- Special Sections
- Public Notices
By Tom Woods
Luckily, our recent winter storm did not dump enough snow or ice in our area to cause major damage to trees and shrubs, but this is not always the case.
Winter storms do strike southeastern North Carolina every so often and can cause major damage to trees and shrubs. Even more common is damage caused by tropical systems or intense thunderstorms.
When storms occur, broken limbs and branches are one of the most frequent forms of damage. While a few broken branches will not cause serious harm to a tree for the present time, how you care for a tree with a broken branch will have a huge impact on its long-term health and ability to withstand future storms.
Trees and wounds
Trees are not like people. When we get a cut, our bodies are able to heal the injury completely. When trees are injured, by storms or by pruning, they can only seal off the injury to contain the damaged wood, but not all injuries can be completely sealed off. When injuries are not completely sealed, they provide openings where insects, disease, and decay can enter and eventually kill the tree or cause weak spots that will fail in future storms.
When branches break, they must be removed in order for the tree to recover. How the branch is removed, especially where the cut is made, will determine if the tree can completely seal off the injury and prevent decay from entering. Trees are best able to seal wounds that occur where branches join together or where a branch joins with the main trunk at an area known as the branch collar.
How to remove a branch
When removing a broken branch, it is usually best to remove as little wood as possible, but you do not want to just cut the branch off immediately below the point where it broke.
Instead, follow the branch back into the tree to a point where it joins a larger branch or the main trunk. If you are going to remove the branch where it joins a larger branch, make a clean cut using hand pruners or loppers at the point where the two branches join.
To remove a branch where it joins the main trunk, first take a close look at the area where the two join. You will notice that the area at the base of the branch where it joins the trunk is swollen or enlarged. This area is known as the branch collar. It is important to avoid cutting into this area when removing a branch.
Correct cuts are made just above the branch collar and never flush with the tree trunk. Flush cuts will never seal completely and are a major cause of decay. You also do not want to cut too far away from the branch collar. This will leave a stub, which also will not be able to seal off properly.
Larger or heavy branches need to be removed carefully to prevent the bark on the lower side of the branch from tearing from the main trunk. An undercut should be made on the lower side of the branch several inches out from the branch collar.
A second cut is made on the topside of the branch a few inches beyond the undercut to remove the bulk of the branch. Then a final cut is made back at the branch collar to remove the remaining stub. There is no need to paint pruning cuts with paint or wound dressings. These types of treatments provide no benefit and can actually be harmful in some cases.
When to hire a professional
Anytime removing a branch requires a ladder or a chainsaw, or if several branches need to be removed, you should strongly consider hiring a professional arborist to do the job for the safety of yourself and your property and to protect the long-term health of the tree.
Pruning large trees and assessing tree health requires specialized skills and knowledge. If you are concerned about the health and strength of trees on your property, contact a certified arborist to assess the situation.
Certified arborists are highly qualified tree professionals who have passed the certified arborist exam offered through the International Society of Arboriculture. A list of certified arborists practicing in North Carolina can be found on its website at www.isa-arbor.com.
If you have questions about tree care, lawn care, or gardening, contact your local Cooperative Extension office. Thanks to Charlotte Glen, Pender County Cooperative Extension, for this article.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.