We had a lot of tree damage last fall and winter, heavy snow breaking branches and damaging trees. In the Midwest with tornados, there are the same conditions, high winds and wet conditions. In the high plains or Rocky Mountain area, we have high winds, sometimes with moisture, but typically, we have wet snow in the fall and spring, which can break limbs.
When this happens, we can look at the health of the tree as it is being cut up and removed. The condition of the roots, branches or trunk can be seen, and with this information, we can make predictions of other similar aged trees and species in that community or neighborhood. I am often asked about the health of a tree, I am continually on the lookout of these downed branches or downed trees to see if they have any disease or insect problems.
Any tree can have the appearance of looking healthy and everyone wants his or her tree to live forever. The leaves can be green, it can show new growth, but it can also be showing signs of future problems. Diseases can come in many forms and may or may not lead to structural problems of a tree, but may cause the tree to die. Typically, the first sign most everyone can identify, especially once the tree is cut up or downed, is a rot where the trunk or branch is hollowed out. A disease or improper punning can cause this. This may take many years or decades to occur or cause a structural problem. Some signs to look for are the obvious hole in the trunk or branch, or a brown looking discharge coming from the tree.
With the damage to all these trees this year, there has been a lot of pruning and cutting going on and lots left to be done. When pruning do not leave a stub, as this will not allow the tree to heal itself. Instead cut the branch next to the ‘bark collar’ which is right next to the base of the branch or the trunk of the tree. Many trees have lost the top out of the tree, try to pick a branch and cut the trunk off the tree right above this branch. Many trees will be misshaped for some time but do the best you can. Where some big branches have peeled the bark of the tree there is nothing you can do for that. We do not recommend painting these areas or putting tar on these wounds. If the tree is too badly damaged then it should be taken down.
All of these damaged trees will respond to fertilizing. Being stressed they are more susceptible to disease and insects, and if you want to apply a preventative spray this year that may be a good option, or you can wait and watch to see what happens. We have had plenty of moisture so far this year so do not over water your trees, but make sure they have plenty in August and September.
All trees have a natural life expectancy, they are similar to people as some live much longer than others do. That is one reason why it is a good idea wherever possible to plant trees over time and to plant a diversity of trees so they are not all mature at once or when a disease or insect does occur not every tree is affected. For more information, contact your local University of Wyoming Extension Educator, horticulturalist, local Master Gardener volunteer, or a Certified Arborist.
Scott Hininger is with the Sheridan County Extension office.