Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blowing In The Wind

This past week or so, wind has been tough on trees. First, a mile-and-a-half-high sandstorm turned day to night in West Texas. Then high winds hammered the Upper Midwest at the same time a tornado plowed through Florida.

Whatever form of extreme-wind event you experience, the trees in your landscape are at risk, as many of you have no doubt discovered. Wind speeds of around 40mph can snap off twigs. Tack on another 10mph, and weak limbs can come down. Once winds reach 60mph—such as Chicago experienced this week—entire trees can be uprooted.

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration/
Department of Commerce

And those velocities don't hold a candle to tornadic winds that, at their worst, can rip a full-grown tree out of the ground and carry it away. Less powerful tornadoes often strip limbs, leaving particularly ragged torque injuries.

During the past 18 months, several heavy-duty tornadoes have torn through this area. And just last spring, we experienced 60 to 90 mph straight-line winds from a storm downburst. Under those conditions, there isn't much you can do to protect trees. In fact, there isn't anything you can do except pick up the pieces and make repairs in the aftermath.

But those repairs—or lack of them—can make the difference between life and death for a tree. So can getting the right repairs.

Several years ago, a major storm left one of the most beautiful oaks in our community severely damaged. While other property owners trimmed away broken limbs from their trees, often bringing in certified arborists to make sure the job was done properly, this poor tree stood draped in broken, dead branches, like a car-crash victim cast off to the side of the road.

Year after year went by, during which the tree received no post-disaster care at all. None. Zero. Its many wounds remained open, providing ready access for any pest or disease that came along. I ground my teeth every time I drove past.

In the meantime, trees that had been properly pruned following the storm were able to devote all their energies to callusing over their neatly trimmed wounds and recovering from the shock they had suffered. These specimens are now well on their way to regaining much of their past glory.

Then, in the middle of last summer's record-breaking heatwave and drought, a tree-trimmer struck.

I didn't see it happen, but I know the so-called "expert" in question was no certified arborist. Why? Because he topped the oak, sawing back all the major limbs, leaving them with blunt ends. As if that weren't bad enough, he even removed every last lateral branch, so the drought-stressed tree had to use all its depleted energy to produce leaf-bearing sprouts just to stay alive. And it had to do this not in spring, but in mid-summer.

Undoubtedly, in his own eyes, the inept tree trimmer was making the damaged oak tidy—and it is, if a dying  tree does it for you. The sprigs of growth that the tree managed to put out along its stumped-back limbs make me think of that  neglected car-crash victim, gasping his last breaths. Unfortunately, the once noble oak's injuries have now gone from survivable to mortal. I no longer grind my teeth when I drive past. How I feel about this "deadly pruning" goes well beyond that.

I'll be glad when the tree's struggles are finally over and it's been taken down. Because, really, that grand old oak that has stood there for generations is just too painful to look at now.

What I'm getting at is this: If you've had horrific weather—wind, ice, snow, whatever—and need help with your trees, call someone who won't leave you worse off than you started. To find a qualified arborist in your area, go toThe Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

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