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Some Landscapes Can Revive After Damage
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Landscapes never look the same after a natural disaster, but steps can be taken to minimize the damages, and some relief may be available at tax time.
Damage to trees includes broken and torn limbs, wounds, split branches, exposed roots and fallen trees. The care given to injured trees depends on the extent of the damage, age of the tree and the time needed for the surrounding soil to reach normal moisture levels.
"Homeowners can delay making a decision about damaged trees for several months if there are still intact, living branches on the tree," said Dr. Stephen Dicke, Mississippi State University's Extension Service tree care specialist. "A dead branch hanging in a tree is a real problem that needs to be dealt with immediately."
Removing broken or torn limbs can be dangerous, and it may be necessary to hire a professional. To remove a heavy, large limb, make three cuts to avoid more damage to the bark and wood. Make the first cut on the underside of the limb about one foot from the trunk. Cut one-third through the limb. For the second cut, move two to six inches farther out the limb, and cut from the upper side of the limb until the branch is completely separated. The final cut is made almost flush with the trunk which is being pruned.
Do not apply tree paint or dressing to the exposed wood surfaces after limbs have been repaired or removed. These dressings are actually harmful to the trees, Dicke said.
A professional should determine repair efforts for some split branches. A technique called cabling can pull split branches back into place. This is not a permanent solution and simply temporarily delays the loss of the tree.
"Removal of trees that are partially uprooted is a judgement call," Dicke said. "If they are going to be removed, it should be done before the heavy winter rains loosen the soil."
Other uprooted trees can be reset, but braces may be required. Some braces need to remain about two years. Cut and smooth irregular root breaks should be before resetting the tree. Water well after resetting and continue watering during dry periods.
Cover exposed roots to the same level as before the damage, but no higher. A three-inch deep mulch, such as pine straw, retards drying of exposed roots.
Fertilization in the late winter can lead to good root growth, but over fertilizing may cause further damage. Follow the fertilizer instructions carefully.
Some tax benefits are available for homeowners to help cover the costs of tree repair and removal as well as the loss of these valuable trees.
"Homeowner insurance policies usually only pay for the removal of shade trees, so any other loss may be deductible," Dicke said.
The IRS accepts removal costs for trees not worth saving, restoration costs for damaged trees that are salvageable and replacement cost as evidence of loss. Other accepted deductions are clean-up expenses and loss or reduction in fair market value of trees lost or damaged.
"There are restrictions to deducting casualty losses," Dicke said. "An accountant familiar with casualty losses can help, and tree appraisers can determine fair market value of damaged trees. This information is available at the local county Extension offices."
The value of trees are based on several characteristics such as species, condition, location and placement.
Trees are not the only parts of the landscape damaged by storms. Silting, which occurs when soil is dumped on flood land by water, can damage or kill smaller plants.
"As long as the soil deposit is not over one or two inches, it is all right to leave," said Dr. David Nagel, Extension home lawn and garden specialist. "But if the mud is more than a couple of inches deep, it needs to be taken away."
To reduce injury, remove silt from the crowns of plants. Wash silt from well-drained soil with a hose. Rake away dried mud from grassy areas. Small amounts of silt are not harmful and may be raked into the grass. Maintenance should remain normal.
"If something green is sticking through the mud and sun can hit the blades of grass, no treatments are necessary," Nagel said. "And you get additional soil for free."