Storm Damage and Mature Tree Pruning

One winter evening I was working on the computer when the power went out. The freezing rain that had been forecast must have been the culprit. It was getting late so I went to bed figuring we would have power again by morning.

Thunder and lightning woke me a couple times, but then I heard something a little different. An explosive popping sound followed by what seemed to be a shower of sparks. In my minds eye I tried to picture the cause of this sound. An exploding power transformer with hot lines arcing around it? There is nothing like a puzzle to keep me awake; but I didn't want to get up and lose the warmth I had built up under the blankets. Just drifting off again I heard the sound repeated but up the hill behind my house and more distant... more crackly sounding but still accompanied by the sparkling shattering sound my ears were now more tuned in to analyze. Suddenly realizing the impact this freezing rain was having I shot out of bed and ran to the window. Large tree limbs were on the ground. Major branches were bending under the cumulative weight of the ice; then noisily busting sending thousands of 3" icicles to break with a sparkly shattering sound.

Well the power was out for days for many, and the damage to the trees and landscape is still being cleaned up. After a damaging storm you always see a migration of tree company trucks to the area. Many of the local tree care, and landscape businesses have their hands full assisting their customer base. The city workers are also busy as these crews and residents move debris to the street for collection. The effects of such a storm can be seen in the landscape for years to come. Storms can cause limbs to break and trees to fall. A large damaged tree branch can be extremely heavy and dangerous to remove or trim. Removing large branches from a mature tree safely requires special training and often specialized equipment. Also the way this damage is dealt with impacts on the health of the tree. If you value your trees (yes I know they are all valuable) or fear a tree becoming a hazard, I would suggest you find a certified arborist.

One good first test of an arborist is:

Tell them you need your trees topped.

If they say "Sure, no problem." move on till you find one that knows what is good for the long term health of a tree.

There are plenty of crews in your town that can carve up your trees for you; but it may take diligence to find a crew trained in the proper pruning of mature trees. Everyone appreciates the hardworking and practical service of the local jobber cleaning up a storms mess, but if you have issues with major branches of a large tree, do generations to come a favor and search out an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

A good certified arborist with integrity will only perform ISA accepted practices. Branches are not removed without good reason. They do not "top" tree's, remove excessive amounts of live wood, or use climbing spikes on a tree (unless it is being removed). A good arborist knows how to make removal of a desirable tree the last option, and will make pruning decisions that will enhance the health of the tree and reduce possible hazards.

Pruning Cuts on a Mature Tree

Regardless who is doing the pruning or why, final pruning cuts should be made just outside a growth of bark cells called the branch collar. The branch collar is a collar of growth made of parent branch (trunk) tissue where the branch meets the trunk (or parent branch) and care should be taken to not cut or remove it. This is true for dead, damaged or living branches. Do not remove the actively growing cells of the branch collar. These cells are the trees way of closing the wound. The branch collar grows a bit out and angled away from the parent, so if you make a flush cut against the trunk, the branch collar has been removed and the wound will not close. Conversely if you cut far away from the trunk the branch collar is not near the cut where they can grow over the wound. Improper pruning cuts can hurt your trees.

Take notice of trees with dieback of the bark on branches and down the trunks. Often you can tell it was from a flush cut or an end cut. Other times it may be a storm damaged branch that wasn't removed and it died back to the trunk and on down.

If removing a large limb, first its weight should be reduced to prevent tearing the bark when the branch falls. Make a shallow cut from the bottom of the branch a foot or so out from the branches point of attachment. Then finish cut from the top, above or a little further out on the branch. This leaves a lighter and more manageable stub. The stub is then removed while taking care to not remove the branch collar. This technique reduces the possibility of tearing the bark.

A garden center manager, writer, musician and webmaster; Lee Goins is often called on as an expert in landscaping and gardening. Residents of Shelby County Ohio have been bringing him pieces of trees, moldy leaves, and jars of bugs for 8 years in spite of the well publicized knowledge he prefers chocolate. His gardening help has been featured on TV, Radio, Newspapers and websites like

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