K-State’s Ward Upham: Safety first
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A late-spring stretch of stormy weather may mean damaged trees and gardens for homeowners. Kansas State University horticulturist Ward Upham provided tips for pruning damaged trees and assessing and helping garden plants survive the weather.
“If a tree is damaged, you often will have to decide whether it can be saved or not,” said Upham, who is the coordinator of K-State’s Horticulture Rapid Response Center. He provided five tips for the care of storm-damaged trees.
1. Be safe. Check for downed power lines or hanging branches. Don't venture under the tree until it is safe. If large limbs are hanging precariously, a certified arborist has the tools, training and knowledge to do the work safely.
2. Cleanup. Remove debris so you don't trip over it.
3. Decide if it is feasible to save the tree. If the bark has been split so the cambium – the cell layer underneath the outer and inner bark – is exposed or the main trunk is split, the tree probably will not survive and should be removed.
The cambium is the growing part of the tree trunk. If so many limbs are broken that the tree’s form is destroyed, replacement is the best option.
Topping, where all the main branches are cut, leaving only stubs, is not a recommended pruning procedure. Though new branches will normally arise from the stubs, they will not be as firmly attached as the original branches and are more likely to break in subsequent storms. Also, the tree must use a lot of energy to develop new branches, leaving less to fight off diseases and insect attacks. Often, the topped tree's life is shortened.
4. Prune broken branches to the next larger branch or to the trunk. If cutting back to the trunk, do not cut flush with the trunk but rather at the collar area between the branch and the trunk. Cutting flush with the trunk leaves a much larger wound than cutting at the collar and takes longer to heal.
Middle-aged or younger vigorous trees can have up to one-third of the crown removed and still make a surprisingly swift comeback.
5. Take large limbs off in stages. If you try to take off a large limb in one cut, it will often break before the cut is finished and strip bark from the tree.
Instead, first make a cut about 15 inches from the trunk. Start from the bottom and cut one-third of the way up through the limb. Make the second cut from the top down but start 2 inches further away from the trunk than the first.
The branch will break away as you make the second cut. The third cut, made at the collar area, removes the stub that is left.
“Pruning can be dangerous,” Upham said. “Consider hiring a trained arborist to do major work such as this.”
He noted that a good arborist knows how to prune trees so that storm breakage is less likely to occur. Preventing damage is better than trying to fix it once it has happened, he said, noting that the Arbor Day Foundation maintains a website with detailed information.
High winds, excessive rainfall and hail can wreak havoc in any garden. Upham provided tips to assess damage and help fragile plants recover.
Heavy rain: The force of rainfall pounding the soil can result in a thick crust that prevents seed emergence and partially blocks oxygen from reaching roots. A light scraping after the soil surface has dried is all that is needed to correct these problems. Be careful of deep tilling as it may damage young, tender roots.
Standing water: Standing water cuts off oxygen to the roots, which can result in plant damage if it doesn’t drain quickly enough. Most plants can handle 24 hours of standing water without harm. Hot, sunny weather can make a bad situation worse if the water becomes hot enough to ‘cook’ the plants. In this case, there isn’t much that can be done unless a channel is cut to allow the water to drain.
Hail damage: Plants should recover quickly as long as the leaves only were damaged by the hail as leaves regenerate quickly. The situation becomes more serious if the stems and fruit were damaged. Plants can recover from a few bruises but if it looks like they were mowed down by a weed whip, it’s time to replant with new ones.
Leaning plants: Either wind or water can cause plants to lean. They should start to straighten after a few days. Don’t try to bend them back as they often break easily.
More information about growing and maintaining landscapes is available on the K-State Research and Extension horticulture website.