. Thin rope or wire should not be used against the trunk of the tree.

Figure18Proper staking procedures and methods. Note the slack in the forms of attachment. © Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Circular # 858.

  • Wound Repair: Torn bark may be removed to reduce entry sites for diseases and insects or for aesthetic purposes. Split, cracked, torn branches should be removed to points of no damage. Bark should not be removed from areas greater than the damage already present. When pruning branches or repairing wounds, it is usually unnecessary to paint the wounds. The exception is during oak wilt season (April, May, June). During this period, wounds made on oaks should be painted immediately with a latex paint or shellac to deter insects carrying the oak wilt disease fungus.
  • Cabling and Bracing: Cabling and bracing are frequently applied treatments following storm damage, but only trained professionals should perform these installations. Most tree care companies will provide this service. Cabling and bracing are most effective as preventative measures, and provide extra support for weakly attached branches or stems.
  • Knowing When to Hire an Arborist: Possibly the most important question to address when evaluating storm damage is whether to hire an arborist to do the work or to attempt it yourself. If you need a chainsaw or ladder to do the pruning, if there are any downed and potentially energized lines in the area of the tree, or if you are wondering if the tree is worth saving, you need an arborist. In any situation where there is the potential for personal or property damage (broken limbs hanging high in the tree or unsupported branches hanging over sidewalks), it is very important to immediately call your city forestry department or a reputable tree care company to remove the potential danger.

N.C. Cooperative Extension has extensive information on Disaster Recovery. Visit https://ncdisaster.ces.ncsu.edu/ for information on food safety, landscape repairs, livestock and row crop issues related to storm damage and recovery.

For more information, contact Shannon Newton, Area Horticulture Extension Agent, by phone at 910-277-2422 or by e-mail at Shannon_Newton@ncsu.edu. For more information about Extension visit our website at //scotland.ces.ncsu.edu.

Columns from the staff of North Carolina Cooperative Extension

By Shannon Newton, Area Horticulture Extension Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Hoke and Scotland Counties

With information adapted from “Caring for Flooded Lawns,” University of Florida