DNR advises caution in aftermath of wind storm

Saturated soils and strong winds toppled this big tree.
Saturated soils and strong winds toppled this big tree.

Does your yard resemble a ‘war zone’ of downed trees and limbs after the recent wind storms that swept across much of Washington?

High winds and rain-saturated soils can lead to damage to even the healthiest of trees. If you’re lucky, the storm removed the weakest limbs from your trees, and all you need to do now is prune and clean up debris.

If your tree suffered more than a little damage, you may need help. The Arbor Day Foundation has some excellent tree recovery tips.

Whatever you do, please don’t top your trees! There are much better ways to deal with damaged trees. Arborists and plant scientists agree that tree topping is bad tree management practice.

Topping is severely cutting and removing large branches in a mature tree. Trees cut back indiscriminately will respond by quickly growing multiple branch-like shoots that compete for dominance. The result is a bushy re-growth that will be the same size as the tree’s original height, but with weaker branches.

As shoots increase in weight, the branches of a topped tree become susceptible to breaking off during storms. They must be continually pruned to avoid potentially hazardous branch failures. Rather than creating a safer tree, topping can actually create a greater hazard.

The best answer is to consult a certified arborist for any tree care.

Certified arborists and other legitimate landscape professionals do not practice tree topping. If problems caused by a tree cannot be solved through acceptable management practices, the tree should be removed and replaced with a different tree or plant more appropriate for the site.

Tips for dealing with tree service companies

Here are some tips for finding a tree service company to deal with downed or damaged trees after storms:

  • Hire a company that is licensed, bonded, insured and employs International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborists. Although Washington requires tree service companies to register with the state, they are not required to follow proper pruning standards.
  • Look for an arborist whose name and company are familiar to your community, even if that means waiting longer for service.
  • Beware of people who go door-to-door offering to prune trees or remove storm damage; their low prices could prove costly. Most reputable companies have business cards, truck signs, and even uniforms that represent a professional level of service.
  • Ask for references, and take your time to select a reputable company. Avoid hiring anyone who will ‘top’ a tree.

Remember, not all arborists are certified. Avoid being scammed by tree care services. Find ISA-certified arborists in your area on the website of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.

For more information on tree care, go to DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program website.

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