How to Protect Your Trees From Storm Damage This Winter in Melbourne

Winter storms in Melbourne can pose significant risks to your trees, leading to broken branches, uprooted trees, and potential damage to property and people. Protecting your trees from storm damage is crucial for maintaining a safe and healthy environment. This guide provides essential tips on how to inspect, care for, and strengthen your trees to withstand the harsh winter weather.

1. Inspect Your Trees Regularly

During storms, strong winds can cause tree damage. They can break branches, uproot trees, or even cause them to fall over, posing a danger to property or people. A professional arborist should conduct risk and tree health assessments, but home gardeners can do simple inspections of their trees before and after severe storms to identify issues that may be made worse by high winds.

Inspect the trunk and large branches for easily recognisable problems like holes or cavities. These often occur when fungi infect wounds caused by branch breaks or other events. If the cavity is located in a key structural location, it can weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to wind damage.

Homeowners should also look for small changes in the health of their trees, such as dieback at the twig level or leaf size. These can indicate a systemic problem or an infestation, but they can also be a normal response to age or stress. Lastly, preventative actions like keeping the soil healthy can help to ensure that the roots are well-grounded and less likely to be damaged by storms or extreme weather.

2. Keep the Trunk and Roots Well Watered

The pounding of hail, the fury of the wind, and the weight of snow and ice test the strength of trees’ limbs, trunks, and root systems. Proper care, including choosing hardy tree species, regular pruning, removing lopsided crowns, and keeping grass and other weeds away from the base of the trees, can greatly reduce storm damage.

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During a storm, damaged or dead limbs become projectiles that can cause property damage and injuries to people and animals. Providing proper watering is important for tree health, but watering too frequently can actually deprive the roots of essential moisture.

It is also a good idea to keep mulch at the base of the tree, which preserves the soil and helps reduce weed growth. However, never put mulch right up to the trunk. This prevents air and gas exchange and can damage the bark and trunk. In some cases, cabling and bracing can help strengthen a tree, but these are last-ditch efforts that a professional should perform. If a tree has been seriously damaged by previous storms, or if the damage appears extensive, it is probably time to call an arborist for an evaluation.

3. Keep the Canopy Trimmed

The state of your trees can dramatically impact the value of your property and your personal safety. Damaged or fallen trees are not only costly to repair but they pose a direct threat to your home and family. Fortunately, with proper year-round tree care, you can help your trees survive the rough conditions of extreme weather and avoid storm damage.

Maintaining healthy trees starts with regular inspections to identify potential problems. These include dead or damaged branches, insect infestations, and structurally unsound trunks. If you are concerned about your trees, contact a qualified arborist for expert advice, such as Oz Tree Services (visit website).

During the inspection process, your arborist should prune away any weakened or diseased branches that could fall during a storm. He or she should also remove any limbs that have grown too close to the ground and remove any lopsided crowns. This reduces stress on the trunk and roots, which can lead to cracking or bending. Additionally, your arborist should check for holes or cavities in the trunks and roots. These result from fungi infecting wounds from broken or damaged branches. As the fungi decompose, it creates a cavity that can cause the tree to weaken and fall during storms.

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4. Inspect for Pests and Diseases

During a storm, the pounding of rain or hail, the fury of wind, and the weight of snow can test the strength of a tree’s limbs, trunk, and root system. Proper year-round care can significantly improve a tree’s ability to withstand severe weather events and reduce damage to property.

Check for peeling bark, chips, or cracks in the trunks, heaving soil at the base of trees, holes or cavities, and budless or leafless branches. These are signs of weakened trees that may need to be pruned or removed, especially when near structures like homes and cars.

The best way to storm-proof your trees is to keep them healthy with regular watering, corrective pruning, and fertiliser (depending on the species) starting when they are young. Healthy, vigorous trees adjust more quickly to weather conditions and stand up better against damage. It’s also important to avoid invasive activities that disturb the soil system around your trees. These can include digging, mulching, or construction work that can undermine the roots of young or developing trees. This can also expose the roots of older trees to damage and injury.

5. Be Aware of Power Lines

While it isn’t possible to prevent all storm damage, taking proactive measures like trimming overhanging branches and installing root barriers helps trees better withstand high winds and reduce the risk of fallen limbs. It’s also important to consider the type of trees you plant as some are more prone to storm damage than others. For example, pines and fast-growing deciduous trees are more likely to fall over during severe weather conditions compared to hardwoods like white oaks and hickories.

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When working on your property, always be aware of overhead powerlines. Even if the lines don’t appear live they could become energised without warning. In addition, electricity can ‘jump’ across air gaps and arc through objects commonly regarded as poor conductors, such as trees and ladders.

If you do come into contact with a fallen powerline, seek emergency assistance immediately. A professional can trim away any branches that are touching or encroaching on the line and help ensure it is safe to return home. Alternatively, installing lightning protection can help divert electrical forces down a series of wires into the ground rather than toward your tree.

Ensuring Tree Safety

By regularly inspecting and maintaining your trees, you can significantly reduce the risk of storm damage this winter. Proper care, including pruning, watering, and checking for pests, will help keep your trees healthy and resilient. Taking these preventative steps will ensure your property remains safe and your trees thrive, even during Melbourne’s harshest winter storms.

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