Benefits of Trees
Calculating Your Tree’s Value
Trees provide many benefits. They slow storm water, clean the air, cool the environment in the heat of summer, save energy, store carbon, make people feel better, reduce stress levels, help children develop, reduce glare and noise, and generally make our cities more livable. While this has been known for many years, it has been hard to quantify tree benefits or to put a value on them.
Through the use of a new computer program called i-Tree, it is now possible to value some of the benefits tree provide. I-Tree and its components were developed by the USDA Forest Service over many years and recently, it has been calibrated for the Midwest. This effort was undertaken by Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) with help from the Missouri Department of Conservation and Kansas City Parks and Recreation, Forestry Operations. Calculate your own tree value, click here.
Economic Value of Trees
The scope and condition of a community’s trees and, collectively, its urban forest, is usually the first impression a community projects to its visitors. Additionally, property values increase 5-15% compared to properties without trees. Studies have shown that:
- Trees enhance community economic stability by attracting businesses and tourists.
- People linger and shop longer along tree-lined streets.
- Apartments and offices in wooded areas rent more quickly and have higher occupancy rates.
- Businesses leasing office spaces in developments with trees find their workers are more productive and absenteeism is reduced.
- A mature tree can often have an appraised value between $1,000 and $10,000.
Kansas City’s street trees are returning benefits to the city valued at $51,200,000 annually or $123/tree/year for the city’s existing street tree population of 415,000 trees. The city could gain an additional $15,000,000/year in benefits if all the unplanted spots available for trees along street and in mowed areas of city parks were replanted (about 120,000 spots)!
Annual Energy benefits of existing KCMO street trees are currently 70,709 MWh of electricity saved/year and 9,438,300 Therms of natural gas saved/year due to the trees reducing heating and cooling demand for buildings. This is covers the annual electric usage of 5,800 homes and the annual natural gas usage of about 13,500 homes. This has an estimated value of $14,616,000/year.
Studies have shown that:
- Trees properly places around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30-50 percent and can save 20-50% in energy used for heating.
- The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
Environmental Value of Trees
Trees are brilliant cleansers. To elaborate this importance, it is fair to paint the big picture. Heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere due to high levels of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases which ultimately prohibit the heat from being released into space. This is what has caused the “Greenhouse Effect.” Trees naturally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the state of photosynthesis and use the gas to form carbohydrates utilized in the plant’s structure/function, and in turn releases the pertinent gas, Oxygen as a byproduct. Trees store carbon in its branches, trunk, leaves etc. instead of leaving the gas to become free floating and further polluting the atmosphere. In this natural function alone, trees directly reduce the growth of the Greenhouse Effect and counteract Global Warming.
Studies have shown that:
- A single tree can soak up as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year and produce enough oxygen to sustain two human beings.
- One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
- In KCMO, an estimated 605,702,000 gallons/year of rainfall are intercepted by street trees, saving the city about $16,416,000/year in management costs. Planting the vacant tree spots will increase this by 176,332,000 gallons/year of rainfall intercepted by trees, saving the city an additional $4,779,000/year in management costs.
- In KCMO there are 859,670 tons of carbon sequestered in existing street trees.
- The trees maintained by KCMO remove an estimated 38 tons of ground level ozone annually.
- The planting of trees means less runoff and erosion, resulting in improved water quality. This allows more recharging of the ground water supply. Wooded areas help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams.
Social Values of Trees
Two University of Illinois researchers (Kuo and Sullivan) studied how well residents of the Chicago Robert Taylor Housing Project (the largest public housing development in the world) were doing in their daily lives based upon the amount of contact they had with trees, and came to the following conclusions:
- Trees have the potential to reduce social service budgets, decrease police calls for domestic violence, strengthen urban communities, and decrease the incidence of child abuse according to the study.
- Residents who live near trees have significantly better relations with and stronger ties to their neighbors.
- Researchers found fewer reports of physical violence in homes that had trees outside the buildings. Of the residents interviewed, 14% of residents living in barren conditions have threatened to use a knife or gun against their children versus 3% for the residents living in green conditions.
- Studies have shown that hospital patients with a view of trees out their windows recover much faster and with fewer complications than similar patients without such views.
- A Texas A&M study indicates that trees help create relaxation and well being.
- A U.S. Department of Energy study reports that trees reduce noise pollution by acting as a buffer and absorbing 50% of urban noise.
