When a storm’s a brewin’, take the right measures to reduce damage to trees—and therefore to your home, yard, and family—from dangerous falling branches. Trimming your branches may seem like a big chore, but it’s much less expensive and time consuming than repairing damage after the precipitation and wind have passed.
Look For Risk Factors
Start by identifying potential hazard areas.
Signs of Rotting
Rotting trees and branches are one of the biggest things to look out for as you trim before a storm. Dead or dying branches or trees are much more likely to fall during a storm. Signs of rotting include dead leaves, a leaning trunk, bare branches on one side, vertical cracks or seams, small branches sprouting from the base, or smooth areas on the tree where bark has fallen off and not regenerated.
Number of Branches
Trees with an abundance of branches are at risk of shedding the most during a storm, thus causing an abundance of damage.
Trees that have been planted and growing in a space for less than five years are more likely to have falling branches during times of distress. This is because the roots of the tree haven't had a lot of time to grow deeper get a better hold in the ground.
Gather the Right Tools
Also known as hand pruners, these shears are great for detaching or trimming branches and twigs up to an inch in diameter. Bypass pruning shears are ideal for touching up small, living branches, and can handle awkward angles with ease.
For branches that are slightly larger—up to two inches in diameter—loppers are ideal. These have a longer handle and a sturdier blade than pruning shears, and can be found in anvil or bypass options. Anvil loppers may end up harming living branches, so for trimming ahead of a storm, go with the bypass option instead.
Pole pruners with bypass blades and pruning saws are the best option to reach deadwood in the trimming process. These extend 10 to 15 feet, and can handle branches two inches thick and slightly larger.
How to Trim Branches
Eradicate Rotting Branches
The first priority in preventative pruning should be to get rid of all branches showing signs of rotting, as described above. These will be the first to fall and break during a storm.
Encourage the Right Angles
Encouraging the right angles for tree branches helps eliminate the chance they'll fall and makes for a healthier tree overall. Branches should ideally grow at a 30 to 45 degree angle. A useful visual guide is that the strongest branch angles should be at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Those that are far out of that ideal range should be removed or trimmed as much as possible.
Get Rid of Large Branches
Branches that are too large in diameter and to be easily supported by the trunk should be removed during this trimming process. Those that are more than 50 to 75 percent of the trunk’s diameter are at risk of falling during high winds.
Remove Rubbing Branches
Branches that are clustered together and rubbing one another should be trimmed down or removed altogether during this process. Areas that are too crowded are susceptible to issues during storms. Furthermore, branches that rub together create wounds that lead to decay, weakening them.
“Sprouts” are branches that are temporary, grow rapidly, and easily broken. Since they’re so weakly attached, they’re likely to fall during a storm. Luckily, they're also easy to trim.
Dispose of Trimmed Branches
Tree trimmings can be disposed of in a number of ways once you’ve completed this process. One way, if possible, is to cut them up and leave them in any woods near your property. Another option is to add them to a compost pile, giving them an afterlife as productive organic matter.
If your property has a little room for a branch pile, this is also a great way to repurpose your old branches—birds love to hop around between them, searching for yummy bugs where they can feel safe from predators.
If these options don't appeal, most towns will pick up this debris when bagged and stored properly.