After a storm or even a bad winter, your tree might be looking a little worse for wear. Broken branches, stripped bark, yellowing leaves, and other injuries can make it look like your tree is on its last legs of life. However, some trees that look badly injured, infected, or neglected can be saved. Others, though, might be fatally wounded.

How can you tell if a tree has deadly damage? Here are some signs you should know to look for, especially after a storm.

Missing Bark in Large Pieces

A little bit of missing bark here or there will not harm the tree too badly, as long as you are careful about preventing insects and infections. However, if large pieces of bark are stripped away, especially in a circle around the trunk, there can be little hope for the tree’s survival.

If the bark is removed in a ring around the trunk (this is called girdling), the tree will always die, and the death will be slow. Partial girdling may also lead to death. The reason why bark removal is so harmful is because this layer not only provides protection against outside threats, but it also contains the phloem layer.

Phloem is the pathway trees use to transport food down from the leaves of the tree to the roots. When this pathway is removed, the roots begin to die without the nutrition they need. As a result, the tree’s canopy will die, because it depends on the minerals and water absorbed by the roots.

If your tree is missing large portions of bark, you can attempt a repair by grafting new bark onto the damaged area. While this method doesn’t always succeed, it’s one of the only ways to restore the phloem necessary for transporting food down the roots. Time is of the essence with this treatment, because once the tree shows signs of decline, it may not have the health necessary to fully incorporate the graft.

Pests are the most common cause of bark loss. Rabbits and deer can strip bark from trees, especially during the winter. You can prevent this damage by placing trunk protectors around the base of your young trees.

A Damaged Main Leader

Healthy, well-grown trees have a strong central leader. The trunk is the central leader, but this leader continues up, directing the growth of secondary and tertiary branches. If this leader is split, chopped, broken, or gouged, the chances for tree survival decrease.

Generally, it takes great force to damage a healthy central leader. It’s the strongest part of the tree and provides structural support. Without a strong leader, the tree becomes a hazard. Secondary branches may fail, insects might attack, or the leader will rot from the inside out. During an ensuing storm, the tree may fall, damaging your home or property.

Missing Foliage

A missing leaf or two is nothing to get too concerned over, especially after a storm. Some loss of foliage is to be expected. However, too many missing branches and leaves will mean the end of your tree’s lifespan, especially if there is other damage like missing branches or torn limbs.

Your tree needs ample leaves in order to utilize the sun to make food in a process called photosynthesis. After a tree is damaged, it desperately needs as much food as possible to have the energy to heal itself.

As a general rule, if your tree loses about half of its foliage, it won’t have the resources to recover and it may die. Some younger trees might be able to bounce back, depending on the species, but this is not as common.

Loss of Structural Integrity

Finally, your tree might not have a chance of survival based purely on which branches become damaged. Trees are sturdy, and many have established root systems. But, lateral branches play a big part in providing stability, especially for future growth.

For example, if a telephone pole falls over and snaps off several lateral branches from one side of a young tree, it will be horribly lopsided. Your tree might initially survive the damage, but the uneven growth will never fully repair itself.

As the tree ages, the lopsided growth pattern will only become more pronounced. Eventually, the tree becomes a safety problem because its poor weight distribution could cause it to topple in a storm.

Even without worrying about weight distribution, the loss of large lateral branches can affect whether or not an older tree survives. Usually, this depends on the type of break. If the branch simply snaps, leaving a jagged stump attached to the trunk, a tree service can come and fix the jagged edges and the tree will seal over the wound.

However, if the branch breaks at the joint to the trunk, causing a large split off the main leader, this is more serious and difficult to repair. Damage to lateral branches must be examined by a professional on a case-by-case basis, because it largely depends on the growth pattern and the severity of the wound.

For more information on saving trees that have been damaged, infected, or infested, contact us at Schulhoff Tree & Lawn Care, Inc.