Storm-damaged trees require thoughtful care

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Kansas City – The region’s latest snow storm fell with heavy, wet flakes that accumulated on tree limbs. Extra weight on limbs combined with wind caused breakage and damaged some trees. Property owners should, if no immediate hazards exist, take their time in making decisions on pruning the damage or tree replacement, said Chuck Conner, an urban forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

Broken limbs or tree tops that cannot be reached from the ground should probably be removed by tree-care professionals, such as certified arborists, Conner said. Tree trimming can be hazardous. “Pruning large trees is a task for those who are trained and know what they’re doing,” he said.

Even damage that is easily reachable by property owners should be removed with care. “If a broken branch is not going to fall on a driveway or a house, there’s no hurry,” Conner said. “Wait until the snow is off.”

The long-term loss of tree shade and symmetry due to storm damage depends on the size, species and remaining healthy growth. Trees are capable of rapidly growing new branches that fill in foliage gaps. “If it’s just a branch broken here and there, in a few years you won’t even notice the damage,” Conner said.

But usually if half or more of a tree is lost to storms, the tree needs to be replaced. “If more than 50 percent of a tree is on the ground, it won’t come back,” he said, “especially when trees are under so much drought stress.”

Property owners are advised to use trained and certified arborists when hiring someone to prune trees or remove storm-damaged trees. Get more than one estimate for the job, Conner said. Ask for proof of certification and membership in professional arborists organizations, and ask for references.

Good arborists don’t “top” trees, which is slang for trimming all the smaller limbs out of the top a tree.

For trees not damaged, regular professional pruning of valuable yard trees can spare a property owner damage in future storms. A high percentage of storm damage occurs because trees are not properly pruned as they grow through the decades, Conner said.

More information on post-storm tree care is available on the MDC web site at