Storm damage to trees

Protecting your trees from storms and high winds

Some trees are more prone to storm damage than others, often due to their basic growth habits. A classic example in the northeastern United States is the Bradford Pear. The growth habit of the tree causes it to form steep "V-shaped" branch crotches. This structural weakness, combined with weak wood from rapid growth, combine to make these ornamental Pears extremely vulnerable to hurricanes or damage from high winds.

Wind split Pear tree

This Bradford Pear was the victim of a summer storm that was packing high winds. The right half of the tree split-out at the first major "V-shaped" crotch.

Roots go deep into the ground to firmly anchor a tree, right?

Trees have different root structures and some, like Oaks, create deep tap roots. However, most trees have the majority of their roots in the top 12 to 18 inches of the soil. As some author once said, it's almost as though they "are sitting on a dime."  And when you combine shallow roots with rain-soaked soil, it is easy to end up with a windthrown tree.

Evergreen tree down from high winds

This large evergreen tree was the victim of high winds and rain-soaked soil. Many people ask if these trees can be stood back up and staked in place. It should only be attempted with the most valuable specimens since success will be limited.

Large tree down from wind damage

While the roots on this forest giant may have been broad, they weren't as deep as you may have guessed.

Poor planting techniques can contribute to wind throw

Unfortunately, either to save time or due to lack of knowledge, many trees have their fates sealed for them the day they are planted. Synthetic burlap, often called Leno, is a handy product for nurserymen since it allows them to hold balled-and-burlapped trees much longer than when the earth balls are wrapped with burlap. While regular burlap rots away in one year, synthetic burlap lasts much longer.


In most cases, it lasts way too long if it isn't removed at the time of planting, since it constricts roots and weakens a tree's resistance to high winds. If you ever plant a tree with the earth ball wrapped in synthetic burlap, be sure to cut-away as much of the material as possible, because it not only constricts future root growth, it can also girdle (choke) the tree trunk. How do you know if it is synthetic burlap? The flame from a lighter will cause it to melt like plastic, instead of burning like cotton fabric.

Synthetic burlap

Synthetic Burlap or Leno
The bane of modern landscaping!

What else makes my trees more susceptible to storm damage?

Decay - If you see any sort of conk (mushroom looking structure) growing out of a tree trunk, it indicates there is decay within the tree trunk. This will weaken the integrity of the wood in high winds.

Conks on a Black Locust tree

Conks on this black locust trunk warn that there is decay inside the trunk, making the tree more susceptible to high winds.

Open trunk cavity with insect riddled heartwood

Open cavities on tree trunks with insect-riddled wood also indicate structural weakness in a tree trunk.

What's the single most important thing to do that will protect my trees from hurricanes and high winds?

The one word answer to that question is THINNING. Picture an old sailing frigate like the one you saw in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean." That sailing vessel had several masts, and each mast contained several sails. In order to catch the most wind, all the sails were set so they could catch the wind.

Now visualize an evergreen tree with rows of branches up and down the tree trunk. These branches are very similar to those sails, each catching some wind instead of allowing the wind to pass through. The point being, that if you eliminate some of the branches, the tree will have less "sails" to catch the wind.

If wind can pass through a tree more easily, it is much less likely to get blown over in high winds. Therefore, thin your trees with a pole pruner to help protect them from tornadoes, hurricanes and other strong storms.

Notice the similarities between these two images:

Full sail

Tall pine


Salt Tolerant Trees

Thundercloud Plum storm damage

Tree root problems


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