Sources: Dr. Roger S. Ulrich, Texas A&M University; Prow, Tina.,“The Power of Trees”, Human Environmental Research Laboratory at University of Illinois; American Forests, “How Trees Fight Climate Change”, 1999; US Department of Energy; Michigan State University Extension, Urban Forestry #07269501, “Benefits of Urban Trees”; The Arbor Day Foundation; USDA Forest Service; Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers; i-Tree software, USDA Forest Service; American Public Power Association; US Department of Agriculture.
Planting a Tree
Planting a tree is a lifelong investment. How well this investment grows depends on the type of tree selected and the planting location, the care provided during planting, and the follow-up care after planting. Getting your new tree off to a healthy start will help the tree mature to its full size and ensures it will provide environmental, economic, and social benefits throughout its lifetime.
Learn more about planting a new tree
When to Plant
Ideally, trees are planted during the dormant season – in the fall after leaf drop or in early spring before budbreak. Weather conditions are cool and allow plants to establish roots in the new location before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new top growth. Healthy balled and burlapped or container trees, however, can be planted throughout the growing season if given appropriate care. In tropical and subtropical climates where trees grow year round, any time is a good time to plant a tree, provided that sufficient water is available.
Balled and burlapped trees lose a significant portion of their root system when dug at the nursery. As a result, trees commonly exhibit what is known as “transplant shock.” Transplant shock is a state of slowed growth and reduced vitality following transplanting. Container trees may also experience transplant shock, particularly if they have circling or kinked roots that must be cut. Proper site preparation, careful handling to prevent further root damage, and good follow-up care reduces transplant shock and promotes faster recovery.
Steps for Planting
- Locate all underground utilities prior to digging.
- Identify the trunk flare. The trunk flare is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree has been planted.
- Dig a shallow, broad planting hole.Holes should be 2-3 times wider than the root ball, but only as deep as the root ball.
- Remove the containers or cut away the wire basket. Inspect container tree root balls for circling roots. Straighten, cut, or remove them.
- Place the tree at the proper height. Take care to dig the hole to the proper depth – and no more. If the tree is planted too deep, new roots will have difficulty developing because of a lack of oxygen.
- Straighten the tree in the hole. Before backfilling, have someone view the tree from several directions to confirm it is straight.
- Fill the hole gently, but firmly. Pack soil around the base of the root ball to stabilize it. Fill the remainder of the hole, firmly packing the soil to eliminate air pockets that may dry out roots. Further reduce air pockets by watering periodically while backfilling. Avoid fertilization at the time of planting.
- Stake the tree, if necessary. Studies have shown that trees establish more quickly and develop stronger trunk and root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting.
- Mulch the base of the tree. Mulch is organic matter spread around the base of a tree to hold moisture, moderate soil temperature extremes, and reduce grass and weed competition.Learn more about proper mulching
- Provide follow-up care. Keep the soil moist, but not water-logged. Water trees at least once a week, barring rain, and more frequently during hot, windy weather.
Right Tree – Right Place
Planning before planting can help ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place. Proper tree selection and placement enhance your property value and prevent costly maintenance trimming and damage to your home. If you have any more questions, please contact your local ISA Certified Arborist or tree care professional, utility company, local nursery, or county extension office.
Mulches are materials placed over the soil surface to maintain moisture and improve soil conditions. Mulching is one of the most beneficial acts a homeowner can do for the health of a tree. However, improper mulching materials and practices may have little, or even negative, impact on the trees in your landscape.
Learn more about proper mulching techniques
Avoiding Tree and Utility Conflicts
Determining where to plant a tree is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Many factors should be considered prior to planting. When planning what type of tree to plant, remember to look up and look down to determine where the tree will be located in relation to overhead and underground utility lines.
Learn more about planting trees near utilities
Overhead utility lines are easy to spot, yet often overlooked. Planting tall-growing trees under or near these lines eventually requires your utility provider to prune them to maintain safe clearance from the wires. This pruning may result in the tree having an unnatural appearance. Periodic pruning can also lead to a shortened life span for the tree.
Tall-growing trees near overhead lines can cause service interruptions when trees contact wires. Children or adults climbing in these trees can be severely injured or even killed if they come in contact with the wires. Proper selection and placement of trees in and around overhead utilities can eliminate potential public safety hazards, reduce expenses for utilities and their customers, and improve landscape appearance.
Trees consist of much more than what you see above ground. Many times, the root area below ground is larger than the branch spread. Many of the utility services provided today run below ground. Tree roots and underground lines often coexist without problems. However, trees planted near underground lines could have their roots damaged if the lines are dug up for repair.
The greatest danger to underground lines occurs during planting. Before you plant, make sure that you are aware of the location of any underground utilities. To be certain that you do not accidentally dig into any lines and risk serious injury or a costly service interruption, call your utility company or utility locator service first. Never assume that these utility lines are buried deeper than you plan to dig.
