A Homeowners Guide to Dealing with Storm-Damaged Trees

Adapted from factsheet prepared by the Arkansas Forestry Commission

Removing a tree damaged by a tornado in Oklahoma. Photo by FEMA.
Removing a tree uprooted by a tornado in Oklahoma. Photo by FEMA.

Whether trees are damaged by hurricanes, tornadoes, intense rainstorms, or ice storms, they need to be carefully assessed to ensure the safety of homeowners and property. It’s also important to carefully assess whether a damaged tree can be saved, and if so, what actions can be taken to ensure and maintain optimal health.The following are guidelines recently developed by and used with permission of the Arkansas Forestry Commission:

Safety First

  • If damaged trees are entangled in overhead or downed utility lines, do not touch the limbs or lines. Treat all lines as if they were live. Alert your electricity provider.
  • Carefully inspect for broken or hanging branches near tree tops. Hanging limbs that could drop on your family, home, cars, or other valuable property should be removed safely and as quickly as possible. Any remaining tree damage can wait until the immediate emergency has passed.
  • Check your homeowner policy before beginning any tree work. Some policies cover tree damage if structural repairs are needed.
  • If you use equipment including chain saws to remove limbs, take all safety precautions including the use of full personal protective equipment – especially hard hats, eye protection, leather gloves, and close-toed shoes.

Determine if the Tree Can Be Saved

  • Trees may look unbalanced due to missing branches, but if they are healthy and at least half of the branches are intact, the tree has a good chance for a full recovery. Take your time on assessing which trees to remove completely.
  • In most cases, if more than 50 percent of a tree’s top remains intact, the tree can recover from damages.
  • Make sure that after removing damaged limbs, the tree will still provide aesthetic value to the property. If not, you may consider replacing the tree.

Assess the Damage

  • When the damage is limited to a few small branches, light pruning is usually all that is needed.
    • Make sure pruning tools are sharpened. Dull edges can cause further damage to the tree.
    • Remove loose or loosely attached branches to avoid further injury and decay to the tree.
    • Branches that have pulled away from the trunk should be removed at the bottom of the rip.
    • When pruning, cut branches on the branch side of the tree to avoid further damage to the tree trunk.
  • Never “top” the tree, which means – you should never simply cut the entire top of the tree off. This weakens the tree and makes it more susceptible to further injury and disease over time.
  • For larger branches, a certified arborist with the equipment and knowledge should be hired to ensure the work is done safely and properly.

Decide Whether to Remove the Tree Completely

  • If the trunk is split, the tree will need to be removed.
  • If more than 50 percent of the tree’s top is damaged, the tree will most likely need to be removed.
  • If the tree has been damaged several times previously, it may become a greater hazard over time. Carefully assess trees with previous injury or disease for possible removal.
  • Finally, a tree leaning from root damage will usually not survive; the tree will need to be removed.

Selecting an Arborist or Forestry Professional

  • Arborists are professionals who have made a career out of tree care.
  • When working with arborists or forestry professionals, request proof of certification and/or of membership in professional organizations. A qualified arborist should be an ISA-Certified Arborist (certified through the International Society of Arboriculture).
  • When working with arborists or forestry professionals, request proof of worker’s compensation and liability insurance.
  • Check references for any professionals you hire to assist you with clearing damaged trees.
  • Get multiple estimates for the work you need done, in every circumstance.
  • Visit the ISA www.treesaregood.org website to find a certified arborist near you.

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