One of the saddest things to see after a large wind, snow, or ice storm, is the vast damage it does to trees. Unfortunately, heavy winds take their toll on old growth trees first, as they’re the tallest (and therefore catch the majority of the force) and sometimes the most vulnerable. If the wind is accompanied by heavy rains that soften up the soil around the roots, it becomes an absolute disaster with trees falling on power lines and blacking out entire cities. With the onset of climate change, these once-in-every-one-hundred-years storms have become a more common weather event.
When a limb breaks from a tree, it leaves a jagged edge, exposing sensitive tissue to the elements. Make no mistake, you need to repair that tree damage before the weather warms and the tree’s sap starts flowing in the first weeks of spring. The exposed, damaged tissue creates a potential entry point for pests and disease to enter your tree, which will leave you with a much larger problem.
How to repair damaged tree limbs
The most necessary tool for cutting tree limbs or branches is a pruning saw, which is a small, curved-blade saw made especially for this purpose. If the branch is broken somewhere along the limb (and didn’t take part of the tree with it), you should remove the rest of the limb down to the trunk of the tree.
Start by sawing off easy to manage sections, being careful not to apply too much downward pressure on the weakened limb, which may cause further damage. Also be careful to clear anything from the area below which may be damaged if you lose control of the branches you’re cutting and they fall to the ground. Keep cutting the branch off in sections until you have less than one foot extending from the tree.
For your final cut, arborists used to recommended a “flush” cut, right up against the trunk (or stem) of the tree, but that thinking has changed. The American Horticultural Society recommends in “Pruning And Training”, that you cut the branch just above the branch collar, which is that ring of slightly swollen tissue where the branch joins the trunk. The branch collar is usually pretty easy to see, or at least to feel. If you can’t find the collar, start your cut on the top of the limb, 1/2 to 1 inch away from the crotch (that “v” shape where the branch grows from the tree), and saw downward at a slight outward angle. The outward angle allows water to easily run off the exposed wood. Make sure that your cut is nice and smooth, leaving no rough edges. Afterwards, use a pruning knife to smooth out any raised areas. Rough, jagged edges may act as a collection point for rain, and moisture that sets on damaged tree tissue will invite disease.
Years ago, it was common to use a sealer or “wound paint” on the freshly exposed wood, but that technique has gone the way of the rotary phone. Current thinking is that it’s best to leave the wood exposed, as the tree will grow scar tissue over the exposed tissue. A sealer interferes with the tree’s healing process and can actually trap pests or water in the freshly cut wood, which won’t do your tree any good. It’s remarkable how fast the tree will heal when the cut is done properly.
Exercise caution when climbing a tree to reach damaged limbs – use a ladder for those hard to reach areas. If damage to trees is more extensive than a limb or two, play it safe and call a professional tree service to make the repairs and dispose of the wood.