Information provided from the International Society of Arboriculture | www.treesaregood.org
Mulching is one of the most beneficial practices a homeowner can use for better tree health. Mulches are materials placed over the soil surface to maintain moisture and improve soil conditions. Mulching is one of the most beneficial acts a homeowner can do for the health of a tree. However, improper mulching materials and practices may have little, or even negative, impact on the trees in your landscape.
- Benefits of Proper Mulching
- Helps reduce soil moisture loss through evaporation
- Helps control weed germination and growth
- Insulates soil, protecting roots from extreme summer and winter temperatures
- Can improve soil biology, aeration, structure (aggregation of soil particles), and drainage over time
- Can improve soil fertility as certain mulch types decompose
- Inhibits certain plant diseases
- Reduces the likelihood of tree damage from “weed whackers” or the dreaded “lawn mower blight”
- Gives planting beds a uniform, well-cared-for look
Trees growing in a natural forest environment have their roots anchored in a rich, well-aerated soil full of essential nutrients and soil microorganisms. The soil is blanketed by leaves, organic materials, and living organisms that replenish and recycle nutrients. This environment is optimal for root growth and mineral uptake. Urban landscapes and new developments, however, are typically harsher environments with poor quality soils, reduced organic matter, and large fluctuations in soil temperature and moisture. Applying a 2- to 4-inch (5- to 10-cm) layer of organic mulch can mimic a more natural environment and improve plant health.
Types of Mulch
Mulches are available in many forms. The two major types of mulch are inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulches include various types of stone, lava rock, pulverized rubber, geotextile fabrics, and other materials. Inorganic mulches do not decompose and do not need to be replenished often. On the other hand, they do not improve soil structure, add organic materials, or provide nutrients. For these reasons, most horticulturists and arborists prefer organic mulches. Organic mulches include wood chips, pine needles, hardwood and softwood bark, cocoa hulls, leaves, compost mixes, and a variety of other products usually derived from plants. Organic mulches decompose in the landscape at different rates depending on the material, climate, and soil microorganisms present. Those that decompose faster must be replenished more often. Because the decomposition process improves soil quality and fertility, many arborists and other landscape professionals consider that characteristic a positive one, despite the added maintenance.
Not Too Much!
As beneficial as mulch is, too much can be harmful. The generally recommended mulching depth is 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm). Unfortunately, many landscapes are falling victim to a plague of overmulching. “Mulch volcanoes” are excessive piles of mulch materials applied around the base of trees. While organic mulches must be replenished over time, buildup can occur if reapplication outpaces decomposition or if new material is added simply to refresh color. Deep mulch can be effective in suppressing weeds and reducing maintenance, but it often causes additional problems.
Problems Associated with Improper Mulching
- On wet soils, deep mulch can lead to excess moisture in the root zone, which can stress the plant and cause root rot.
- Piling mulch against the trunk or stems of plants can stress stem tissues and may lead to the development of insect and disease problems or stem girdling roots.
- Some mulches, especially those containing fresh grass clippings, can affect soil pH and may eventually lead to nutrient deficiencies or toxic buildups.
- Mulch piled high against the trunks of young trees may create habitats for rodents that chew the bark and can girdle the trees
- .Thick blankets of fine mulch can become matted and may reduce the penetration of water and air.
- Anaerobic “sour” mulch may give off pungent odors, and the alcohols and organic acids that build up may be toxic to young plants. Proper Mulching The choice of mulch and the method of application can be important to the health of landscape plants.
The following are some guidelines to use when applying mulch:
- Determine whether soil drainage is adequate and if there are plants that may be affected by the choice of mulch. Most commonly available mulches work well in most landscapes. Some plants may benefit from the use of slightly acidifying mulch, such as pine bark.
- For well-drained sites, apply a 2- to 4-inch (5- to 10-cm) layer of mulch (less if poorly drained). Coarse mulches can be applied slightly deeper without harm. Place mulch out to the edge of a tree’s crown or beyond. Remember, if a tree had a say in the matter, its entire root system (which usually extends well beyond the drip line) would be mulched.
- If mulch is already present, check the depth. If sufficient mulch is present, break up any matted layers and refresh the appearance with a rake. Some landscape maintenance companies spray mulch with a water-soluble, vegetable-based dye to add color to faded material.
- If mulch is piled against the stems or tree trunks, pull it back several inches/centimeters so that the base of the trunk is exposed. Composted wood chips can make good mulch, especially when they include some bark and leaves. Fresh wood chips also may be used around established trees and shrubs. Avoid using fine, non-composted wood chips, as soil nitrogen may be taken up by the roots as the wood chips decompose.
