The sound of tree branches cracking, snapping, and crashing to the ground is definitely something I’d rather not hear again. As daybreak approached on Friday, Dec. 1, it became apparent that our 45-year-old sweet gum tree had been turned into a big stick and that half of our 40-year-old white birch and our neighbor’s 60-year-old American elm were lying on our power line. Just about every tree and shrub in my town, Buffalo, was affected in some way by the inch of ice that blanketed central Illinois.
Now, as the area thaws out, it’s time to repair what’s left. In many cases, the assistance of an arborist will required.
A tree should be saved only if a substantial portion remains intact and if, after the damaged parts are pruned out, the tree will be somewhat attractive. A healthy, vigorously growing hardwood tree with the leader and structure still intact, if repaired properly, will generally recover, but a tree already weakened by disease, one with a split trunk, or one that retains less than 50 percent of its crown has a slim chance of surviving.
The more seriously damaged a tree’s main branches are, the lower the tree’s chance of survival. Also, the larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover.
A damaged tree that was planted in the wrong location — for example, a tall species under or near a power line — should be removed.
If power lines are near, a ladder is needed, or overhead chainsaw work is required, it’s time to call a professional. Hiring a qualified arborist is important protection for homeowners — and it’s worth the wait. Remember, though, that reputable local companies already have weeks’ of work ahead of them.
To find a reputable company to do the job safely, ask these questions:Is the company an established business in central Illinois? Be cautious of workers who showing up at your doorstep or from out of state.
Will the company provide copies of current certificates of insurance showing that it is fully insured for property damage, personal liability, and worker compensation? If you hire an uninsured tree expert, you can be held liable for any damage or injuries that occur while he or she is on the job. If the company is from out of state, verify that it has insurance to cover work done in Illinois.
Is the company a member of a recognized professional association such as the International Society of Arboriculture? Membership in a professional association is voluntary. Arborists who have received certification from ISA have passed a comprehensive examination and maintain the certification through continuing education. To locate a certified ISA arborist, call 217-355-9411 or go to www.isa-arbor.com/findArborist/findarborist.aspx.
A professionally trained arborist will be able to determine whether a tree can be saved and, if so, take the correct measures to put the tree on the road to recovery. No trained arborist will ever recommend topping a tree.
Before starting a job, most arborists will review with the customer the work to be done. The customer may also be asked to sign a contract. In the case of tree removal, you should have a clear understanding about whether the price includes stump removal and cleanup.
Don’t become a victim of fraud: Avoid paying for work in advance.
Trees that have suffered from storm damage will not look perfect after pruning, but you will be surprised at how quickly a healthy tree will heal.
The ice storm permanently altered the landscape in many of our communities. Now is the time to begin research to select the best replacement choice and the best location for a new tree. This storm should be another reminder to us to plant the right species in the right place.
Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon.