We know trees naturally sway in the wind, but it may be surprising to learn that this swaying changes the way a tree grows. It causes the tree to shift its resources to different parts of the tree – building thickness at the trunk base, stronger junctions at the branches, or stronger, more flexible wood. The tree may stay a bit shorter and develop smaller leaves too. This ability to slowly change shape and structure in response to wind even has a name – thigmomorphogenesis – and the phenomenon can be seen in all kinds of plants.
But wind also has adverse effects too. For one, moving air can sometimes whisk away moisture from the foliage faster than the plant can replace it. This is especially true for evergreens in the winter. The soil around the plant dries faster in the wind too. And of course, a particularly strong wind can strip leaves and break branches – or even uproot the plant entirely.
Luckily, with the right plants and a few helpful gardening practices, we can take advantage of the wind’s positive influences, minimize its negative ones, and grow beautiful, healthy plants in all our outdoor spaces.
6 steps to protect your home against high winds
Imagine Environment Canada just issued a windstorm warning for your area. Is your home in harm’s way? To help you get prepared for the next storm, we’ve put together a list of steps you can take to prevent wind damage to your home.
Step 1: Fix what’s broken.
Maintain your home and fix things like loose fence boards or peeling roof shingles to prevent even further, more costly damage in the event of a windstorm. The cost of repairs is sure to be less expensive than fixing damage after the storm.
If you have too little time before a storm, check if anything needs repairing and try to do a few temporary fixes to prevent damaged parts from breaking off and flying around.
Step 2: Secure outdoor items
Loose items like patio furniture, BBQs, garbage/recycling/compost bins and sports equipment can become dangerous missiles in a wind gust.
Before a storm, walk around your property—bring items inside or tie them down so they won’t blow around. Park your car away from trees, street lamps and power lines. If possible, park in a garage. And don’t forget to bring your pets indoors.
Step 3: Examine trees and shrubs.
High winds and loose branches are a bad combination. Keep trees and shrubs in good condition and cut down dead trees before they do any damage (check your municipal bylaws before you do this). If you are not comfortable cutting branches yourself, hire a professional.
Before a storm, trim any damaged branches. But be careful—if the branches are touching any hydro cables, you could get an electric shock.
Step 4: Identify vulnerable entry points.
Homes have four weak spots: the roof, windows, doors, and garage. If they’re in poor condition, they can get seriously damaged in a windstorm. Roofs are particularly vulnerable in high winds. Check your home’s weak spots regularly and get any repairs done promptly.
Before a storm, make sure all doors and windows are closed and locked securely.
Step 5: Prepare an emergency plan.
Choose a safe place in your home or office. Make sure there’s an emergency kit with a flashlight (and extra batteries!), a first aid kit, blankets, food supplies and water.
Step 6: Take shelter!
- If you’re at home, take refuge in the basement or go to a small interior room in the centre of the house. Don’t stand near doors or windows.
- If you’re outside in an open area with no shelter nearby, take cover in a ditch or hollow. Lay face down on the ground and protect your head with your hands.
- If you’re in your car, open the windows slightly and park off the road away from tall objects and power lines with your parking brake set.
How to Protect Young Trees from Wind Damage
Protect young trees from wind damage. Young trees are especially susceptible to the elements. All it takes is an unexpected gust of wind to uproot your freshly planted tree. Were you worried about losing a new tree to wind damage? Follow these tips to protect young trees from wind damage.
Find the Prime Location
Planting your tree in the right location is the best way to protect it from high winds. Look for areas on your property that act as a natural windbreak. For instance, planting near buildings or tall structures may help block wind from reaching your sapling. And if the wind blows from west to east, as is often the case, planting on the east side of your home will protect your tree from strong wind gusts.
Add Some Support Stakes
Have you ever seen young trees tied to poles in the ground? These stakes help stabilize fragile saplings and small trees. Adding support stakes is a simple DIY project that you can complete in less than an hour. Tie the tree’s trunk to a few metal or wooden stakes using a flexible material. Leave a bit of slack. On windy days, the tree will sway back and forth, but the stakes will prevent it from falling. Stakes are a helpful reinforcement until the tree establishes a robust trunk, root system, and branches.
