Straightening wind-blown trees takes finesse

KENNEWICK -- Who would have thought our mild early spring would transition into the wild windy ride of this past week?

Not me.

Did you know that it's not just the force of wind velocity that can damage trees and other plants in our yards?

According to a University of Georgia publication, how quickly the wind accelerates and decelerates constantly changes the load on the tree, creating what is called a "dynamic load." It notes, "Rapid changes in wind velocity impacts trees as velocity squared."

It also points out that in addition to the forces applied by the velocity of the wind and the dynamic load created by gusts, the "throw weight" of the wind adds to potential damage. Wind pushing along water, snow or debris will have greater throw weight or impact on trees and plants.

This past week, the wind velocity, the dynamic load created by gusts and the dust-fueled throw weight all came together to uproot large and small trees. As I drove around the Tri-Cities this week, I noticed trees that were leaning, but not blown over. Our tendency is to immediately pull the tree into an upright position, but wait!

First, distinguish between a tree that is simply leaning and one that is wind thrown with roots lifting out of the ground. If a tree is leaning with no signs of heaving caused by the roots, it's likely broken or cracked at or below ground level. Trees with this situation cannot be saved. Wood doesn't knit back together like the bones in our bodies. If it's broken, that's the way it stays. It probably won't survive, but if it does, it always will be structurally weak at the point where it's broken, even if staked.

When trees are lifted part way out of the ground with their roots, an attempt can be made to upright the tree. The smal-ler the tree, the greater the possibility of success. Uprighting trees smaller than 15 feet tall or less than 6 inches in diameter can be attempted by the owner, but larger trees should be left to tree experts.

Steps for uprighting a tree:

1. Keep the roots moist with irrigation or a covering of mulch. If the roots dry out, they'll die.

3. Moisten the soil first, then dig underneath the heaved roots to the depth of the mass that's been lifted out. The hole should accommodate the roots when the tree is pulled back into place. Once upright, the roots should be at the same level as before the storm. If you don't do this excavation, you will end up ripping the roots on the side of the tree that wasn't pulled out of the soil. This is doubly damaging to the roots and greatly diminishes your chances of saving the tree.

4. Slowly pull or wench the tree upright into the hole.

5. Once situated, fill soil in around the roots and apply water to settle the soil.

6. Once reset, stake the tree to provide support until new roots develop. Use an approved method of staking. NEVER attach stakes to the tree using wire, even if it's protected with rubber hose. Purchase webbed or rubberized material designed for use in staking trees.

Next week, we'll talk more about our wild winds and their effect on yard and garden plants.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.