The day after a major rain and wind storm is not necessarily the best day for the backyard gardener to tackle the hazardous task of cleaning up the remnants of trees, shrubs and other plants that took a beating. If wind and rain is still in the forecast, the prevalence of slippery conditions and the chance of more falling debris should limit your cleaning chores to dragging broken branches away from the scene of the crime. It is not a good day to be climbing ladders or scrambling into trees while balancing a chain saw. Leave that to the professionals.
Sacramento-based arborist Analisa Stewart of Arbor Entities offers this good piece of advice for those surveying the fallen aftermath of a major storm: "Limb failure is largely a product of poor tree maintenance over time," says Stewart. "Take care of your trees, or they may take care of themselves in ways you won't appreciate."
According to the University of California publication, "Inspect Your Landscape Trees for Hazards", a nice day in autumn (or winter, spring or summer, for that matter) is the time to take an inventory of any possible future tree damage before you, your house or your car becomes the next victim of a falling tree or branch.
Leaning Trees: Are your trees not as upright as the result of recent heavy winds? Can you see newly upheaved roots or soil around those trees? Then, immediate action is required: call in a professional, certified, bonded and insured arborist to do an onsite inspection and offer a solution. Newly leaning trees are an imminent hazard. If you have a tree that has leaned for a number of years, that tree can still be a hazard during wet, windy weather. Taking periodic photographs can help you determine if a greater lean is developing.
Multiple Trunked Trees: This co-dominant condition can result in breakage of major tree parts during storms. Usually, these trunks are weakly attached. Inspect the point where the two trunks meet; if you see splitting beginning, call in an arborist.
Weakly Attached Branches: Trees with many branches arising from the same point on the trunk are prone to breaking during wind storms. Prune out any split branches. Thin out multiple branches.
Hanging or Broken Branches: If you see storm damaged branches hanging from the tree, remove them as soon as possible. This includes removing any completely broken branches that may be resting elsewhere in the tree's canopy.
Cracks in Trunks and Branches: Measure the depth of any cracks with a ruler. If those cracks are more than three inches deep, call in an arborist to determine the best course of action.
Dead Branches: Branches that have completely died are very likely to fall off in a storm. Dead branches are most noticeable in the summer when the tree is in full leaf.
Cavities and Decay: Large, open pockets where branches meet the trunk, or at the base of the trunk, can mean big trouble. The presence of mushrooms on the bark or on exposed roots may indicate wood decay. Call in an arborist.
The Arbor Day Foundation website has this animated guide to proper pruning techniques.
Tips for Hiring an Arborist.