Trees are an intricate part of our landscape. In the West Country, trees were removed to make room for the homesteads while on the prairie they were planted to provide shelter from the cold winter winds and shade in the summer. Unfortunately all trees are not always as strong as the wind and they loose branches or the main trunk is broken during storms.
When this is the case, start by examining the tree closely. If the tree is diseased it should be removed. Poplars that ooze sap have black knot fungus and are not worth the effort of rejuvenation. Likewise birch trees with major dead areas should be cut down and burnt.
In healthy trees determine what branches are damaged and start by removing them. It is best to make the first cut above the damaged area which will take the weight off the tree and prevent further damage.
It will then be easy to make a clean final cut that is flush with another branch or the trunk of the tree. Stubs that are left in place will not heal, allowing moisture, insects and diseases to enter the tree.
If over a third of the tree has been removed expect to see a massive amount of new growth the next season. This sounds great but in reality the new growth will consist of numerous small branches sprouting from each cut called water sprouts.
Being vigilant and removing excess sprouts as they appear can insure that the tree has an acceptable shape. If they are not thinned as they grow the tree will have a pollarded shape.
Large trees with major damage to the main trunk can rarely be salvaged. It is best to cut the tree down and replant.
Small trees with a damaged trunk can often be rejuvenated.
Start by removing all damaged wood. As with all pruning the final cuts should be flush with another branch or trunk. If less than a quarter of the tree has been removed, remove other parts of the tree to make a symmetrical shape.
Otherwise, wait a season or two to allow new growth to become established then prune the tree into a pleasing shape. It may take a number of years before the tree recovers its natural shape.
When tops of evergreen trees are lost they can be trained back to one leader as long as the diameter at the top of the existing tree is small.
There are two methods to accomplish this. When the top of the tree is easily assessable bend a top branch upwards and secure it in an upright position by tying the tip of the branch to one end of the dowel and the trunk of the tree to the other end. Keep the branch tied for a couple of years until it is trained to stay in position.
The second method is to allow the tree to put up a number of different leaders and remove all but one. Choose the largest straightest branch.
The location of the damaged tree also plays a large part in decision of whether to keep or remove it. A misshapen tree might be a minor annoyance in a shelterbelt but an eyesore on the front lawn.
Trees are a very important part of our landscape and environment. Take time to tend to damaged trees and they will insure shade and shelter for future years.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.