Trees don’t wind sail, do they?

tree wind sailing

Wind sailing is not good for trees.

Some people claiming to be tree experts will tell you that ‘wind sailing’ is a great way to protect your trees from wind damage. You may have heard this fabricated notion of thinning limbs from trees in order to make them stable during wind storms. This improper pruning technique is promoted to supposedly make trees safer in the wind by allowing wind to pass through the canopy of a tree, thus reducing movement and strain on a tree. Not so!

This may sound reasonable and may even seem to have some logic behind it. But beware – the truth is, there is no scientific study that shows thinning is wise or safe way to decrease resistance during a wind storm.

Actually, many studies have shown that the outside limbs can divert some wind from the center of the tree and act as a buffering shield. Aggressive thinning, on the other hand, can make the remaining branches more vulnerable to failure; left isolated, these limbs must take on the elements alone. Pruning out a major portion of a tree’s canopy for the sake of staying upright during a wind storm harms most trees in the long run.

Tree leaves and needles are important

Remember, trees need leaves and needles to produce food for their survival. Regardless of what you may have heard, trees do not heal from wounds. Trees only have the ability to compartmentalize and seal themselves off from a wound. So removing live branches actually depletes the energy already stored in the tree by forcing it to compartmentalize the areas around pruning cuts rather than growing new wood in areas that will stabilize and strengthen the tree. Aggressive pruning actually takes away a tree’s ability to produce food for itself, and results in unnecessary stress. This stress can be an invitation to disease, bacteria, and insect damage. It also contributes to a general decline caused by ‘starvation.’

“What do I do if I am concerned about my trees falling in a windstorm?” For the most part, trees have figured out how to react to wind. All trees move, and it is crucial that they bend. Movement is what creates their growth. By moving in the wind, a tree figures out where to add wood to strengthen weak areas. When a tree is aggressively ‘wind sailed,’ it no longer bends or moves and thus no longer builds up holding wood or necessary anchoring roots. Wind sailing can create a false sense of security in the stability of a tree.

Most trees that have not been damaged by human interference, root rot, bugs, or disease are more than capable of withstanding our region’s fiercest windstorms. It is the trees that do not fit into any of these categories that we should be most concerned about.

If your tree is unstable, there may be methods to keep it safe and improve its health. Be sure to contact a certified arborist for any tree advice. And don’t even consider topping a tree. It’s a death sentence for that tree. It’s much better to remove the tree and replace it with a more suitable one that is appropriate for its surroundings.

Check out what the DNR does for trees with its Urban and Community Forestry Program.
The information and ideas in this article were inspired by Greg Lukens, Certified Arborist, Lukens Tree Preservation, Olympia.

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One Response to “Trees don’t wind sail, do they?”

  1. The Myth of “Wind-sail Reduction” » Lukens Tree Preservation - Caring for the urban forest since 1998. Says:

    [...] To read other recent articles posted by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources click here: “Windsail Reduction: a Northwest Controversy” Also, “Trees don’t windsail, do they?” [...]

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