Repair tips for damaged trees

Posted Dec. 25, 2008, at 5:44 p.m.

Damage to power lines in Maine from the recent ice, wind and snowstorms has been repaired, but many homeowners may be feeling heartburn every time they look at trees injured or mangled by the winter weather, including the high winds of Christmas Day.

Maine Forest Service experts say there is no need to rush into any mending projects and are urging homeowners to consult with licensed professionals before undertaking major repairs.

The ice storm that swept through New England on Dec. 11 caused minimal damage to trees in Maine, especially compared to the ice storm of 1998, according to the Maine Forest Service.

Apart from tree limbs hanging precariously above power lines or property, most damage to trees can be addressed any time over the next several months.

“Safety would be the primary factor to consider,” said Bill Ostrofsky, a forest pathologist with the service. “With most injuries that are received by trees during ice storms, most trees can survive fairly well … Trees have a tremendous capacity to recover.”

Ostrofsky said strategic pruning to remove broken limbs can be done anytime between now and early March. After March, pruning is less helpful and can actually harm the tree by inflicting fresh wounds that cause sap and bark loss.

The forest service offers the following recommendations for trimming and pruning damaged trees:

• Make three distinct cuts when trimming broken or split branches. The first cut should be halfway through the underside of the limb, about 12 inches from where it joins the tree. The second cut should be about two inches farther out from the first cut. Saw through the topside of the branch until it splits. Finally, remove the re-maining branch stub.

• Remove all loose or ragged bark from damaged areas with a sharp knife by cutting the bark away in oblong, football-shaped patterns. This will help prevent insect infestation and aid natural healing.

• Avoid tree “topping,” or severely cutting back the main branches of a tree to prevent future limb damage. This can make weaker branches more susceptible to damage from snow, ice and wind.

• Do not apply paint or other compounds to tree wounds.

• Do not rush into repairs. If a split limb does not appear likely to break away and cause more damage, keep an eye on it and then take action, if necessary.

For more serious tree repairs, the forest service says homeowners should consult with a forester or a licensed tree care professional. The forest service, as well as the Tree Care Industry Association, urged property owners to be wary of “fly-by-night” operations that may not have the know-how to make repairs properly or the in-surance to cover the homeowner if something goes wrong.

“When injury to a tree requires climbing or chain saw work, call a licensed arborist for help,” Jan Santerre, director of the Maine Forest Service’s Project Canopy, said in a statement. “An arborist is a tree care professional, trained to assess and correct storm-damaged trees, especially damage from wind, snow and ice. More im-portantly, arborists have the experience to diagnose how much of a tree can or should be saved.”

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