Before the next storm, look for tree problems

When storms hit, the trees in our yards are held in the wind's sway. And sometimes swaying leads to bending, breaking and uprooting.

If we get hit with another superstorm, there may not be much we can do but watch, with fingers crossed.

But before another big storm hits, tree experts say, a pre-emptive inspection of the trees near your home might save you and your property some damage. Here are a few ideas

1. Look for flaws. "Look for splits in the tree,'' said Mark Miller, Danbury's tree warden. "Look for cracks.''

If a tree has two main sections growing out of one trunk -- what foresters call opposing leaders -- check them for a weakness at the base.

"Look at any trees that are leaning toward your house,'' said Chris Martin, state forester with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

2. Look at the leaves out now. Martin said his office has been getting calls about maple trees with green leaves still predominating, except for one section, where the leaves are already starting to turn colors.

That probably means the branch leading to those leaves has been damaged in a previous storm and it's already weakened, he said. Removing it now might keep it from being blown down when a hurricane -- be it Jane, Phoebe or Natalie -- hits.

3. Look for existing hangers. Hangers are the branches that have been broken off by previous storms and are still lodged in branches above the ground. Tree cutters call them "widow makers'' for their propensity to fall on the people underneath them.

Martin said you can see hangers now, even with the foliage still out. "If you've got a green tree, but in one area the leaves are completely brown, that could be a hanger.''

Miller also said that after a big storm hits, you should go out on your property and look for damage.

"Look up,'' he said.

4. No touching. Martin said that if any tree in your yard has branches that brush against your house you should trim those branches and keep them away from structures.

He also said if you have a long driveway lined by both trees and utility wires, it would be good to have an inspection to make sure the lines are free of branches.

5. Think about tree disease. Don Dubois of Dubois Forestry and Land Management Professionals in Brooklyn, Conn., said if you've a got a hemlock tree that's been weakened by the hemlock woolly adelgid you should think about removing it if it's a hazard to your property.

"There a lot of ash trees in western Connecticut,'' Dubois said. "You're going to have to start thinking about the emerald ash borer."

6. Be a good land steward. If you're a landowner with a large woodlot, Dubois said, the best protection against big storms is to manage that woodlot properly.

"If you go in and take out the trees in decline, the superior trees that are left will be stronger and be able to withstand a storm,'' he said.

Dubois said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service has a national program --EQIP -- that can help pay for that forestry. To learn more about it, go to the program's website at

"Municipalities can't use it,'' said Dubois. "But if you're a company, a land trust, a private landowner, you can.''