Managing downed, bent or damaged trees can be something of a perennial task in Arkansas, but in the wake of recent, wide-spread storms, experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture are urging Arkansans to employ caution and good judgment when considering “problem” trees in their vicinity.
Tamara Walkingstick, associate professor of Extension Forestry and associate director for the Division of Agriculture’s Arkansas Forest Resources Center, said that in the wake of a storm, the most important thing to keep in mind is that unless a damaged tree is on a power line, it can probably wait.
“You don’t need to immediately do something,” Walkingstick said. “If you do have damage to your power lines, don’t try to deal with it yourself. Let the professionals at the electric company deal with it.”
Once property can be toured safely, homeowners should conduct a visual assessment of what sort of tree damage they have. This can range from split trunks and injured limbs, down to large or small debris on the property.
Walkingstick said one of the most common question she — along with Cooperative Extension Service agents around the state — receives is whether a split tree can be fixed.
“The answer is really ‘no,’” Walkingstick said. “A tree is essentially dead once it has been split — you can’t tie, screw or tape a split branch or trunk back to the main part of the tree.”
If more than 50 percent of a tree’s crown — the portion of a tree that produces leaves — is damaged, it will likely not recover, and a homeowner should consider removing the tree, she said.
Homeowners also often ask if a tree that’s been bent or uprooted and blown over by wind can be “pulled up” or otherwise corrected.
“It really just depends,” Walkingstick said. “The size, the degree of lean of the tree, as well as the condition of the roots, determine whether or not you can right the tree. If the anchor roots have been severed, then that's it. The tree usually won't grow more anchor roots.”
If the anchor roots are severed, if the tree is leaning more than 45 degrees or if the tree is very large, homeowners should remove the tree, she said.
Potential hazards, such as large, damaged branches (or even entire trees), should be assessed in terms of their potential for causing bodily injury or property damage.
“If it can cause that kind of damage, it really needs to go,” she said.
Unless a homeowner is properly trained and equipped, he or she should contact a certified arborist or tree service provider to address damaged or potentially dangerous trees and limbs.
Large, hanging branches, commonly referred to as “widow makers,” should always be removed by a professional.
When it comes to pruning back trees, whether or not it’s in response to storm damage, homeowner should be sure to use proper pruning techniques in order to avoid worsening the situation, Walkingstick said.
“Topping” a tree — removing most or all of the branches from the tops of trees — should never be done under any circumstances, she said.
If a homeowner decides to plant a new tree, he or she should plant species native to the area — in Arkansas, these typically include live oak, bald cypress, blackgum, sweetgum, southern red oak and magnolia trees. These trees have been found to be well-suited to the state’s weather patterns, resistant to ice and wind, as well as resistant to many diseases that affect exotic species in the region. Residents should consult an arborist or extension agent for information specific to their immediate area.