Use a Protective Tree Cover
Contrary to popular belief, covers don’t only protect growing trees from frost in the winter. They can also protect young trees from wind damage. How does a tree cover work? Covering a young tree from top to bottom helps break up strong winds. However, you should only use the cover on windy days. Be sure to remove it the rest of the time to ensure your sapling gets enough sunlight and water.
Remember to Water Regularly
Speaking of water, keeping your young tree hydrated is one of the best ways to prevent wind damage. Dehydrated trees have weaker, more unstable branches and roots. But if you supply ample water, the roots and branches will grow faster and stronger. If you don’t want to find your tree toppled over on a windy day, remember to pull out the watering can regularly.
Don’t Forget to Prune the Limbs.
Watching a young tree grow is a wondrous process, but you don’t want to let the branches grow out of control. Regular pruning is a must. Removing unnecessary weight or dead branches will make your tree more stable against high winds. It also reduces the risk of property damage from falling limbs during a sudden storm.
How To Protect Your Trees From Summer Storms
In summer, trees can be damaged by strong winds and heavy downpours. This can be detrimental to the trees and make them a safety hazard. Here are a few ways to protect your trees and mitigate possible storm damage.
Inspect trees for weakness in the spring
If a tree is weakened by pests or disease, it’ll be much more susceptible to cracking and splitting during a severe weather event. It’s important to identify vulnerable trees early in the season so you can take appropriate measures to prevent damage.
Tree assessment services offered by professional arborists include an inspection of each tree’s condition, from its foliage down to its roots. Arborists can also make recommendations for how to support and treat diseased trees and how to prevent an infestation from spreading to other trees on your property.
Prune trees to maintain a healthy shape
If a tree has structural defects, such as multiple leads or a disproportionately large crown, it’ll be more likely to suffer damage in high winds than a properly shaped and maintained tree. For this reason, regular pruning is an essential part of protecting your trees from storm damage.
In addition to removing potentially hazardous branches, pruning promotes the overall health of the tree. Shaping techniques such as crown thinning and structural pruning also help ensure the structural integrity of your trees. Overall, pruning makes trees more resilient against severe weather.
Reinforce vulnerable trees in advance
If a tree is weakened by disease, infestation or previous storm damage, it may require the intervention of an arborist to reinforce the tree’s structural integrity and protect it against severe weather. The most common techniques used for this purpose are cabling and bracing.
Cabling involves the installation of rods and straps between major branches in the upper canopy to secure them against strong winds. It’s often used in conjunction with bracing, which uses steel rods to reinforce a cracked or split trunk. These techniques can also help damaged trees heal after a storm.
Storm and disaster services
If one or more of your trees are damaged during a severe weather event, an arborist can assess the situation and take steps to save your trees and help them recover. You’ll also benefit from cleanup services to remove fallen branches and remove damaged or hazardous limbs still attached to the tree.
Repairing Storm Damaged Trees
When storms strike, along with damage to property such as houses, power lines, and commercial buildings, they may cause damage to trees in the urban forest. There are six main types of storm damage to trees: 1) blow-over, 2) stem failure, 3) crown twist, 4) root failure, 5) branch failure, and 6) lightning. Each type is the result of a complex and interactive mix of tree problems and climate.
Damage is often relatively minor, with only the smallest branches of the tree being injured. Usually, damages of this type result in little or no permanent damage to the tree. All that is required is to clean up the broken twigs and branches and perhaps some light pruning to restore a pleasing shape.
Severe damage consisting of large broken branches, split crotches and removal of bark, and splitting or splintering of the trunk can also occur. Strong winds, lightning and heavy ice storms are the most probable causes. When a tree is severely damaged, the first question that must be answered is: “Is the condition of the tree such to make keeping it worthwhile?” Take the time and effort to save a tree only if a substantial portion of the tree remains intact and if, when repairs are made, the tree will still be attractive and of value to the property owner.
Treating the tree
Assuming the decision has been made to repair the tree, the next question is: “Am I capable of repairing the damage myself, or should I seek professional help?” Unless experienced in the use of such equipment and comfortable working off the ground, it may be best to have the work performed by a competent professional. Once it has been determined that a tree can be salvaged, there are certain procedures that one should follow.
