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After the Storm: Inspect Trees, Reassess Landscaping


SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Central New York has cleaned up the immediate effects of the Labor Day derecho, but some lasting changes remain in the landscape. Now that the power is restored and the broken branches are mostly removed, individual property owners and several communities as a whole face critical decisions about what to do next.

Kim Adams of the extension service at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) urges homeowners in the Rochester area and across the rest of Central New York to carefully inspect their trees, looking for safety hazards. Hanging branches and trees with cracked trunks should be removed, particularly if the crack is between the ground and the first limbs. Hardwoods probably should be removed if they lost more than 75 percent of the crown or leaf area, especially if no crown remains on one side. Conifers should be removed if they lost more than half their crown.

Many remaining trees will survive and leaf out in the spring, although it could be several years before they are less misshapen. Survival depends on the health of the tree before the storm and the extent of damage. Some damage, such as stem cracks and root damage, will not be immediately obvious. Fungi can invade a damaged tree and cause a gradual loss of structural stability; the more exposed wood there is on a tree, the greater the chance the tree will be affected by a decay fungus.

In some cases, Adams advises, there is no need to take immediate action. If a tree retained half its foliage and branches, and seems to be doing well, a homeowner can leave it. Injured branches should be trimmed back to the next limb, but they should not be cut flush with the next limb or trunk. Also, contrary to popular belief, the wound should not be painted over.

During the next few years, property owners should watch for signs of distress, such as small, off-color foliage, branch dieback, or conk formation. Owners should also treat insect infestations to avoid additional stress on trees and water in times of drought.

The storm provides homeowners and community leaders with a chance to reassess their landscaping. If a tree survived the wind but does not fit where it is growing, its eventual removal should be considered.

Individual property owners and communities as a whole need to look over their landscaping sites, evaluating such elements as rooting space, drainage, proximity to roads, and maximum allowable height and width, in regard to both utilities and structures. Poor selection, poor planting, and poor early maintenance are common problems.

Adams, an instructional support specialist at ESF, provides other tips for those changing their landscaping:

  • Learn about what you're buying. You don't want to plant a tree that could grow to 80 feet in a 30-foot space. Don't plant six trees where only two will fit eventually.
  • Test the soil to see if pH or certain nutrients limit the selection.
  • Remember Syracuse is in USDA plant hardiness zone 5 and select new plants accordingly.
  • Become familiar with the maintenance a certain tree requires. Proper pruning will produce a stronger tree and can keep wounds smaller so the tree's natural defenses help it heal more quickly.
  • Learn about the diseases and insect pests that can be harmful.
  • Keep mowers and weed whackers away from new plantings.
  • Consult an expert. ESF's extension service provides planting and maintenance recommendations. The service can be reached at 470-6751.