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6 tips for checking your trees after the big windstorm

A “bomb cyclone” just packed a wallop up and down the East Coast, causing extensive damage to local trees. An arborist says that the Baltimore area’s evergreens are particularly at risk.

“The amount of damage we’re seeing is almost up there with the derecho,” said Kevin Mullinary, district manager of The Davey Tree Expert Company’s Baltimore city branch, referring to the storm that knocked out power to 1.6 million Maryland customers on June 29-30, 2012. “About 60 to 70 percent of the damage we’re seeing is to conifers and evergreens because deciduous trees haven’t leafed out yet. The mass of the canopy acts like a sail that just catches the wind, and it knocks the tree right over.”

Because more bad weather is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, Mullinary suggested that local homeowners give their trees a quick visual inspection, starting from the ground and working up. Below are Mullinary’s tips:

1) Check the roots in a circle about 10 feet around the trunk. The heavy rainfall of recent weeks has waterlogged the soil. “If the root system is lifting up on one side or the other, that’s a sign that there has been some root damage,” Mullinary said. “If that's happening, call an arborist quickly.”

2) Check the base of a tree for mushrooms or for cavities in the trunk. Both are signs that the tree might be dying from the inside.

3) Long vertical cracks splitting a tree trunk are another warning sign of imminent problems. Mullinary said these trees should be dealt with immediately to prevent them from falling on something — or someone — they shouldn’t.

4) Are there dead branches? (These will be easier to spot in deciduous trees in a few months, after the rest of the tree has leafed out.) If so, they should be removed.

5) Heavy canopies of leaves catch more wind during storms. They should be thinned to allow gales to pass through.

6) Big branches that are crowded too close together may form a weak union that won’t support both limbs. “A ‘U’-shaped crotch where the branches comes together signals a relatively strong branch union,” Mullinary said. “What you don’t want to see is a V-shaped crotch with a seam running down it.”

7) Similarly, if a tree is leaning to one side or if a branch is growing in a different direction to the rest of the crown, it should probably be removed.

Mullinary also recommended that homeowners conduct a second inspection in a few months, saying that the wind storm could have caused problems that will develop gradually, such as winds that tear off branches can develop cankers, or a wound that never fully heals. Cankers are easily spotted and should be pruned back to the branch collar, or swelling where the branch joins the trunk.

“Go outside and take a peek at your trees,” Mullinary said. “If you have a gut feeling that something is a concern, it probably is.”



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