Use care when trimming storm-damaged trees
Last week was the traditional start of the storm season, and as if on cue, Tropical Storm Cristobal paid us a visit.
This storm surprised us with a greater amount of coastal flooding than expected; and the rain, oh the rain. The Gulf Coast collected 6 inches in a 24-hour period, which was less than forecasted, but it still creates havoc in the landscape and garden.
I remember a tropical storm several years ago -- also in June -- that dumped more than 20 inches of rain on my garden over four days.
One positive aspect of tropical storms is that there is time to secure the garden plants that could be damaged. I took the time I had to use bungee cords to hold my tomatoes to the cattle panel trellis and support the sweet corn I’m growing so the plants wouldn’t lodge.
Luckily, the winds didn’t kick up very much this time, but we all know there will be events that cause greater damage, especially to our trees.
It’s important to remember that damaged trees -- especially large trees like our beloved live oaks -- can be extremely dangerous for the homeowner to attempt to repair. Homeowners can attempt small tree repair, but professional, certified arborists are best suited to handle larger jobs.
Typical damage scenarios include wounds, split branches, exposed roots, fallen and uprooted trees, and broken and torn limbs. In many cases, the damaged tree has to be removed and replaced.
Properly treating limb damage is important for the overall health of the tree.
Small branches and limbs -- typically those 1 inch or less in diameter -- can be removed with a single cut. Always look for the branch collar, which is a slightly raised area around the point where the branch is connected to the tree trunk. Removing the limb at this point will facilitate the tree healing itself.
After pruning a branch, never cover the cut surface to protect it. Many homeowners believe that trees heal in the same way as a cut on the finger, which they cover with a bandage. In the past, before we knew better, various materials like paint, caulk and cement were used, but they would only trap disease organisms.
Instead, follow these steps. Trim back damaged, jagged branches to an even surface; you can even use a wood chisel to do this task. This allows the tree to completely seal off the damaged area from the rest of the tree.
To remove large, heavy limbs greater than 1 inch in diameter, use the drop-cut method (research the 1-2-3 technique to learn how). This will allow you to avoid ripping bark and wood. Never cut flush with the trunk or branch from which you are pruning.
I can’t emphasize enough that removing large tree limbs is dangerous work. You should hire a certified arborist for the job. These trained professionals can also treat and repair other types of damage, and their skills can save many trees.
You need to continue to care for all trees after repairs are completed. Check soil moisture, and consider adding mulch to conserve moisture as the dry fall months approach.
Prune a damaged tree just enough to balance any loss of roots, avoiding severe pruning. Cut out broken, diseased and malformed branches, and give the tree a desirable shape.