Have you hit a snag with storm-damaged trees?

Holes created by a-pileated woodpecker -- credit, Steven-Katovich, Bugwood.org
Holes created by a-pileated woodpecker -- credit, Steven-Katovich, Bugwood.org

A snag. Now, for those of us of a certain age that, might bring up two images. First, in the era of petroleum-based hosiery, a snag in that new pair of pantyhose meant getting out the ol’ clear nail polish as soon as possible to prevent it from “running” into a leg-long snag ruining them.

The other common snag is in fishing. Don’t you just hate that when you or your child or grandchild, casts that line, then – ugh — the snag.

Well today, I want you to think trees when you hear snag. A snag is a dead tree left standing, intentionally. You might not think of it when you look at a dead or dying tree, but they are the original birdhouse, insect house, nature house overall. And, if we leave a tree snag alone, eventually it will compost down into the best of all nature, organic material.

And if you have the space, say a hedgerow in a farm field, or if you are fortunate enough to have a larger home landscape that has enough space where some of it is left “natural,” with dead trees up, is a great way to give back to nature.

But the storms of the last few weeks caused some of that dead wood, be it a snag or just a tree with some big dead branches, to become missiles. Dead wood is light wood; the living part of the tree has ceased, it has little water weight. And in a windstorm that wood can blow apart fast.

Others reported that their weak-wooded, fast-growing old trees dropped big branches, slicing trees that were planted in the ‘60s or ‘70s to replace the loss of the strong, nearly perfect American Elm (Ulmus americana).

Trees like Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) are reaching the end of their fast-growing life cycle, and with every storm, comes a shower of significant branches. The term often used is “dirty” trees.

Then what do you do? Do you take down the previously healthy tree? As in the two I spoke with, both had their favorite landscape tree that has several years on it, now damaged. For one, the good tree that was injured from dead branches adjacent, is so big they have created an entire (magnificent) shade garden under it. For the other, it sheared off more than 50 percent of their favorite large serviceberry.

What to do in the aftermath is really a case-by-case evaluation. As with everything, safety first. That starts with your safety. I am sure you have seen photos (or maybe photos of you) with someone on the top of a rickety, has-seen-better-days ladder on their tiptoes with an outstretched arm above their head, trying to cut down some dangling, storm damaged branch, just to save a few dollars.

One of the most famous certified arborists did this himself and ended up breaking his neck and succumbing to those injuries after becoming an invalid years later. Did I scare you? Good, I meant to. Remember, no matter how high your professional pruning estimates are, they are nothing compared to long-term care and a funeral.

So, for your own safety, really evaluate whether you are flexible enough and equally as important, have the proper tools strong enough for the job.

Another common, what you think might be cost-saving option, is knowing “a guy” (or girl or other person) who can do the job cheap. You know, that neighbor across the street has an Uncle Bob whose girlfriends’ second cousin, twice removed, roommate who has a half stepbrother who just turned 16 last week. Lucky you, he got a chainsaw for his birthday. You know, the “guy.”

This often ends up with horrific stories. From someone getting hurt, property damage, and then the real crime, crime against horticulture. Just don’t do it. Instead, look to the experts. First, for advice, call or email me. People think us nature folk don’t like technology, but with smart phones and email, I literally can be virtually in your backyard.

Next, if it is a big or dangerous job, get a Certified Arborist. Someone who studied and learned the real science and art of trees and all about their problems and treatments. Yes, pruning is a treatment to salvage what should be salvaged, and to be honest with you, about what is not safe or salvageable.

Google www.treesaregood.com. This is the website for the International Society of Arboriculture, the home page of those arborists who passed a very difficult standard test, both written and physical on trees. Click on the “find an arborist” tab and enter your ZIP code. All the certified arborists in your area will pop up.

And as with everything today, there are fewer hands-on horticulture people out there, so call several, three at least, and ask for an on-site evaluation. You can always call the Extension back to discuss the options you were given. Then, it is still all up to you.

My suggestion, even when a significantly damaged tree is salvaged, start to plan for the future. Purchase a small tree (no more than 2” in diameter at 12” from the soil line) and plant it 10 to 15 feet from your now pruned-up, damaged tree.

That is a start for tomorrow.

Snag, a damaged tree waiting to return to nature — credit, Joseph-OBrien-USDA-Forest-Service-Bugwood.org.

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