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Extension column: Tree damage and management

Mother Nature has thrown us quite a summer. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have felt her wrath and have damage. There is nothing more heartbreaking then seeing a tree that has been in your yard for years lose a battle with a storm.

There are typically six types of damage that we see throughout the summer:

The first is your everyday common breakage. Breakage is what your tree has suffered when you spend hours picking up branches and twigs from your lawn after a storm. Typically, breakage is not lethal to trees as branches are not a requirement for survival. Most of the time, when breakage occurs, it is a result of high straight-line winds. The winds are able to travel around the trunk of the tree, but the smaller branches snap under the pressure.

Twisted trunk is another form of tree damage, although it is much less common than breakage. Twisted trunks are a result of tornados. The circular whipping of the winds during a tornado cause twisting and separation of the wood fibers located in the main stem. Although there are varying degrees of twistedness, this damage is almost always fatal as the fibers can't return to their original state and will never recover.

Root damage, caused by high winds or tornados, is one of the trickiest types of damage that you can face. While up-rooted trees may be replanted and go on to live happy lives, many times, when replanting is done improperly, roots will face terrible invasions of root organisms. It is important that if you have an up-rooted tree that you want to save, replant ASAP! The longer that the roots are exposed, the greater risk of disease and insect invasions.

Major wound damage is quite uncommon, but is definitely still a factor as things have been known to fly during storms. Wounds can be classified as any damage done by something besides the tree or wind. Flying cars, cows, or other trees can cause major damage to trees. When analyzing your tree's battle wounds, anything that is less than two inches in depth and smaller than 144 square inches will generally heal itself. Wounds that are larger than this are bad news for your tree as the deeper the wound the greater chance there is for disease and infection to enter the most sensitive core.

If you are driving through a storm damaged area, you can almost bet on seeing this next type of damage: bent trees. As far as tree damage goes, bent trees are what you want to have. As a general rule of thumb, trees that are less than 15 feet tall will straighten themselves. Larger trees may not straighten themselves out, but the trees themselves will continue to grow. So if you don't mind your trees growing sideways across the yard, you are in luck.

Last but certainly not least is water damage. We have had huge numbers of water damage reports this summer as it seems every low spot has standing water. Unfortunately, as many of us discovered this year, there is nothing we can do but wait for drier weather.

If you have specific concerns regarding a tree that has sustained storm damage, check out our online publication Storm Damage to Landscape Trees: Prediction, Prevention, and Treatment at or call Robin at University of Minnesota Extension, Douglas County at (320) 762-3890.

Here's hoping for drier, calmer weather in the days ahead!


"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease."

- John Muir