A broken tree doesn’t mean its life is over

Strong winds can uproot trees and break limbs. Once the wind subsides it is time to asses the damage and start the clean up.

Strong winds can uproot trees and break limbs. Once the wind subsides it is time to asses the damage and start the clean up.

When trees are planted they are usually staked to keep the plant upright for the first few years. The stakes should be loose enough that the tree can move with the wind but tight enough to keep it in place. As the tree grows and sways it puts down anchor roots which are just under or on top of the soil surface extending outwards. There are more anchor roots in the direction the wind usually blows.

Trees that are staked too tightly will not have much movement and the tree will produce fewer anchor roots as they depend on the stakes for support. It takes improperly staked trees a number of years to develop proper roots.

Other factors can also affect the stability of a tree. Disturbing the soil under a tree or near the tree can be detrimental as it breaks roots. Roots that are lost must be replaced either to feed the tree or to hold it upright. The most obvious way to damage roots is through cultivation but roots are also lost through compaction. When a heavy piece of equipment drives over roots it compacts the soil and pushed the roots further in to the ground. Roots snap when they can not stretch further. A path or area that is beaten down has the same effect.

Once the soil is compacted it is also harder for the plant to push through the soil and form more roots. The tree will have less roots and less access to nutrients which will result in a weaker tree.

Trees that are diseased or are riddled with insects are weaker and more likely to break in a wind than a healthy tree.

Before spending time pruning a broken tree assess the trees health. Look for rot within the tree. Check for lesions on the trunk and tunnels within the tree that show there insects have been a problem.

Keep the part of the tree that is still standing if it is healthy and will be visually pleasing. If insects or diseases are present it is usually best to remove the complete tree and replace it next year.

If it is beyond your ability to remove part or the entire tree safely, call an expert.

Otherwise, examine the tree to see how much damage has been done. Often when large section of a tree breaks it tears the bark on the remaining tree. Loss of bark is an opening for insects and diseases. Unfortunately there is nothing available to help the plant seal the opening. If the cut or rip is smooth the tree will close the opening in a number of years. Pruning paint has proven ineffective.

Once the tree has been assessed and deemed worth keeping start by removing the damaged area. If the damaged part is still attached to the tree make the first cut away from the tree to ensure that the weight of the limb does not tear the bark further. Make the second cut flush to the trunk or another branch. The cut should be smooth without a stub making it easy for the plant to cover the opening with a callus.

Once all the broken and dead branches are removed take time to shape the tree. If branches cross and rub together, remove on of them. Choose the one that is in the worst condition or less likely to be missed.

It is best not to remove more than a quarter of the tree in one year.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.comor your_garden@hotmail.com

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