How to Prevent Tree-related Storm Damage

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The major snow and ice storm that struck 22 states last week, was the 2nd worst (Super Storm Sandy in October 2012 was #1)  in the power company’s history here in southeastern Pennsylvania.  There were over 700,000 power outages, many caused by downed trees.

Some might argue to just get rid of trees, but trees provide SO many benefits that it wouldn’t make sense to go to that extreme.

The good news is that damage to our homes, cars and powerlines can be prevented by planting trees in the right spot to begin with, by properly pruning them and by identifying problem trees.

Warning signs of trees that may lose limbs:

  • Dead trees and/or branches
  • Advanced decay indicated by fungal activity like mushrooms growing on a tree.
  • V-shaped branch union (Japanese Zelcovas are typically an exception) where branches are not strongly attached to the tree.  The connection between the trunk and a branch should be U-shaped.
  • Deep cracks or a large canker (where bark is sunken or missing).
  • For more information, read the pdf How to Recognize Hazardous Tree Defects from the U.S. Forest Service.

Benefits of trees:

  • Increase house values and curb appeal in our neighborhoods
  • Keep our homes cool in the summer and block winds in the winter.  See my earlier post here.
  • Shade our outdoor living spaces in summer, as well as provide privacy
  • Reduce sun glare along roads
  • Provide oxygen and filter the air by absorbing air pollutants
  • Absorb carbon dioxide and counteract climate change
  • Add beauty with their flowers in spring and vibrant colors in autumn
  • Enrich the soil with their fallen leaves
  • Provide delicious fruit and nutritious nuts
  • Improve water quality and reduce stormwater runoff
  • Provide habitat for songbirds and other wildlife
  • Reduce the heat-island effect in urban areas
  • Relieve stress by lowering blood pressure and muscle tension when we walk amongst them
  • Lower crime rates where there are more trees

Tips when planting new trees to avoid future storm damage:

  • Think about how tall and wide the tree will be when mature.  Don’t place trees that will eventually be large too close to a building or underneath a power line.
  • Properly prune a tree when it’s young in order to develop a structurally stronger and healthier tree.  Mature trees benefit from occasional pruning by a professional (find a certified arborist through the non-profit organization International Society of Arboriculture [ISA]).
  • Learn how to care for your trees here, from selecting new trees to pruning old ones, and everything in between.
  • Never disfigure trees with topping, as this weakens the tree and makes it susceptible to disease and insect invasion.  Plus, a topped tree not only reduces its value to a property, but also increases liability and safety hazards.
  • Protect the roots.  A tree can grow up strong and healthy if its root system is well-established and not damaged along the way.  Don’t pave over roots or compact the soil near them.
  • Consider the size and strength of trees when shopping for new additions to your yard.  Many large, fast-growing trees like Silver Maple, Eastern White Pine and Bradford Pear (this one’s invasive too), have weaker wood that tends to break during storms.  Fast-growing trees are appropriate for areas away from homes, fences and wires.  Instead, choose smaller trees, such as American Smoketree, Dogwood or Redbud for areas near a house.  If you’re looking for a large shade tree, choose from slower growing trees such as Oak, Sugar Maple, Little Leaf Linden, Eastern Black Walnut and Eastern Hemlock, which are more structurally sound.
  • Ideally in backyard settings, you can reduce stress on a tree by not growing a lawn underneath it.  Try to mimic a tree’s natural environment by planting more than one tree, adding understory trees & shrubs, and also ground cover plants (not aggressive vines!).

photo courtesy of NBC Philadelphia


Tag(s): Green Living, Greening the Home, The Great Green Outdoors


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