Plant Care Resources

Tree Care Before and After Storms

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It’s important to have large trees evaluated by an arborist. An arborist can prune trees to make them less susceptible to storm damage.

High winds and thunderstorms often bring down trees or branches. Here are some suggestions from experts at The Morton Arboretum, based on their own research and current industry insights, for dealing with the impact of storms on trees.

Choose the right tree. A tree species that is well adapted to your site conditions, including the amount of sun available and the type of soil, will be less likely to become stressed and weak and therefore less likely to be damaged by winds and storms. If you’re planting a tree, choose the right species or variety for the planting site. Consult the Plant Clinic of The Morton Arboretum for help in assessing your site and choosing an appropriate tree.

Don’t plant trees near power lines. Many power outages and serious accidents are caused because trees sway and interfere with power lines or trees or branches fall on them. Don’t plant a tree within 20 feet of a power line unless its mature, full-grown height will be less than 25 feet. If your tree will grow to be a tall shade tree, plant it at least 50 feet from any utility line.

Check for a sound structure. A tree with a sound structure is strong and can resist the strain of bending in the wind. The best structure depends on the species of tree. For many large trees, this structure consists of a single central stem leading up to the top of the tree, with branches arranged evenly around it. Others may have a different kind of crown, as long as the overall structure is balanced. To learn what structure is best for your new or established tree, start by finding out what kind it is. The Plant Clinic can help. 

Prune trees when young. The time to establish a sound structure is during a tree’s first few years. Start pruning a young tree in the winter a year after you plant it. For the majority of large tree species, make cuts to favor a central leader. In general, eliminate branches that reach the trunk at acute angles; sharp angles are weaker than wide angles. Keep pruning until the tree is too tall to work on with your feet on the ground. Learn more >

Have trees inspected. Large trees provide many benefits: adding shade, saving energy, clearing pollution, and increasing property values. However, they require regular maintenance, just as your home does. Have large, established trees inspected every few years for signs of disease, defects, or weaknesses that might make limbs more likely to fall. Pruning by a trained arborist can make trees less vulnerable to high winds and ice storms.

Trust the trained, licensed, and insured: Have your tree work done by a tree professional who is trained, licensed, and insured. Find a certified arborist through the websites of the Illinois Society of Arborists or the International Society of Arboriculture. Insist on seeing a current certificate of liability insurance before you allow anyone to work on a tree. Otherwise, you could be liable for any injuries.

Find a pro before a storm. Locate a licensed, insured tree care company and keep its name handy in case of storm damage. Find a backup too, in case the first-choice firm is busy after a big storm.

Care for your trees. Trees that are unhealthy or stressed are more likely to fail. Branches often break where wood is already weakened by disease or insects. Keep your trees healthy by watering them in dry weather, spreading mulch over their roots, and having regular professional inspections.

Don’t take chances: You can clear a small tree or branch yourself, if it has fallen all the way to the ground, but don’t try to work on a large tree or branch or one that is lying on a building or a car. It likely weighs thousands of pounds and can cause serious injury if it falls or shifts. If you do any work on a fallen tree or branch, keep your feet on the ground. Never climb a ladder with a chainsaw. Always think about where a branch or chunk of wood will fall once you cut it off; it can cause serious injury if it strikes a person.

Call a pro for big jobs: Let a professional remove trees or large branches that have fallen on buildings or cars. Trees are extremely heavy and tree work is dangerous. About 100 people are killed each year working on trees in the United States, many of them homeowners or small contractors without adequate training or safety equipment.

Stay clear of power lines: Keep well away from fallen trees or branches near power lines. Live wires may not be easy to see, and can be deadly if you accidentally touch them. Call the power company to handle these trees.