Experts: Keeping trees healthy helps prevent them being uprooted during storms
Clearing out the broken branches and uprooted trunks in the wake of recent storms might prompt suburban homeowners to reconsider the wisdom of having trees surrounding their homes.
Not that eliminating them entirely is much of an option, said Tom Day, an arborist with the Davey Tree Expert Company in Wheeling.
"People love to have trees," he said. They increase property value, cool homes, ease flooding, block wind, and entice birds and wildlife.
The key to keeping them upright, especially during violent weather, is to keep them healthy. Unhealthy trees have fewer natural defenses to withstand storms, Day said.
An expert at Morton Arboretum in Lisle agrees.
"If you've got a healthy tree, that's pretty safe," said Julie Janoski, plant clinic manager for the arboretum.
Keeping trees irrigated helps, Janoski said. She and Day recommend watering trees weekly, especially in the middle of a drought. Applying a slow trickle of water from a garden hose to the roots about once each week "gives the tree a much-needed drink," Day said.
So did the drought in May and June weaken trees, making them more likely to topple during August's storms?
Yes and no, said Day, who recommends planting varieties native to Illinois such as oak, hickory and maple.
The drought didn't lessen wood strength, he said, "but the stress of the drought created a less healthy tree more prone to storm damage."
For example, insufficient water can stress trees, lowering their defenses against disease and insect infestations, which could make root systems unstable, Day said. Trees with unstable root systems are more likely to be uprooted during high winds, he said.
Besides ensuring tree health, the best precaution a homeowner can take is to develop a long-term relationship with an arborist, said Janoski, who recommends hiring professionals to prune mature trees every five to seven years, and more frequently for younger trees.
When it comes to disposing of uprooted trees, Janoski urges homeowners to tread carefully.
It's fine to cut up a branch lying in the middle of the yard, Janoski said, but "if the tree is anywhere close to a power line, leave it for the professionals."
"A homeowner standing on a ladder with a chain saw is recipe for a disaster," Janoski said.
Day concurs. He said fallen trees can retain tension in the branches. A homeowner might successfully saw off a branch or two, but the third branch might release that tension, which can cause a saw to bounce back and injure the homeowner.
"If you don't know what you're dealing with, make sure you call an arborist," Day said.