Downed Tree

One of the star attractions to the community of Gothenburg is its tree lined streets. And while the trees provide comforting shade and a beautiful backdrop, they can also be messy - and even sometimes a little dangerous.

Strong winds and hail that often accompany summer storms in Nebraska can cause a lot of damage to trees. Many property owners understand that full well, and have spent hours this summer cleaning up branches and debris from their yards left behind in the wake of these storms.

Once the storm has passed and the fallen debris disposed of, how do we make sure our tree is still healthy? And what can we do to help ensure its survival? The Nebraska Forest Service offers this advice on the best way to care for your trees after a storm, and promote healthy growth to better withstand a storm.

Begin with assessing the tree’s likelihood of survival. A tree with less than half of its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough foliage to remain nourished in the coming seasons.

It is also important to remember, if a tree requires immediate attention it is best to hire a qualified arborist. If you do decide to take care of your damaged tree yourself, be sure to follow proper safety precautions and best practices. Safety always comes first.

Experts also warn against over pruning. Don’t worry if your tree appears unbalanced or naked. Don’t prune or remove more of a tree than necessary. Damage may look severe, but remember why you wanted the tree - it still may be able to serve that function. If you can delay the removal decision up to a year, you may decide the tree was not as badly damaged as you thought. After just a few years, the damage becomes much less noticeable.

Never use paint or wound dressing to cover wounds. These materials interfere with the tree’s wound-sealing process. Trees heal quickly, grow new foliage and return to their natural beauty. And as for “topping” your trees or cutting the main branches back to stubs, that is a no-no. Professional arborists advise that following that practice actually makes your tree more dangerous during future storms and reduces the foliage required for nourishment and re-growth.

The City of Gothenburg has an ordinance prohibiting the topping of trees in city parks or along the street. Jeff Kennedy, a certified arborist and member of the Gothenburg Tree Board, shared some thoughts on some of the issues related to trees here. “A lot of the problems we have in Gothenburg are because we have a high population of silver maples which are a soft tree, so species selection is really important. If you have lost a tree you need to think about what you’re going to replace it with.

“With trees that completely fall over out of the ground, that is generally a planting problem,” Kennedy continued. “Picking a good species and proper planting are two keys to growing trees that will be able to withstand storms.”

Community Forestry Specialist Chrissy Land agreed with Kennedy about the importance of selecting the right species for certain areas. “Across the state we have many native and regionally adapted tree species that have stood the test of time in our harsh environments and have proven themselves to be reliable,” she said. “We commonly refer to them as our ‘Tried and True’ species. Some great examples are Oaks, Elms, Hackberry, Catalpa, Linden, Pine, and Honeylocust.”

Kennedy said that proper watering is also essential to a strong and healthy root system. “Trees require less water than turf does, so when it comes to watering the two are not compatible. People tend to water based on their turf which can cause over watering for trees,” he said. “That leads to poor root structure and unhealthy trees. People should really try to determine how much water they are putting on their yard.”

Trees add so much to our environment, so don’t be too hasty to give up on a tree that has been damaged. Enough strong limbs may remain on a basically healthy tree to make saving it possible. A healthy, mature tree can recover even when several major limbs are damaged. However, some trees simply can’t be saved. If the tree has already been weakened by disease, if the trunk is split, or more than 50% of the crown is gone, the tree has lost its survival edge.

If you are unsure about whether or not your tree is savable, it is recommended you contact a certified arborist to assess your individual situation. “Sometimes when we have a really strong wind people are inclined to take out trees that look pretty tough, that probably didn’t need to come down,” said Kennedy.

He also reminds property owners not to become complacent when it comes to caring for their trees. “Trees are growing living things that require maintenance.”

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498