When it comes to protecting trees and plants, people often think winter takes the hardest toll. But summer and the storms that can come with it – from wind to strong rains, can be just as hard on trees as ice. Depending on your region, the wind and rain can actually be quite devastating to trees, if you are not prepared.
Most trees can biologically adapt themselves to wind and ice during an average annual growing season due to the fact trees can sway in the wind and these movements strengthen the woody material developing the stem and limbs. But, during the spring and summer months, many areas receive strong rainstorms, lightening and wind. The winds shift sometimes bringing in violent thunderstorms and occasionally tornados in some areas. Other areas have hail and flooding to deal with. Whatever the situation, it is most likely to make your trees vulnerable. Heavy rains cause healthy roots to weaken their hold. Winds can snap brittle branches.
There are typically six ways a tree is damaged by a storm. They include blowing down from the wind, stem failure, crown twist, root failure, branch failure and lightening strike.
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, states that “Three-fourths of the damage that trees incur during storms is predictable and preventable.” Even one’s best efforts cannot prepare a tree to withstand the fiercest of winds, however, there is a lot of preparation you can and should do to greatly diminish potential storm damage to your trees. This usually requires watching for defects and vulnerabilities in trees and addressing them right away.
Here are some defects to watch out for that makes trees more vulnerable to wind and other severities of the weather:
• Dead wood is number one. This kind of wood is unpredictable because it is brittle, and cannot give under pressure like living tree branches. What dead wood do you have in your trees that needs to be removed?
• Cracks are clear indicators of potential branch failure, where there will be splitting sooner or later.
• Poor tree composition (branch structure). This one is difficult for the average person to identify, but you can start by looking for excessive leaning, long horizontal limbs, crossing branches that rub against each other and create wounds, and narrow crotches (V-shaped instead of U-shaped). Trees with two trunks or leaders that are of identical diameter and have a narrow crotch need special care. To prevent splitting, choose one to be made dominant by stunting the growth of the other through pruning (called subordination).
• Decay, as evidenced by fungal growth or hollow cavities, is a sign of weakness.
• Pests can exacerbate a tree’s health problems, but they typically target trees that are already sickly.
• Root problems, such as stem-girdling roots, while sometimes harder to detect, have the most impact on a tree’s inability to stay upright. Weak roots and a thick canopy is the deadliest combination during a storm.
• A thick canopy. Can you see some sky through the tree? Keeping your trees thin is the single most important thing to do to “storm-proof” them. Quite simply put: the thicker a tree is, the more susceptible it is to damage in heavy winds. Even for a tree that is otherwise perfectly healthy, overly dense foliage poses a safety hazard during stormy weather. A dense canopy will not allow the wind to easily pass through, and the resistance to wind can cause branches to break or even bring the entire tree down. This especially applies to weight at the ends of branches, which is why stripping only the lower parts of the branches is not adequate (and leaves the tree with a funny lion-tailed look).
If you have identified problems in your trees such as the above, contact a professional arborist or tree specialist to help you detail out a plan in addressing your trees health and finding ways to strengthen them if possible, before storms cause more damage.
About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.