Question of the Week – Number 2: May 23, 2019

“Lightning may have hit our tree. What can we do to help it heal?”

Every lightning strike will have different results on the tree that it strikes. If you think about it, lightning affects humans the very same way.

Some trees that are struck by lightning will be reduced to splinters. They’ll be shattered and left in piles of toothpicks all over the landscape. Other trees may have one high branch knocked out or burned.

Lightning moved down the trunk of this tree and into the ground. You can see singed leaves at the top of the photo. Extent of the damage will become obvious within the next few weeks. A certified arborist should look at the tree, but it’s even possible that little will need to be done other than to let the tree work at healing itself.

In many cases, however, the lightning picks a path and flows directly down the trunk and into the ground cracking the wood and popping off bark in the process. You can certainly see the vertical crack. If you take a thin ruler and insert it into the crack you can determine the depth of the crack. Hopefully it will be fairly superficial. Luckily, there aren’t big piles of lost bark on the ground around the trunk.

So what do you do at this point? Call a certified arborist in to look at the tree on site. If you’re in a remote part of Texas where you don’t have access to a certified arborist, you talk to a really good nurseryman.

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Your goals will be to determine the structural integrity of the tree as it remains standing. Be sure, if the split is deep, that the tree isn’t going to break in a wind or ice storm and risk damage or injury.

It’s possible, although usually not likely, that you might need to drill through the trunk at right angles and install all-thread rod to give the tree added strength. That really does need to be done by a certified arborist. He or she will have the right tools and the experience to use them. It might even involve cabling the tree so that high branches on either side of the split will be able to brace against one another.

Again, that kind of heroic work needs to be done by a tree specialist. To my eye, your tree probably won’t need that level of work. This damage doesn’t look that severe, again noting that no bark was blown off. Watch the tree for the next few weeks. Keep it watered properly. Do not feed it this year – just keep it moist as it recovers. Above all, don’t wrap any kind of cable or banding around it. Just let it heal on its own unless that professional has a different recommendation.

I’ve watched trees in nature that have been struck by lightning and damaged in some cases worse than this tree, and most have been able to heal by themselves. When homeowners get professionals involved, the odds go up even more.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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