Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More on Wind Damage to Your Trees

This wonderfully mild weather is such a nice break from winter.  However all this wind makes me realize that tornado season is really just around the corner.  We at Trees "R" Us, Inc. get many, many calls after storms, especially serious ones with high winds.  We see many fallen trees completely destroyed by wind.  And, unfortunately, we get many calls for emergency tree removal because these trees often times fall in places that aren't ideal - like on your car, house or garage.  Since we can't control Mother Nature,  perhaps we can protect our trees from high wind damage?

Some trees are more prone to storm damage than others, due to their basic growth habits. A classic example is the Bradford Pear Tree. The growth habit of the tree causes it to form steep "V-shaped" branches. This is a structural weakness that can not be avoided.  The branch pattern, combined with rapid growth, make these Pears trees extremely vulnerable to tornado or high wind damage.
Wind split Pear tree
This Bradford Pear was the victim of a summer storm packing high winds. The right half of the tree split-out at the first major "V-shaped" crotch.

One would think that the roots of the tree will save it from the wrath of wind.  Most of us are taught to believe that the tree's roots go deep into the ground and firmly anchor a tree.  However, this is not always the case.

Trees have different root structures and some, like Oaks, create deep tap roots. However, most trees have the majority of their roots in the top 12 to 18 inches of the soil.  And, when you combine shallow roots with rain-soaked soil, it is easy to end up with a windthrown tree.
Evergreen tree down from high winds
This large evergreen tree was the victim of high winds and rain-soaked soil. Many people ask if these trees can be stood back up and staked in place. It should only be attempted with the most valuable specimens since success will be limited. 
Large tree down from wind damage
While the roots on this forest giant may have been broad, they weren't as deep as you may have guessed.

   Poor planting is another reason trees collapse.  How you plant your trees today will effect how they grow and are susceptible to wind damage even decades later.

Unfortunately, either to save time or due to lack of knowledge, many trees have their fates sealed for them the day they are planted. Synthetic burlap, often called Leno, is a handy product for nurseries since it allows them to hold balled-and-burlapped trees much longer than when the earth balls are wrapped with natural burlap. While regular burlap rots away in one year, synthetic burlap lasts much longer. In most cases, it lasts way too long if it isn't removed at the time of planting, since it constricts roots and weakens a tree's resistance to high winds. If you ever plant a tree with the earth ball wrapped in synthetic burlap, be sure to cut-away as much of the material as possible, because it not only constricts future root growth, it can also girdle (choke) the tree trunk. How do you know if it is synthetic burlap? Cut away a small section and light it on fire.  The flame from a lighter will cause the synthetic burlap to melt like plastic, instead of burning like cotton fabric as the natural burlap does.
Synthetic burlap
Synthetic Burlap -
The bane of modern landscaping!

What else will make your trees more susceptible to storm damage?

Decay - If you see any sort of conk (mushroom looking structure) growing out of a tree trunk, it indicates there is decay within the tree trunk. This will weaken the integrity of the wood in high winds.
Conks on a Black Locust tree
Conks on this black locust trunk warn us that there is decay inside the trunk, making the tree more susceptible to high winds.
Open trunk cavity with insect riddled heartwood
Open cavities on tree trunks with insect-riddled wood also indicate structural weakness in a tree trunk.

Given all these factors that can adversely affect trees, there is something, one very important thing, that should be done to protect your trees from tornados and high winds.  The single most important thing to do is in one word,  THINNING

Picture an old sailing ship like the one you saw in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean." That ship had several masts, and each mast contained several sails. In order to catch the most wind, all the sails were set so they could catch the wind. Now visualize an evergreen tree with rows of branches up and down the tree trunk. These branches are very similar to those sails, each catching some wind instead of allowing the wind to pass through. The point being, that if you eliminate some of the branches, the tree will have less "sails" to catch the wind. If wind can pass through a tree more easily, it is much less likely to get blown over in high winds. Therefore, thin your trees to help protect them from tornadoes and other strong storms. 

Notice the similarities between these two images!
Full sail
Tall pine
Trees "R" Us, Inc. is available to help you determine how healthy your trees are and if they need to be thinned in order to withstand the upcoming season.  We are experts in tree care and maintenance and care about the safety of your trees and family.  We service the North Shore area of Chicago and its surrounding Northwest suburbs.  Please contact us before the stormy season is upon us to ensure you and your family are safe from dangerous trees.

Thanks for reading,

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