Aug 16, 2015

Thunderstorms and high winds are common threats to the structural condition of trees in the metro Atlanta area, but damage from lightning is less discussed. However, lightning is powerful and can have a devastating effect on trees – not to mention people. Lightning detection systems in the USA recording 25 million lightning strikes on average every year: it’s a very real issue, and one that local tree service Atlanta provides see and deal with frequently.

Lightning has a range of five miles, and tall, lone trees are particularly susceptible.  Because a tree is essentially a column of water encased in cellulose, it can act as a lightning rod, conducting current through itself into the ground.  The trees most likely to be hit are oaks, pines, elms and poplars.  Beech, birch and horse chestnut trees are less frequently struck, and, in fact, decaying trees are more likely to be hit than healthy ones.

Each lightning strike can produce an electrical charge of 100 million volts. When lightning strikes a tree, its structure can be destroyed: cells within the wood explode, and bark and strips of wood go flying off in all directions.  If the strike hits one side of the tree, care and attention may allow it to survive, but if it passes completely through the trunk then the likely outcome is that the tree will soon die. 404-CUT-TREE offers reliable Marietta Tree Service.

Sometimes, lightning damage might not be visible to the naked eye immediately. The electrical current delivered by the lightning strike can travel from the upper reaches of the tree and down into the roots, where it then disperses into the ground and damages those roots. The tree can wither and die below ground while the trunk and what is visible above seems relatively unharmed. If that tree is in leaf, expect to see the leaves wither and drop soon.

As a result, leaves can be a useful guide for you or your Atlanta tree service provider to assess damage. If the lightning strike occurred outside the growing season, wait until summer: if leaves appear, then the health of the tree may be okay. But the structural condition may be another matter. Many structural weaknesses are visible and detectable by an arborist.  Others, however, are impossible to detect. Consequently, all lightning struck trees need to be evaluated as a potential risk within the context of their locations. Remember that trees need to be evaluated in two primary areas: health and structure. A very ‘healthy’ tree may have a compromised structure and be at a very high risk of failure. Conversely, a tree in decline (tht is, in poor health with visible symptoms) may still have a solid structure. Sometimes the most dangerous trees are those that are visibly healthy but have flawed root structures.

After a lightning strike, consult a certified arborist to discuss the health and the condition of the afflicted tree, and next steps. Visually assess the structure — is it in danger of collapse? If so, it’s time to look at tree removal options before the tree can harm other trees and structures around it. Next look at the health of the tree. Can it be saved, and should it be saved? If the verdict is yes, from this point on it’s about managing and reducing the stress of the tree.

Lightning strikes are dehydrating events, so the first thing to do is to get water on the tree in the root zone below the drip line. Strikes are also stressing events, which means the tree will be vulnerable to insects and infections, which can kill it. Spraying the tree (and the trees around it) as soon as practicable will help defend the tree until it can recover.  Fertilizing can be very beneficial to a stressed tree. Arborists frequently prescribe a root invigoration to boost the tree’s immune system, countering the effects of stress. Trimming delaminated bark with a razor knife to good wood can promote healing, and of course trimming damaged wood is helpful to reduce the risk of infection. Keep in mind that the tree is likely profoundly stressed.  Because tree pruning is itself a stressor of trees, now is NOT a good time to trim any more living tissue than absolutely necessary.

If one or more of your trees has been struck by lightning, seek advice from your Atlanta tree service: call 404-CUT-TREE to schedule an inspection by a certified arborist. We’ll help you assess whether to proceed and how best to care for your tree.