What to Do When Your Trees Face Stormy Weather

It’s probably not news to you that the Australian climate can often be synonymous with violent storms. In just this past year alone, Cyclone Debbie wreaked absolute havoc in Queensland and forced thousands to evacuate. And tempests like the infamous Debbie can leave massive devastation in their wake. It’s a fact more or less every Australian will have to confront at some point. But for the tree owners among us, Australian storms come with an added worry: Severe Australian weather can often mean severe arboreal damage.

What to do, then, when an angry tempest threatens your landscape? What’s the best course of action when your trees suffer splintered branches, nasty gashes and/or upended root systems?

Your safest option is to exercise your common sense—both before and after the storm. Read on for a few tips as to how a little brainpower (and maybe a little outside assistance) can help fortify your trees against the elements and repair them after injury.

The Calm Before the Storm

Expert Australian arborists seem to be in agreement that nursing storm-damaged trees is as much a matter of prevention as it is of reactive care. “The one thing people forget to do is give ongoing maintenance to their trees from the day they plant them,” arborist Geoff Miers told ABC Radio Darwin in an interview following 2015 Cyclones Marcia and Lam. He added that sensible arboreal treatment “from the word go” is critical if you’re hoping to avoid fallout after a storm. “If you manage your tree properly, prune it carefully [and] stake it as required, you can develop a well-formed, safe tree,” he said.

And the word “safe” is crucial. While Australian law dictates that tree owners are not necessarily liable for any damage caused by fallen trees as a result of extreme weather, the laws of basic human decency require that owners do their due diligence in order to protect themselves and those around them. Plus, tree owners may actually be held legally accountable for storm damage should a court of law determine the owner had sufficient knowledge of a potential hazard prior to any disaster. Given all of the above, we recommend that you, the tree owner, do everything you can to ensure the safety of your neighbours, friends and family.

Before any storm hits, it’s best to take a few precautionary measures such as:

In the Immediate Aftermath of the Storm

So the storm has come and gone and you’re taking your first tentative steps outside your front door. You notice trees strewn across your property and branches littering your lawns. How do you begin to restore things back to normal? What’s the best way to tend to your injured trees? Should you try and triage the damage yourself or call in a professional?

Unsurprisingly, your greatest ally in the wake of a storm is your common sense. When assessing the state of your trees, always be on your guard. If your trees or their accompanying branches have knocked down any power lines such as telephone, cable or utility wires, avoid these areas at all costs. The temptation to jump right in and start nursing your trees back to health may be strong, but the charge from an electrical current will be stronger. Steer clear of metal fences as well—they can likewise carry an electrical pulse if they are close enough to downed or exposed wires.

You should also keep away from trees and branches that appear likely to fall. Tree limbs tangled among the leaves? Don’t walk directly beneath the canopy. Tree trunks appear to be leaning? Stay well away from the surrounding soil. In these situations, it’s best to seek expert help before getting on with your repairs. Other warning signs that most likely merit an immediate phone call to a professional arborist include:

If you’ve thoroughly investigated your property and discovered there are no immediate dangers, however, here are few small actions you can take to help secure the well-being of your trees:

After the Clouds Have Cleared

Once the dust has well and truly settled and you’re able to start with more aggressive tree repairs, remember to tread carefully—literally and figuratively. Again, use your basic powers of deduction and proceed with caution. When in doubt, call in a professional arborist to assess your arboreal landscape and render a report on how to preserve or dispose of your trees where appropriate. Following a storm, a seasoned arborist may suggest plans for larger tree-saving projects like:

But be warned: As we indicated earlier, excessive pruning—especially among tree crowns—can sometimes do more harm than good. You may end up inadvertently killing your trees if you over-prune, particularly if you trim the crown to below 50% of its original mass. In addition, more drastic measures such as complete tree removal or the reduction of more than 30% of a crown may place you at legal risk. Except in certain extenuating circumstances, local councils often demand that tree owners obtain special permission before felling or pruning certain trees, even if these trees are extremely diseased or dead.

Councils may also expect tree owners to plant replacement trees. The bottom line? If an arborist suggests you dispose of one or more of your trees, always check in with your local government before you chop anything down. A second opinion from another arborist couldn’t hurt either.

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