Extension Specialist Gives Tips For Dealing With Storm-Damaged Trees

storm-damaged treeNorthwest Iowa — The recent ice storm left many trees with broken branches and many yards filled with mounds of debris. Much of the cleanup is done, but much of it remains as well. And some property owners are wondering what to do with trees that received significant damage.

We talked to Iowa State University Extension Horticulture Educator Margaret Murphy about trees and storm damage.

Murphy says there are some things to check, however.

She says that if it is unclear whether the tree is at risk, and it is in a location where it will not create a hazard, you might leave the tree to see how it responds over time.

She says that for trees that need trimming, it is recommended that the pruning of large trees be left to a professional tree care specialist such as a trained arborist.

She says if you’re going to be doing the work yourself, it’s no longer recommended to paint a tree wound.

For more information on selecting an arborist, click here.

More information from Margaret Murphy:

A specialist should also be called if the damaged tree or branch is leaning on another tree or on a structure.  Contact your utility company if an injured tree or branch is around power lines. When hiring help for tree care, check with your town to see if tree services or arborists need to be licensed to work in your community. Ask to see proof of insurance for personal and property damage and workers’ compensation.  It also doesn’t hurt to ask for local references. If you can, get cost estimates from several tree care professionals and request a written estimate that lists all the work that is to be done. Pay for the job after all the work agreed upon has been completed. Plus, avoid letting anyone “top” your trees. Topping can rob the tree of much of its food producing ability and is a discouraged practice. Often topped trees respond by sending out multiple shoots at the pruned ends. These branches are weakly attached and tend to break easily in wind, snow or ice storms.

When trimming a storm damage tree, the broken branches or branch stubs should be pruned back to the collar of the larger limb or trunk to which they are attached. Wounds can provide entry areas for decay-causing organisms. Trees respond to a wound by “walling-off” or compartmentalizing the injured tissue. This protects the tree from disease, insects and rot. Breakage caused by the storm may have resulted in large, uneven stubs. The goal of pruning is to minimize the wound and aid the tree in prompt and proper wound closure.

Proper pruning cuts should be made to the outside of the collar and branch bark ridge (the raised strip of bark). The branch collar and the branch bark ridge are the boundary between the branch and trunk. Pruning cuts that injure or remove the collar leave tissue open to disease and decay. Therefore, don’t make flush cuts, which leave bigger wounds that are difficult for a tree to “wall-off.”

If you need to remove a large limb, use a 3-cut technique to prevent the branch from tearing away as it is being cut thus causing a greater injury. To begin, make the first cut on the underside of the branch approximately six to twelve inches from the point of attachment. Make the cut about halfway through the branch. The second cut is made on the top of the branch one inch further out than the first cut. From the top down cut through the branch. As the second cut is made the weight of the branch may cause it to break at the pivot point between the two cuts. Once the branch falls, the final cut is made outside the branch collar. For more information on pruning, see Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication, Pruning Trees: Shade, Flowering, and Conifer (

If you want more information on storm-damaged trees, see ISU Extension and Outreach publication, Managing Storm-Damaged Trees

If you have any questions, please feel free to email, or phone (712) 472-2576 or contact your local County Extension office. Additional information was provided by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources article, Managing Storm Damaged Trees (

Contact informationMargaret Murphy • 712 472-2576 (Office) • 605 521-7893 (Cell) •

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