To watch a 2-minute video on proper mulching techniques, visit the City of Overland Park’s website here.
Information provided from the International Society of Arboriculture | www.treesaregood.org
Research the Tree Before Purchasing
What is tree’s mature height? What is tree’s projected longevity? How fast will this tree grow? What is tree’s mature shape? Is it cold hardy for your area? What are its soil requirements? Does it require a shady or sunny site? Does it require wet or dry site?Is it sensitive to salt? Describe flowers and fruits. What is the autumn/spring color? Is the species unusually susceptible to certain insects or disease, or to storm damage?
Note: In a community setting be sure to choose a variety of species. Do not plant large numbers of the same species.
Below is a checklist to help you find the right tree to plant around your home. Print off this page, fill it out and then show it to your local nursery or garden center professional and request a choice of trees appropriate for your site. Ask if the nursery or garden center guarantees its plant material.
Site Selection: Where will you plant your tree?
- private land
- parking lot
- by a patio
- golf course
- school/ playground
- along streets
Describe the site
- underground utilities
- near heavy traffic
- overhead utility wires
- near winter salted roads
- near walkway
- driveway or sidewalk
Check all soil conditions
- severely disturbed/building rubble
- shallow soil to bedrock
- Estimate the space between curb and sidewalk (lot size)
- Will the tree fit in this site when fully mature?
- A tree’s mature size and shape must be of the proper scale to fit the site and surrounding buildings.
- Trees crowded in small street spaces may crack sidewalks and paved areas.
- Avoid planting under overhead wires and above under-ground utilities.
- Do not plant trees near building foundations or walls.
- If you plan to plant near the street or in a parking lot, know the snow removal plans.
- Do not plant trees that produce nuts or large fruit in pedestrian areas.
- Determine the necessary root growth space for the species you select. Think of clustering trees in a park setting or a parking lot to provide larger soil volumes for safe root growth. Grouping spaces as contiguous pits to provide shared soil volumes is recommended, rather than digging several individual pits. Groupings create their own small environments and may survive better.
- Identify legal restrictions for planting for both public and private property.
Remember: Trees have roots. Roots spread beyond the branch area of the tree. Most roots are found in the top 18″ of soil; most absorbing roots are found in the top 6″ of soil.
Carefully inspect the trees to choose the healthiest ones with the best form. Reject trees that have:
- Double stems or multiple bunches of stems. Look for a straight, single stem.
- Severe pruning cuts.
- Dead bark, cankers, or signs of disease or insects on trunk or branches.
- Paint on wounds or pruning cuts.
- Tight, vertical branches where bark is squeezed between branches or between trunk and branch.Note: Branches of street trees should be high enough for pedestrians to walk beneath. What Trees Grow in my Zone?
Several methods are used to package tree roots, each influenced by tree species, size, or ease of transportation. All containers must be removed prior to planting.
- Balled and burlapped trees are dug from a nursery bed with roots in a ball of earth, then wrapped in burlap. Even though trees may be carefully grown and lifted, many roots are lost; in fact, as much as 90% of the tree’s roots may be left behind in the field. Keep the earth ball moist to prevent drying.
- Container-grown trees are raised directly in a pot or container. Although the entire root system is maintained, roots may become tightly encircled if left too long in the container. This may cause future problems for the tree.
- Bare-rooted trees are also dug from a nursery bed, but soil is removed. They are easier to transport, but much more susceptible to drying. Roots may be wrapped in sphagnum moss or other packing material to hold moisture. Bare rooted trees are usually less costly, but must be handled and planted carefully.
- Potted trees are dug from a nursery bed, then placed into a container. Containers may be hard or soft walled, but should be removed before planting. Soil in pots must be kept moist before planting.
Purchase Size and Characteristics
Tree sizes are measured by height and caliper. Height is used is used for deciduous trees up to 8 feet tall, and for evergreen trees. Caliper, or trunk diameter near the ground, is used for deciduous over 8 feet tall. Tree sizes increase by one-quarter or one-half inch caliper increments. Important considerations for selecting tree sizes are location, purpose, availability, cost and difficulty of handling. Very large trees are usually best installed by a landscape contractor.
Note: Caliper is the stem thickness measured 6 inches above ground. Trees over 4-inch caliper are measured 12 inches above ground.
Purchased trees should have these desirable characteristics:
- Long, vigorous branches on current year’s growth. Well developed buds.
- Pleasing proportion of height to spread. Well developed lateral branches.
- Generally straight trunk with absence of wounds.
