Deciding When to Remove Trees
After a hurricane or large wind storm, homeowners need to assess the damage to their trees and decide what steps to take. Two options are available for storm-damaged trees: restoration and removal. Restoration is saving a tree by careful management. Removal means uprooting a tree and planting another, more wind-resistant, tree in its place.
Although storm damage may seem devastating at first, many trees can be restored and saved. Consult with tree-care professionals and/or your county Extension office for guidance.
Here are some general guiding principles for when you’re evaluating the overall health and hurricane safety of your landscape.
- Retain trees with long lifespans. Some examples are live oak, mahogany, and sabal palm. Remove trees that are short-lived, like cherry laurel; prone to decay, such as mature laurel oak; or weak-wooded, such as pine.
- Save clusters of trees and the plants growing beneath them. Trees growing in groups or shady forests often grow very tall and narrow. If the site is cleared, an isolated tree becomes vulnerable to wind damage and could snap or fall over during a windstorm or hurricane. For this reason, it is best to leave trees in clusters. The cluster should include the trees along with any groundcovers or native shrubs growing beneath them. This trio of trees, shrubs, and groundcovers buffers wind and maintains habitat for wildlife.
- Leave snags. Leave snags, which are the trunks of dead trees, in place if they do not create a hazard. Many birds use snags for perching, nesting, and feeding.
Criteria for Restoration
To be a good candidate for restoration, a tree should not have cracks in its major limbs or trunk. Its roots should not be exposed or lifted out of the soil. In addition, the branches and trunk structure need to have been strong and healthy prior to the storm. Read our article on Restoring Trees After a Storm.
Criteria for Removal
A tree that needs to be removed may have one or more of the above criteria, like a defoliated canopy and small broken branches. How do you know, then, that it's not a candidate for restoration? Because it will also have one or more of the problems listed below. These indicate a non-repairable tree. A tree suffering one or more of these problems should be removed by a professional. See Selecting Trees That Can Withstand Hurricanes for some suggested species of wind-resistant trees that can be planted in the old tree's place. Look for these signs that a storm-damaged tree in your yard should be removed.
- The lower trunk is cracked or broken. If the main trunk is cracked, then the tree is weak and should probably be removed.
- A large stem has split from the tree. A large branch or co-dominant stem that has broken often leads to massive decay and weakness.
- The tree is leaning towards a target. If a leaning tree is likely to fall on a person, building, power line, or roadway, or is presenting another serious threat, it should be removed. Leaning trees usually have major roots broken and are unstable.
- The tree's structure was not good prior to the storm. Restoration is difficult for large trees that had poor structure before the storm. Trees with multiple trunks, co-dominant stems, and bark inclusions are all good candidates for removal.
- Large limbs are broken. Trees with many large damaged branches in the canopy (as opposed to branches with only leaves stripped, or trees with only small branches broken) are more difficult to restore. Consider removing these trees.
It’s never easy, cheap, and quick to remove a tree stump, but every method has its advantage. If you have the patience, rotting is probably the cheapest and easiest method of stump removal. In this natural process, fungi break down the wood. The rotting can be sped up by regular watering of the stump. Of course, you can just dig and cut it out of the ground. This requires a strong back and might take many hours. You can always call an arborist or tree removal service to grind your stump into small chips, but this can be expensive. Or take the path of least resistance and repurpose your stump, making it into a container garden, covering it with potted plants, or using it as a creative seating area.
Pines are very sensitive to high winds and often suffer severe wind damage during a hurricane or large storm. During a storm, pines can snap, uproot, or lean dramatically.
A pine still standing after a hurricane may have internal damage that is not visible to the naked eye. Before making a decision whether to restore or remove a pine, wait and see if the tree lives. Bear in mind that pines may die slowly, over a period of 6 months to 2 years.
Yellow vs. Brown Needles
A pine tree that has all brown needles is a dead tree and should be removed. A pine that dies slowly after being damaged in a storm may keep yellow-green needles for a year or more and then suddenly turn yellow and quickly progress to brown.
What causes the yellowing of needles and pine death? The causes are not completely understood, but it is likely due to the hidden damage inside the pine produced by its bending and twisting during hurricane-force winds. Prolonged winds may also rupture smaller roots without breaking the larger support roots. The injured stems and roots are unable to supply the water and nutrients needed in the crown, resulting in yellow needles and pine decline.
Palms grow differently from other trees. They have a growing point located at the top of each trunk called the bud, surrounded by leaves called fronds. All fronds originate from this one bud. If the bud is severely damaged or killed, new leaves will not develop, and the palm will eventually die.
After a hurricane, many homeowners wonder if their palms can be restored. If a palm's trunk is snapped in half, and the fronds and bud are gone, the palm is dead and should be removed. If the palm is left standing, with at least some fronds remaining, it may be hard to determine whether or not the bud is damaged. For such palms, follow these guidelines.
- Wait at least 6 months to see if the palm puts out new growth. New fronds may be stunted, discolored, or abnormally shaped, but do not be alarmed. It may take one to two years before the palm appears normal again.
- Irrigate the palm three times per week for six weeks, respecting any water restrictions that your water management district may have in place for your area. Continue to irrigate longer if the dry spell persists, especially in warm weather. Apply appropriate palm fertilizer if nutrition is lacking.
- Have patience. Palms are special trees, so give them adequate time to recover after a storm.
If after about six months no new foliage has appeared, it is probably not going to recover. Contact a professional tree-care service to have the palm removed.