Blustery winds reveal weaknesses in trees

This maple tree experienced damage in a wind event in June 2012. The south branch of this large trunk fell away, narrowing missing a home, and exposing a large rotten area where to two branches met. The two trunks had a rubbed against each other for years, creating a wound where water settled, which in turn softened the wood as it rotted.  

Wednesday was one of those windy days of fall. Many trees lost branches during the 50 to 60 mph wind. Often times, the branches fell as a result of weaknesses in the structure of the tree.

I recall one broken maple tree had a double trunk in the shape of a narrow V. The south trunk of the tree had broken off, revealing a hollow area and some black, soft rotten wood.

This is fairly common. The trunks on trees with narrow V-shaped crotch angles tend to rub one another as they get older. The rubbing leads to a wound, which allows water to puddle in the wound. The water can lead to rot, which can extend down into the heart of the tree. If one of your trees exhibits rot after a limb breaks off, its often a good idea to have a professional arborist evaluate the safety of the tree.

When some branches break off, they can peel bark down as they fall. If the branch stays attached, the weight of the branch may peel even more bark away. It is good to remove any broken branches still attached to the tree, both from a safety perspective and for the health of the tree. Removing jagged remains of smaller broken limbs is one smaller repair that homeowners can often do themselves. Carefully removing loose bark with a chisel or sharp knife can improve the looks of the tree and eliminate hiding places for borers.

Finally, resist the temptation to top trees. Topping, the practice of removing large branches to a stub, leave trees vulnerable to storm damage years down the road. Stubbed branches have a tendency to send out many shoots, which are not attached well to the tree and compete with each other for light and space. Not surprisingly, these trees are among the many damaged during the winds this past week.

Need to learn more about pruning trees? Check out this website, complete with a video and links to some helpful publications.

Jeff Burbrink is an educator with Purdue Extension Elkhart County. He can be reached at 574-533-0554 or

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