- Firm, moist root ball or container soil.
- 1 and ¼ inch caliper tree with balled and burlapped roots.
Transporting and Storing Trees
Remember trees are alive and should be treated with respect. Protection from drying is critical; roots must be kept moist. Foliage, branches and trunks can also dry out. If trees will be transported by truck, be sure to keep them covered for protection from winds. It is best to plant trees as soon as possible after they are received. If they must be stored, place them away from excessive exposure to sun and wind. Cover balled and burlapped or bare rooted tree roots with wood chips, sand, or loose earth. Trees should be lifted by their container or root ball to avoid breaking fine roots and to protect trunks.
Tree cost depends on size, root condition, species, method of growth or culture, and origin. Relative prices of trees generally indicate quality, but not always. When estimating the total cost of a planting project, be sure to include the expense of labor, tools, materials and delivery along with tree costs for maintenance of trees after they are planted, including mulching and watering.
Content provided by The Missouri Department of Conservation and USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area.
Recommended Tree Species
Choosing the right tree species can be challenging. Check with your city Parks Department or Forester to see if they have a recommended/approved tree list for your City. If one is not available we recommend using Robert Whitman’s “Great Trees for Kansas City” or contacting additional resources found on the Tree Resources page.
Trees not Recommended for Yards
These trees are known to have insect/disease problems in the Kansas City region and are susceptible to ice damage and/or are messy. There are other trees besides those listed here that may not be suitable for your situation due other considerations, such as those with large seeds (sweetgum, walnut). Be sure to get complete information about any tree you plan to plant.
- Austrian Pine
- Black Locust
- Bradford Pear
- European White Birch
- Lombardy Poplar
- Austrian Pine
- Black Locust
- Bradford Pear
- European White Birch
- Lombardy Poplar
Hand pruners are useful for small branches, up to about 1/2-inch diameter. Use loppers or a saw for larger branches, or for species with hardwood. Long-handled loppers may be used to remove larger diameter branches, but precise cuts are more difficult to make. Curved blade pruning saws cut on the pull stroke. Newer blade designs are able to cut large and small diameter branches quickly and cleanly. Chainsaws are not recommended for pruning except by those trained in their safe, correct operation for tree work. Consider hiring a professional arborist for jobs involving larger limbs.
- Never remove more than 1/4 of a tree’s crown in a season.
- Where possible, try to encourage side branches that form angles that are 1/3 off vertical (10:00 or 2:00 positions). Branches at angles of 10:00 and 2:00 are often strongest. Side branches should have diameters less than 3/4 the diameter of the trunk.
- For most species, the tree should have a single trunk, also called a central leader.
- Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 smaller than the diameter of the trunk. If removal of a main branch is necessary, cut it back to where it is attached to another large branch or the trunk. Do not truncate or leave a stub.
- For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, don’t prune up from the bottom any more than 1/3 of the tree’s total height.
How to Make a Proper Pruning Cut
The Three Cut Method
A. Make a partial cut from beneath.
B. Make a second cut from above several inches out and allow the limb to fall.
C. Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar.
Make a sharp clean cut, just beyond a lateral bud or other branch.
When to call a professional
Minor tree pruning on small trees can be easily done by a homeowner after some training. If the tree is large, needs a chainsaw or specialized equipment, and/or the tree has storm damage; contact a certified arborist. A good rule of thumb is if the prunning is above your head, contact a professional. Learn more about hiring a professional below or to find an arborist in your area see Tree Resources.
Information provided by the National Arbor Day Foundation
How to Hire an Arborist
An arborist is a specialist in the care of individual trees. Arborists are knowledgeable about the needs of trees, and they are trained and equipped to provide proper care.
- Make sure they are part of an established business in the community or nearby area with a listing in the phone book, usually under “Tree Service.” Look for “certified arborist” or other indication of professional certification (see 4. below).
- Hiring an arborist is a decision that should not be taken lightly; tree work should be done only by those trained and equipped to work on trees in a manner that is safe both for them and for the trees. Have them provide you with evidence they are actually working for the company, rather than moonlighting.
- Ask for current certificates of insurance showing they are fully insured for property damage, personal liability and worker compensation.
- Ideally, they should be members of a professional association of arborists such as the Kansas Arborist Association (KAA), the International Society of Arboriculture, the Tree Care Industry Association, or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Ask for proof of certification before any work is started.
- Arborists who have received certification from their professional associations, such as ISA Certified Arborists, will have received training and access to current technical information on tree care, repair and removal. They will also carry membership cards to show their certification.
- Get at least three estimates to ensure the price offered is competitive with that offered by others for the same services.
- In case of tree removals, have a clear understanding about who removes the limbs and debris from the property and whether or not the price includes stump removal and clean up.
- Check to see if the estimate has considered the possible value your tree will have as firewood or chips, either to yourself or if sold to others.
- Do not hire contractors who go door to door. A professional tree care company typically does not do business by knocking on doors.
- ABOVE ALL – do not respond to pressure tactics! Be a good consumer. Do your research and hire good contractors.
Check out the Tree Resources page to find certified arborists in your area.
Content provided by the City of Stillwater’s Forestry Coordinator, Carrie Tomlinson.
How to Address Storm Damage
First, Assess the Damage
Before writing off a damaged tree as a “goner,” homeowners should evaluate their trees by asking the following questions:
- Other than the storm damage, is the tree healthy and vigorous? If the tree is basically healthy, is not creating a hazard and did not suffer major structural damage, it will generally recover if first aid measures are applied immediately after the storm.
- Are major limbs broken? The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage. If a majority of the main branches are gone, the tree might have little chance of surviving.
- Has the leader (the main upward-trending branch on most trees) been lost? In species where a leader is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, it might have to be a judgment call. The tree might live without its leader, but at best would be a stunted or deformed version of the original.
- Is at least 50 percent of the tree’s crown (branches and leaves) still intact? This is a good rule of thumb on tree survivability. A tree with less than half of its branches remaining might not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another season.
- How big are the wounds where branches have been broken or bark has been damaged? The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests. A two- to three-inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will seal over with new bark within a couple of years.
- Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure? The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace its missing foliage. Look to see if branches are in place that can eventually fill out the tree’s appearance.
- Is the tree a desirable species for its location? If the tree is in the wrong location (such as a potentially tall tree beneath a power line), or an undesirable species for the property (messy fruit, etc.), it might be best to remove it if it has serious damage.
It’s a Keeper (20% OR LESS LOSS)
When there is only slight damage to your tree, you should remove damaged limbs and let the tree begin the process of repairing itself. DO NOT paint over wounds or wrap wire or strapping of any sort around a damaged branch to let it “heal.” If a branch is damaged, the tree will prepare to cut off resources to it anyway, and it will die. Trees cannot “heal” tissue like people do. You need to remove these branches using good pruning cutting techniques.
Wait and See (20% – 40% LOSS)
When a good portion of limbs are broken, but it is still hard to tell what to do with the tree, you should remove damaged limbs and evaluate the tree over time. Sometimes these trees will recover, and sometimes they won’t. Its environment, what species it is, and where the damage occurred on the tree can all play a big role in determining the tree’s survival. THE ONLY EXCEPTION TO THIS is when the tree in this situation is near a house, an above-ground utility line or anything its limbs might hit. If your tree is remotely close to any above-ground utility, you should contact that utility and have them evaluate the situation. DO NOT endanger yourself by trimming close to an electrical line. If a tree is close to your house, please hire a professional tree company to do the trimming. A tree in this circumstance is going to need close monitoring and care over many years to make it viable again. Proper watering and pruning over time will be crucial to this tree’s recovery.
Say Goodbye (50%+ LOSS)
When there are fewer branches on your tree than off, you need to consider removing the tree. It is not possible to have a tree recover completely from this type of loss. Removal is the best option. If it is not removed, it is very likely the tree will die eventually from disease or insect infestations. If it does live, it will never be tree-shaped again and will continue to have structural problems which could eventually pose a hazard to anything around it. Hiring a professional tree care company is the best option for this situation.
Tree First Aid
- Don’t try to do it all yourself. If large limbs are broken or hanging, or if high climbing or overhead chainsaw work is needed, it’s a job for a professional arborist. They have the necessary equipment and knowledge needed, and they are generally listed in the telephone directory under “Tree Service.”
- Take safety precautions. Look up and look down. Be on the alert for downed power lines and dangerous hanging branches that look like they’re ready to fall. Stay away from any downed utility lines, low-voltage telephone or cable lines. Even fence wires can become electrically charged when there are fallen or broken electrical lines nearby. Don’t get under broken limbs that are hanging or caught in other branches overhead. And, unless you really know how to use one, leave chainsaw work to the professionals.
- Remove any broken branches still attached to the tree. Removing the jagged remains of smaller sized broken limbs is one common repair property owners can make after a storm. If done properly, it will minimize the risk of decay agents entering the wound. Smaller branches should be pruned at the point where they join larger ones. Large branches that are broken should be cut back to the trunk or a main limb by an arborist.
- Repair torn bark. To improve the tree’s appearance and eliminate hiding places for insects, carefully use a chisel or sharp knife to smooth the ragged edges of wounds where bark has been torn away. Try not to expose any more of the cambium (greenish inner bark) than is necessary, as these fragile layers contain the tree’s food and water lifelines between roots and leaves.
- Resist the urge to over-prune. Don’t worry if the tree’s appearance isn’t perfect. With branches gone, your trees might look unbalanced or naked. You’ll be surprised at how fast they will heal, grow new foliage and return to their natural beauty.
- Don’t top your trees! Untrained individuals might urge you to cut back all of the branches on the mistaken assumption that reducing the length of branches will help avoid breakage in future storms. While storm damage might not always allow for ideal pruning cuts, professional arborists say that “topping,” cutting main branches back to stubs, is one of the worst things you can do for your trees. Stubs tend to grow back a lot of weakly attached branches that are even more likely to break when a storm strikes. Also, the tree will need all its resources to recover from the stress of storm damage. Topping the tree will reduce the amount of foliage on which the tree depends for the food and nourishment needed for regrowth. A topped tree that has already sustained major storm damage is more likely to die than repair itself. At best, its recovery will be retarded, and it will almost never regain its original shape or beauty.
Preventing Future Damage
Here are some preventive measures home and property owners can take to help their trees be stronger and more resistant to storm damage:
- Encourage good branch angles. For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, narrow angles between branches signal a point of future weakness, whether in the trunk or in the crown of the tree. This happens because as two branches grow closely together, neither has sufficient space to add the wood needed for strength. Instead, they grow against each other, creating a weak joint. The effect is similar to hammering in a wedge between them. To prevent this, remove one of the two branches when the tree is young. For best branch strength, the ideal branching angle in many broadleaf tree species approximates 10:00 or 2:00. Branches at those angles should be encouraged by removing competing but less desirable neighbors.
- Encourage strong branch/trunk size relationships. The relative size of lateral (side) branches is also important in determining branch strength. Ideally, lateral branches should be no more than 1/2 to 3/4 the diameter of the trunk. Branches larger than that are often heavier than the trunk can support, and they are candidates to break when wind, ice or snow come along. Trees grow by adding new layers of wood on the trunk and branches each year. As the trunk grows, it will strengthen the joints with branches by adding wood around it, like a dowel in a chair leg.
- Maintain a stable center of gravity. Wind, winter snow loads or previous loss of a major limb can create situations where the tree’s center of gravity is not positioned over the trunk. Then when a severe storm hits, a slight bit of extra weight or wind pressure can break limbs, snap the trunk off, or even topple the tree, roots and all. You can help reposition a tree’s center of gravity by selectively removing branches on the leaning side and encouraging branches on the opposite side.
- Remove rubbing branches, suckers, watersprouts and temporary branches. Branches that rub against each other produce wounds and decay. One of the offending branches should be removed. Watersprouts and suckers can occur at the base of the tree or inside the crown. They are rapidly growing, weakly attached and upright branches that do not follow the tree’s normal growth pattern. On trees that have been severely damaged, these kinds of branches might be temporarily needed to provide foliage. In healthy trees; however, they most often use more energy than they return to the tree, and it is best to remove them as soon as possible. Temporary branches grow low on the tree when it is young and protect young bark from injury by the sun. After a tree is three to four years old, these temporary branches should be gradually removed. Because leaves are vital in providing the tree with nourishment, never remove more than one-third of a tree’s leafy crown when pruning.
- Don’t cut branches back to stubs. Often people have the mistaken idea that long natural limbs on a tree will break more easily in a storm and should be cut back to make them stronger. Just the opposite is the case. When a branch is cut back to a stub, new branches will grow from the edges of the stub. Because they cannot form a strong union with the stubbed branch, these new branches are even more likely to be broken in a future storm. If a branch needs to be removed, cut it back to a main branch or to the tree’s trunk. Never leave a stub.
Emerald Ash Borer
Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an exotic beetle that was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. The adult beetles feed on ash foliage but cause little damage. The larvae (the immature stage) feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. EAB likely arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating from its native Asia. It has since then spread throughout the Midwest from southern Arkansas north into Canada. It is estimated that EAB has killed millions of ash tree and it is just getting started. Untreated ash trees will die leaving behind a great loss in our urban tree canopy.
Knowing what to look for can help you quickly verify that you have an EAB infestation and allow you time to decide on your next course of action.
- Ash Identification: Be sure the tree you’re concerned about is an ash tree. Visit Missouri Urban Trees or Distinguishing Ash from other Common Trees to correctly identify your tree.
- Description: EAB is a very small (1/2 inch long and 1/8 inch wide) bullet shaped borer with a flat head. The beetle is iridescent green in color and fits on the head of a penny. There are look-alike insects of about the same size and color, including other borers and a few beetles, making identification of the insect itself challenging.
- Life Cycle: The female beetle lays any where from 65-90 eggs on the bark of the branch/tree from May-July. The eggs hatch and begin to burrow into the trunk of the tree as larva. During the winter months, the larva feeds on the vascular tissue of the tree causing “S” shaped galleries. It will feed and pupate from October to April before emerging again as an adult.
- Symptoms: The signs of EAB infestation are difficult to diagnose, because decline of the tree’s health usually happens gradually. Early symptoms could include dead branches near the top of the tree or leafy shoots growing out from the lower trunk, but these symptoms alone are not absolute evidence of an EAB infestation. This die back is a direct result of the feeding that has taken place by the the larva. The “S” shaped galleries, cut off the flow of nutrients and water between the roots and the canopy ultimately strangling the tree. Also a marker to look for is the small “D” shaped holes left by the adult as they emerge from the tree. This also can be difficult to use for identification as infestation starts in the canopy making it difficult to see from the ground.
If you have an ash tree located within 12 feet of the street or between the sidewalk and the curb, you should contact the city forester or Parks Department. Many cities in the metro have an Emerald Ash Borer Action Plan outlining the treatment/removal/replacement of public trees. If your ash tree is located on private property (front or backyard) the decision will be yours to make whether you move forward with treatment.
Trees infected with EAB will die, typically within 5-7 years. Treatment can be costly and is required every 1-2 years for the life of the tree. A mature tree however provides a number of environmental benefits and cost savings that a small newly planted tree will not. The decision to treat vs remove and replace is yours but first have your tree evaluated by a certified arborist. If there are structural defects or other issues, your tree may not be a candidate for treatment.
- Treatment: There are many products on the market that can effectively kill EAB. Cost for treatment can very depending on the method of application. This could include a soil drench, trunk spray or trunk injection. There are products on the market that a homeowner can use to treat small ash trees. Once the tree is over 15 inches in diameter, a certified arborist should be contracted to apply treatment. With any chemical application, it is important to read the label carefully and be aware of effects on the environment. At the end of this article for further information about treatment options.
- Replant: It is estimated that the KC metro has 6.5 million ash trees. Whether you decide to treat your tree or cut it down, please start planting now! The devastating loss of benefits provided by those 6.5 million trees will be felt for generations to come. If we’ve leaned nothing else from other devastating diseases and pests such as Dutch Elm disease and Pine Wilt, diversity of species is vital. Most metro cities have an overwhelming number of ash trees second only to red maple. To prevent catastrophic loss in the future, diversify your plantings with many different species of trees.
Your best local resource is your City Forester. Call City Hall and ask to speak with them — they can help as long as you have a few details in hand: species and age of the tree, any recent disturbance to the roots or other part of the tree (such as a new driveway or other construction) and care history (watering, pruning, etc.). If it’s not possible to diagnose the problem over the phone, you might be asked to send or bring in a sample of the tree. Be sure to follow the instructions given about how best to remove and transport the sample.
- Leavenworth County Master Gardeners: 913-250-2300
- Wyandotte County Master Gardeners: 913-299-9300 (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, April through October) or e-mail
- Johnson County Master Gardeners: 913-715-7050 (Monday-Friday from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, March through October) or e-mail
- K-State Extension
The University of Missouri Extension Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City serve Cass, Clay, and Platte counties as well as surrounding areas. They offer two services:
- Telephone hotline: 816- 833-TREE
Speak with a master gardener Mon – Fri. (9 am – 3 pm) March 1 – October 31
- Cass County Question and Answer Desk
Wed. 9 am – Noon, May – September
302 S. Main St., Harrisonville 816-380-8460
- Clay County Hotline
Tues & Thurs 9 am – 3 pm, March – October
1901 NE 48th St., Kansas City 816-407-3490
- Jackson County Hotline
Mon, Wed, Fri 9 am – 3 pm, March – October
1501 NW Jefferson, Blue Springs 816-252-5051
- Platte County Question and Answer Desk
Wed 1 pm – 4 pm, April – Sept
11724 NW Plaza Circle, Kansas City 816-270-2141 email
- Call 816-833-TREE (8733)
- Ray County
If you are looking to have a tree removed or trimmed, Heartland Tree Alliance recommends you always you a certified arborist. There are two certification programs in this area that train, test and certify tree workers on the proper techniques and principals of arboriculture. You can search and find an arborist in your area either by name or zip code.