Hail-damaged trees in South Texas need water, expert help

McALLEN  –  Trees damaged by a heavy hailstorm March 29 in McAllen need water and could require professional care, according to a tree expert with the Texas Forest Service.
“It’s important to irrigate damaged trees with plenty of water to reduce the stress,” said

Salvador E. Alemany, a regional urban forester with the Texas Forest Service, surveys trees in north McAllen damaged by a severe hailstorm in late March. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

If a tree has been defoliated or suffered broken branches, an expert could help save its life, he said.
“Hire a certified arborist to examine the tree. He or she may do a corrective pruning as well as a sanitary pruning to properly take out damaged branches,” Alemany said.

The late March storm came without warning and could have included a tornado, he added.
“The storm hit us by surprise with heavy hail and very high winds. I think there was a tornado because I’ve seen photos taken by people who were out and about.”

In the central area of McAllen, where the storm was most intense, as much as 95 percent of trees were affected, Alemany said.
“Some trees will recover, depending on damage,” he explained. “If oak trees were just defoliated, they will likely recover. But if the tree lost 25 percent or more of its crown, or if primary or secondary branches were lost, it could take longer to recover.”
After surveying the area, Alemany said the good news is that there were few if any tip-downs, or toppled trees.
“Of the trees most planted in McAllen, the most affected were white ash,” he said. “Those were not only defoliated; they also lost branches. Mesquite trees were also defoliated, but more importantly, many lost main branches. Oaks were mostly just defoliated. There are some exceptions, but most oaks didn’t lose branches.”

Known as the City of Palms, McAllen’s trademark trees also suffered.
“Many, including Washingtonia and Sabal palms, were defoliated. Other popular trees include Texas olive trees, which suffered only defoliation, and cedar elms which had both defoliation and secondary branch damage.”

In many cases, the severity of damage to a tree depended on how well it had been cared for prior to the storm, Alemany said.
“Trees not properly pruned were more affected in terms of loss of branches, especially at weak junctions. That’s why it’s so important to properly trim a tree, especially when it is young and the shock is not so severe.”

Hail and wind were so severe that some trees lost bark.

“Loss of bark is serious,” Alemany said. “That affects the phloem, the vascular system of the tree. It’s important because loss of bark affects the flow of sugars, which are produced by photosynthesis in the leaves, then delivered to the tree’s root system.”
Which trees will survive?

“Most should come back,” he said. “But it all depends on how healthy the tree was to begin with and the extent of damage. If primary (the first out of the trunk) or secondary branches were lost, or if bark was lost, it will take longer to recover.

“This storm was a natural pruning of trees. Artificial pruning, which humans do, should never remove more than 25 percent of a tree’s crown. If the storm took more than that, it reduces the tree’s chance of recovery.”

Alemany advises against fertilizing.

“Don’t do it unless you know the nutrient content of the soil,” he said. “Fertilizing could neutralize other nutrients. But in terms of survival, each case is different. That’s why it’s best to hire an expert to determine what the tree needs to increase its chances of recovery.”

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