Trees have an uncanny ability to recover from storm damage. Oftentimes, storms leave trees looking bare and deflated, but these looks can be deceiving. Ask yourself these questions before you assume your storm-damaged tree can’t be saved.

    Can My Tree be Saved?


    Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous?
    If the tree is basically healthy, it is not creating a hazard and it did not suffer major structural damage, it generally will recover if first aid measures are applied immediately after the storm.


    Are major limbs broken?
    The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage. If a majority of the main branches are gone, the tree may have little chance of surviving.


    Has the leader (main upward-trending branch) been lost?
    In species where a leader is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, it may be a judgment call. The tree may live without its leader, but at best would be a stunted or deformed version of its former self. 


    Is at least 50 percent of the tree’s crown (branches and leaves) still intact?
    This is a good rule of thumb for tree survivability. A tree with less than half its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another season.


    How big are the wounds where branches have been broken or bark has been damaged?
    The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests. A two- to three-inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will seal over with new bark within a couple of years.


    Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure?
    The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Look to see if branches are in place that can eventually fill out the tree’s appearance.


    Is the tree of a desirable species for its location?
    If the tree is in the wrong location (such as a potentially tall tree beneath a power line) or an undesirable species for the property (messy fruit, etc.), then it may be best to remove it now.
    What if my tree has significant bark loss?
    Bark loss should be addressed immediately. This article has information on how one tree was successfully treated for bark loss. A full information sheet is coming soon.

    What Next?

    Now that you’ve assessed your tree, what category does it fall into? Is it a keeper? Should you wait and see if it will recover? Or is it already time to say goodbye? In general, the answer as to what to do about a particular tree will fall into one of three categories.


    It’s a Keeper

    If damage is relatively slight, you can prune broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around the wounds and let the tree begin to repair itself.


    An Easy CallAn Easy Call:
    A mature shade tree can usually survive the loss of one major limb. The broken branch should be pruned back to the trunk. In the months to follow, large wounds should be closely monitored for signs of decay.

    Minor DamageMinor Damage:
    Although the tree has been damaged, enough strong limbs may remain on a basically healthy tree to make saving it possible.

    Too Young to DieToo Young to Die:
    Young trees can sustain quite a bit of damage and still recover quickly. If the leader is intact and the structure for future branching remains, remove the broken branches and let the tree close over the wounds and recover itself.


    Wait and See

    If a valuable tree appears to be a borderline case, resist the temptation to rush through the process and just cut the tree down. Remember, time is on your side. Carefully prune broken branches and then give the tree some time to recover. A final decision can be made later.


    Easy Does ItEasy Does It:
    Resist the temptation to prune too heavily. Remember that the tree will need all the foliage it can produce in order to make it through the next growing season. Remove only the damaged limbs, wait and see what happens.

    Hold OffHold Off:
     A healthy mature tree can recover even when several major limbs are damaged. With large trees, a professional arborist should be brought in to assess damage on a borderline situation, and to safely accomplish needed pruning and branch removal.

    Say Goodbye

    Some trees simply can't be saved or they're not worth saving. If the tree already has been weakened by disease, if the trunk is split or more than 50 percent of its leaves are gone, then the tree likely won't make it. 


    Tree TragedyTree Tragedy:
    This otherwise healthy young tree has lost too much of its crown—the leafy head that is vital for survival. It will probably not be able to grow enough new branches and leaves to provide needed nourishment, and will never be able to regain its former beautiful shape.

    Hopeless CaseHopeless Case:
    About all that’s left of this tree is its trunk. The few remaining branches can’t provide enough foliage to enable the tree to make it through another growing season.

    Farewell to a friendFarewell to a Friend:
    A rotten inner core in the trunk or structural weakness in branching patterns can cause a split trunk—the tree equivalent of a heart attack. The wounds are too large to ever mend, and the tree has lost its sap lifeline between roots and leaves. This tree is all but dead.

    Some of your trees may have damage that’s too close to call. Or you may have hidden damage. In these cases, a tree professional may be needed to help you decide what to do. Don't hire just anyone who shows up at your door after a storm; look for ISA Certified Arborists.

    Artwork provided by Arbor Day Foundation Illustrations.