Triage and First Aid for Trees

Originally printed in the News Herald Extension Connection, January 14, 2019
Julie McConnell and L. Scott Jackson, UF/IFAS Extension

As an admitted plant geek, it hurts my heart to look around at the battered landscape we are left with after Hurricane Michael bombarded us with unforgiving winds. At the same time, I am uplifted by all the emails and online threads I see asking “How can I save my tree?” Every situation is different, but here are some quick tips to help you assess and mitigate damage to your landscape trees.

Leaning trees.

  • Is this a newly planted tree (less than one year)? If so, it is a good candidate to push or pull upright and stake for stability.
  • How big is the tree? Trees that are 4 inches or less in diameter are more likely to have the ability to regenerate a stable root system than larger trees. Diameter of 4-8 inches could be staked but may become a hazard later. It is not recommended that trees greater than 8 inch diameter be stood up because the risk of instability is high.
  • Are large, major roots severed? Large diameter roots (greater than 1”) do not regenerate roots as well as smaller roots.
  • All trees that have had root disturbance will need adequate moisture to encourage regrowth of roots. During periods of dry weather, apply 2-3 gallons of water per inch trunk diameter as needed. Do not overwater, saturated soils can inhibit root growth.
  • If soil below the rootball was blown away leaving air gaps, replace with native soil. Avoid piling soil on top of roots. Mulch lightly with a natural product such as pine straw or wood chips if fibrous roots are exposed.
These oak trees have broken branches caused by the hurricane’s high winds.

Broken branches.

  • Remove any broken, twisted, or split branches from the tree canopy to prevent further damage to the tree or property below. Remove as little woody tissue as possible; the tree will need stored energy in living wood to help it recover. Prune back to the trunk, branch, or node depending on what will leave as much tissue as possible but reduce risk of injury. Make smooth, clean, angled cuts that preserve the branch collar or next viable bud. Sprouts generated after pruning should be left to help support the tree.
  • Do not top trees.


Headless trunks.

If broken trees are not threatening injury or further property damage if left alone, consider leaving them in place. Snapped tree trunks and fallen trees can provide important habitat for wildlife and birds. Cavity nesting birds like some species of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees make their homes in dead and decaying wood. Snags are also used as perches by predatory birds like hawks and owls. Squirrels, possums, raccoons, salamanders, and a variety of insects find homes or food in and around decaying wood like snags or fallen trees.


Landscape Recovery Series: Part I Trees. January 17th – In person class is full, but follow us on for updates on how to watch a live broadcast online!

Hurricane Recovery Workshop – Calhoun County February 12

Landscape Recovery Series: Part II Shrubs and Screening. February 21st

Landscape Recovery Series: Part III Groundcovers, Perennials, and Annuals. March 14th

Landscape Recovery Series: Part IV Turfgrass. April 18th

This oak tree was uprooted by Hurricane Michael. Photo – Julie McConnell

Tickets for upcoming classes will be available online approximately 10 days before each event. Please follow us on Facebook for more information.

UF/IFAS Extension Bay County temporary phone number 850-248-8091

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices


Posted: January 14, 2019

Category: HOME LANDSCAPES, Horticulture
Tags: Hurricane Michael, Tree Damage

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories