DFW Post-Storm Response and Tree Care

Tornado Damage Assessment and Post-Storm Tree Care and Recovery for Residents

What can we learn from storm damage to our trees?

In Dallas, tornadoes, ice, and strong thunderstorms are just some of the natural disasters that impact our trees. When storms damage trees, cleanup and recovery can seem overwhelming, especially with all the other impacts of the storm that must be addressed at the same time in order to get the community functioning normally again.

Electricity had been lost to many residents, streets had been blocked by fallen tree limbs and essentially, Mother Nature gave us two big lessons to learn.  The first lesson: always plant the right tree in the right place.  Large trees near power lines will result in electric outages during storms.  The second lesson: trees need care. Many of the trees that had broken limbs had poor canopy structure leading to included bark and weak points. Poor pruning cuts, disease and insects predispose trees to structural failure during heavy wind events.

“Trees play a critical role in the health and wellbeing of our communities. They clean our air, slow water runoff, lower energy costs, increase property values, and provide a plethora of other benefits.  Investing in your trees will pay off,” said Janette Monear, CEO of the Texas Trees Foundation.

Investing in trees is investing in the future, and trees are a good investment.  With proper care, healthy trees planted in the right location, can tolerate storms and add a tremendous amount of value to our quality of life.


Images Source: The Dallas Morning News

Tree Damage Frequently Asked Questions

Trees are surprisingly resilient. If your tree does not present an immediate hazard, it may survive even severe storm damage. A healthy mature tree can lose around 1/4 to 1/3 of its canopy before it starts experiencing noticeable stress. Trees that have lost more than half of their canopy are less likely to survive. Healthy mature trees can lose a small number of substantially large limbs and eventually recover. Trees that have split in half or lost multiple major limbs may need to be removed.

Not all storm damage may be immediately apparent to the untrained eye.  When in doubt about how much damage your tree received, it’s always best to have your tree assessed by a professional arborist.

Trees with one-forth to one-third of tree canopy lost. Source: Arbor Day Foundation
Trees with one-forth to one-third of tree canopy lost. Source: Arbor Day Foundation
Tree split and tree lost major limbs. Source: Arbor Day Foundation
Tree Pruning. Source: United States Department of Agriculture

Cut smaller broken limbs off to reduce the chance of additional damage to the tree caused by tearing bark. Pruning cuts should be made just outside of the branch bark ridge and branch collar (see image below) to avoid damage to trunk tissue. For large limbs (greater than 3 inches), its best to seek professional help from an arborist to ensure the least damage is caused to healthy tree tissues.

Find an arborist that is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) to assess your tree. ISA Certified Arborists pass competency exams and must complete ongoing training to remain certified, ensuring you receive quality care and advice. Make sure any arborist you hire to work on your trees is properly insured to protect your home and other assets on your property. Watch out for under-qualified companies or individuals looking to make quick money off your storm damaged tree.

You can search for Certified arborists here: https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist

Talk with the arborist before accepting any work contract. The following questions can inform your decision:

  1. Are they an ISA Certified Arborist? Ask to see their identification card.
  2. Can they provide proof of insurance? Ask to see it.
  3. Are they reputable? Ask for references.
  4. Do they provide a free written estimate?
  5. Will they top your trees? If they will, find someone else.

No, trees should never be topped. While topped trees may seem like they are safer in future storms, they can in fact be more dangerous. Topping can stress trees and introduce decay that can reduce the tree’s structural integrity.

Tree Planting Diagram. Source: Roots Plus Growers

If you had an existing tree that was removed, the stump of that tree will likely have to be removed, or “ground out” with a stump grinder, in order to plant a new tree. Once you have a site prepared for a new tree, think about “Right Tree, Right Place, Right Way”. Make sure your new tree is a good match for the space you are planting in, and that it is planted correctly.

Right tree in the right place: When selecting a new tree, pay close attention to how large it will be at maturity, both height and width. Will it fit in the space you want to plant? Look for things like overhead powerlines that will limit how tall of a tree you can plant, as well as how close to sidewalks, driveways, and homes your new tree will be planted. To find a list of trees specific to Texas, visit the Texas Forest Service website

Planting the right way: When planting, ensure the tree is not planted too deep. The portion of the tree when the tree’s trunk and roots meet is called the “root flare”. This flare should be planted 1-2 inches above the soil grade. Dig a hole 2-3 times the width of your new tree’s root ball with gently sloping sides. Mulch around new trees to help keep moisture in the soil, and mowing equipment away from the trunk. Avoid “mulch volcanos” by putting down an even layer of mulch that does not touch the trunk of the tree.

Once properly planted, watering is the most important factor in your new tree’s survival. At the time of transplant, make sure to soak the root ball and surrounding soil. Water slowly and deeply to ensure water does not run off the site.

Ideally, trees should be planted when they are dormant. Fall is generally the best time to plant a tree. When planted in fall, trees tend to begin growing new roots sooner than if planted in spring, allowing trees to recover from transplanting faster. In Texas, planting in September through December is ideal. The spring months are also well suited to planting. Avoid planting in hot summer months, and make sure any newly planted trees are watered or irrigated when temperatures rise.

When selecting a new tree at a nursery, there are several things to consider such as branch structure, existing damage, and roots.

Branch Quality. Source: University of Florida

Branches should be evenly spaced and be less than ½ the size of the trunk. The tree should have no branches that cross each other or rub together. Branches should not be at sharp upward angles unless the tree is a cultivated variety where this is intentional. Medium and large size shade trees should have one central leader or stem. Avoid co-dominant stems where a tree has two or more leaders of similar size.

Damage: Avoid trees with broken tops or other visible signs of damage to their bark or branches. Wounds to the trunk of the tree can be especially problematic.

Roots should start near the top 2 inches of the root ball. The root flare, where the trunk and roots tissues come together, should be visible at the top of the root ball. If the trunk of the tree goes directly into the soil without any flare, the tree is likely too deep in the ball. Avoid trees with roots that grow in a circle, these can cause problems later in the life of a tree.

Bargain or discounted trees can be of lower quality and can end up costing more in the long run. Smaller trees will establish faster than large trees. We recommend 15-30-gallon size container trees or 2-3-inch caliper ball and burlap trees. For an in-depth look at tree selection, visit the University of Florida’s extension publication.

Stem damage on a young tree.

Nursery tree with circling roots. Source: A Practitioner’s Guide to Stem Girdling Roots of Trees

Some tree nurseries will offer a guarantee that the tree you purchase will survive for one or two years. If your tree dies within the guaranteed time period, the nursery will replace the lost tree. These guarantees may have stipulations such as how the tree must be watered or how the tree can be planted. Make sure to ask and understand what the guarantee covers.

Tree Damage Tracker

Assess the Value of Your Tree

Did you lose a tree?  Would you like to know how much it was worth? Studies have estimated that trees can account for up to 15 percent of the value of a residential property. 

If you would like to find out how much your tree was worth and help us track how many trees were damaged or lost in the October tornado, please follow the instructions below and add a tree to our Texas Trees Foundation Tornado Tree Tracker. Just add the species, approximate diameter, and location of your tree and we can give you an estimate of your tree’s value.

Using methodology developed and distributed by the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers (CTLA) we are able to provide this approximate value for you using the same processes that is accepted by professionals in the landscape and legal professions.

When using the Texas Trees Foundation Tree Map, you can add individual trees as a member of the public, or you can create an account to add and come back later to edit the tree points you’ve created. You do not need to create an account to add trees. If you would like to create an account, select the log in option at the top right corner of the screen. Creating an account allows you to add more information about the trees you add and allows you to edit trees you have previously added.

How to Add a Tree to the Tornado Damage Tree Map

Open the Texas Trees Foundation Storm Damage Tracker. Click “Plant a Tree” (optionally, first log-in to ensure your tree is linked to your account)

Once you have selected “Plant a Tree” a white crosshair will appear. You can search for an address by clicking the “find an address” option, or simply use the map to locate the tree you’d like to add. Find your tree on the map, and center the crosshair over your tree.

Once you have your crosshair over your tree, fill in the information in the “Select Tree Location” box. Start with the common name of your tree. Use the drop-down menu to select the species of the tree you are adding. Then, add the diameter at breast height or “DBH”. DBH is the diameter of your tree 4.5 feet above the ground. You can also measure the circumferance around your tree and divide by 3.14 to find the diameter.

Next, select the land use and tree type. Land use corresponds to where the tree is located. If the tree is in front of your house, select one of the Residential options. Tree Type refers to whether the tree was planted by the Texas Trees Foundation, part of a planning project, or inventoried. The trees involved in storm damage projects will always be “Inventory”

Check that the project is set to “2019 Tornado Storm Damage”. If it is not, use the dropdown menu to select the project.

Finally, select “Add a Tree”. CAUTION: unless you are logged into an account, you will not be able to edit any attributes once you add your tree.  If you would like to be able to add more information, or edit your tree in the future, log in or create an account with the “log in” button in the top right-hand corner.

Once your tree is added, click “explore the map” to check out all the trees you and others have added! By selecting a tree on the map, you can see quick facts like, species, size, and its “replacement value”, or the estimated cost of replacing that tree. Try clicking on details, eco-benefits, and street view to see more about any tree on the map.