What to do about Storm-Damaged Trees

Hurricane Sandy blew in with a fury that damaged many of our region’s trees. Some damaged trees are hazardous and in need of immediate attention, while others can recover with proper care.

Approach any damaged tree with extreme caution. First: never approach or touch a tree that is touching or could fall on a utility wire. If you encounter this situation, call the PECO Customer Service Emergency line, 800-841-4141.

Once you establish that no utility wires are involved, you can proceed with post-storm evaluation and first aid. If the damaged tree is a street tree, contact your municipal street-tree management division. In Philadelphia, call 311, contact Philadelphia Parks & Recreation at 215-686-8686, or submit an online request.

Trees on your property are your responsibility. If the damage is minor and can be corrected from the ground using hand tools, you may be able to help the tree yourself. Click here for proper pruning techniques and safety guidelines. If large limbs are broken or hanging, or if a ladder or overhead chain saw work is needed, do not try to do it all alone. This is a job for a tree professional (arborist). Information on finding an arborist is listed at the end of this article.

Assess the Damage
Evaluate your trees carefully by answering the following questions:

  • Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous?
  • Are major limbs or the leader branch (the main upward-trending branch on most trees) still remaining?
  • Is at least 50 percent of the tree’s crown (branches and leaves) still intact?
  • Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure?

If you answered “yes” to the majority of these questions, the chances are good for a complete recovery of your tree. For assistance, hire an ISA-certified arborist (see below) to determine the tree’s condition.

Standing Trees Back Up
Many trees suffer friction failures that cause the tree’s root system to lift out of the ground as the tree leans over. Uprooted trees are often unnecessarily removed under the mistaken idea that they cannot be saved. These trees often can be saved, but can be very dangerous. The tension caused by the roots still in the ground can cause the tree to snap back. Consult a certified arborist if you are unsure about performing this work, or if your tree has been in the ground for more than two years. Young trees, especially, can often be saved.

Determining the Cost
Less-credible tree services sometimes will take advantage of storm victims. Good tree work by qualified professionals is not inexpensive; however, poor work, no matter the price paid, can cost you a great deal. Professional prices should include liability and workman’s compensation insurance, as well as bucket trucks and other equipment.  Heavier specialty equipment that may be needed, such as cranes, loaders, etc., or hardware that may be installed in the tree, may incur additional costs.

Financial Recovery
Be aware that tree losses to your landscape, whether large or small, may be deductible from your taxes. Two steps must be taken to be able to claim this deduction: 1. Document the tree damage/loss with photos and an evaluation from a certified arborist who has experience appraising trees. Such a certified arborist will be able to provide you with an estimated dollar value for your loss. 2. Consult the services of a tax professional. You may be entitled to some financial relief through a provision in the tax code that allows you to deduct casualty losses from your income tax.

Appreciating Trees
In the aftermath of a mega-storm like Sandy, it’s common for people to view trees as more of a nuisance than anything else. And while dealing with damaged and fallen trees can be a headache, PHS cannot over-state the important role trees play in our ecosystem. Trees keep the air clean, reduce cooling costs in summer months, and can increase the value of your property. Click here for 22 benefits of trees.

PHS Offers Two Free Workshops on Storm-Damaged Trees
After the Storm: Recognizing the Signs of a Hazardous Tree

Early detection of hazardous trees can prevent the damage and heartache—and expense—caused when they fall. ISA-certified arborist Steve Goin will discuss the key signs that a tree is likely to fail and the options available to homeowners. Steve is an arborist representative and local manager for Bartlett Tree Experts. This program will be offered twice and is free of charge, but donations to the PHS Tree Tenders program will be accepted. RSVP to mheard@pennhort.org or 215-988-8793.

Tuesday, November 13, 6:30–8 pm
100 N. 20th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Thursday, November 15, 7–8:30 pm
Abington Township Public Safety Training Center
2201 Florey Lane
Roslyn, PA 19001

Finding Professional Help

When hiring an arborist, make sure that they are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and have adequate insurance. To find a list of arborists in your area, go to www.treesaregood.org and enter your zip code.

For videos on tree pruning, mulching, and care or for information on the PHS Tree Tenders program, click here. Also, visit the PHS McLean Library web page for more tree information.

Information adapted from the website of the International Society for Arboriculture

4 thoughts on “What to do about Storm-Damaged Trees

  1. This is a very timely and informative piece of information. Most importantly for trees downed from storms is the presence of utility lines. Do not assume a line is inactive or cable / TV / telephone not carrying electrical current. Do not touch or approach a downed tree during a storm if you notice any utility lines on the ground or in contact with the tree.

  2. Don’t forget that your trees may be covered by your homeowners’ insurance coverage (after the deductible).

Comments are closed.