- Assess the damage. Some branches may be broken and hanging in the tree, others may be partially attached, and in some cases, entire forks may be split.
- Plan which branches must be removed and where the removal cut should be made.
- Remove all damaged branches at the nearest lateral branch, bud, or main stem and not in the middle of a branch.
Branches smaller than 3-inches in diameter can be removed using pruning shears or a pole-pruner. Sharp, properly aligned shears or pruners will make a clean cut, not crush or tear bark tissue and reduce cleanup time. Use a sharp saw to remove larger branches. If a power saw is used, a safety rope and harness are essential. The most efficient and least damaging way to remove large branches without causing further damage to the tree is the 3-cut procedure. The first cut is the undercut. From the underside, saw approximately 12 to 18 inches from the main stem or branch to which the damaged limb is attached. Cut into the branch about 1 to 1½ inches deep and withdraw the saw blade before it begins to bind. For the second cut, or overcut, saw approximately 2 to 3 inches beyond the undercut and continue until the branch is removed. The final or flush cut is made to remove the remaining stub. Saw in the natural depression flush with the trunk or branches. Careless pruning can result in the death of the entire branch or in excessive sprouting and the eventual development of more problems later on since these sprouts are generally short-lived and weakly attached.
In some instances, the tearing of bark on large limbs or the main trunk occurs. This is especially common when trees have been struck by lightning. Carefully trim away all loose bark back to the area where it is solidly attached. Do not cut too deeply into the wood of the tree. This cutting of the bark is referred to as bark tracing. If possible, all bark wounds should be cut into an elliptical shape, being careful to keep the trace as narrow as possible. This may be difficult in large areas. However, trimming the bark in this manner will encourage rapid healing with minimal wood decay.
Some forks and main branches that are split apart or partially broken may be repaired without removing one or both branches. This type of work is usually beyond the capability of most homeowners unless they have experienced assistance. If the break is nearly even, it is possible to draw the split portions back together and secure them with a large diameter steel bolt and threaded screw rod placed through the split section. The proper procedure for repair begins with drawing the split together using a small block and tackle or winch. Place this 6 to 8 feet or more above the split to obtain maximum leverage. Drill holes through both halves of the split in which the bolt or rod is inserted. With long split areas, two or more bolts may be necessary. In addition to the bolts, it often helps to install a steel cable between the two main branches of the split fork several feet above the split. Use lag screws to attach the cable to each branch. Do not wrap the cable around the branch, or it may eventually girdle it. This cable system helps hold the crotch together, thus reducing the chance of further breakage.
After pruning is complete, all wounds larger than 1½ to 2 inches in diameter can be coated with wound dressing or pruning paint. Recent research has shown that dressings and paints probably do not increase the rate of healing. However, they may prevent drying out and provide some cosmetic effect. Several commercial materials are available, or a couple of coats of orange shellac suffice. Areas of torn bark where tracings have been made can also be treated in this manner.
Trees may be uprooted as a result of severe storms. If the tree is large, it cannot be saved and therefore must be removed. For some smaller trees, it may be possible to straighten the tree and brace it using guy wires or cables. Some type of power lift or equipment is usually necessary to pull the tree upright. Do not attempt this procedure unless 1/3 to 1/2 of the roots are still in the soil and the remaining exposed roots are relatively compact and undisturbed.
Before the tree is pulled upright, remove some soil from beneath the root mass so the roots will be placed below the existing soil grade level. Once the tree is back in the upright position, fill in the soil as needed. Water the tree to help firm the soil and remove air pockets. Attach 2 or 3 guy lines to the trunk as is often done for newly transplanted trees, at a point approximately two-thirds of the height of the tree and to anchors placed some 12 to 15 feet from the base of the tree to hold the tree in place.
Materials from fallen or salvaged trees can be used in several ways. The larger branches can be cut and used for firewood. Add smaller branches and twigs to the compost pile or cut up for kindling. Branches can also be converted into chips for use as compost, mulch or other landscaping purposes if chipping equipment is available to local residents.