Tree Care After A Lightning Strike

A lightning strike may seem like it would be lights out for your landscape tree, but that isn't always the case. Trees can often survive a strike if there is no major fire involved. This is because a healthy, living tree has a moist and living trunk – this is good for attracting and conducting the electricity that caused the strike, but not for igniting. The following can help you determine the best follow-up care for the tree once the storm moves out of the area.

#1: Assess immediate damage

While not all damage from a lightning strike will be immediately apparent, there are some things that will need attending to as soon as it is safe to approach the tree. First, make sure there is no fire smoldering in the tree. You can attempt to extinguish it yourself with a hose, or you may need to call the fire department.

The next task is to remove any dangling branches. If you can easily reach the branch from the ground or with a step ladder, it is safe to cut it off yourself. For higher branches or those that are near power lines, call in a tree trimming service to remove the branch. If the branch is in danger of falling on power lines before the service can arrive, call your power company.

#2: Inspect the trunk for damage

The heat of the electricity passing through the trunk will cause moisture and sap just beneath the bark to boil. This isn't always fatal if the path of the electricity only causes damage down one side of the tree. If damage encircles the trunk, a phenomenon called girdling occurs, which means there is no unbroken path for nutrients from the root to reach the canopy so the tree dies. Trunk damage should become apparent within a few days if it isn't obvious immediately. Blackened marks may streak down the trunk and the bark will begin peeling away. You may also notice sappy blisters forming on the wood. If the damage is extensive or girdles the trunk, you will need to have the tree removed.

#3: Monitor for recovery

It can take a full season or longer to determine whether a tree will survive. During the first couple of months, avoid any major pruning except for the removal of dangerous branches. Instead, monitor the trees for these signs of recovery:

  • The leaves survive if the tree was already in leaf.

  • It leafs out on time if the tree was struck during the dormant season.

  • No major die-back occurs in the canopy.

  • The tree survives for a full summer season and then produces buds and leafs out the following spring – trees that survive this long will likely continue to thrive.

During this recovery period, make sure the tree is watered regularly. How much water is needed depends on the type of tree, but once weekly watering is probably sufficient. You should also apply a tree fertilizer to encourage new, healthy growth and recovery of the old growth. Monitor the tree for pests, such as insects and disease, and call a tree service, such as Mead Tree & Turf Care Inc, for treatment if you notice any pest problems.

Once it is clear that the tree will likely survive, have a professional tree trimmer out to remove dead and damaged wood from the lightning strike. The trimmer will help rebalance the tree, since it may have lopsided growth if the hit damaged only one side.