How Lightning Damages and Kills Trees
April 7, 2020
Lightning Damage to Trees
Along with the flowers and bird songs we welcome in spring, we also know we’ll have more than a few unwelcome spring storms! In addition to wind, hail, and intense rain, tall trees are also susceptible to damage from being struck by lightning during thunderstorms.
Trees are often the tallest element in the residential landscape. Essentially, they turn into lightning rods during intense storms. When lightning hits a tree, the sap inside the tree boils, releases steam, and causes the cells to explode. Often, this will cause the bark & wood to be blown off of the tree, or peel off. Sometimes a lightning strike will immediately kill a tree. Sometimes it weakens the tree so much that it eventually dies from secondary issues, such as pests or diseases.
How to Identify Lightning Damage
Lightning damage may not always be obvious to the untrained eye. Lightning damage can appear as if the tree has some type of decay or other physical damage. Or, you may not even realize your tree has been struck by lightning until you start to notice more large scale die off in the canopy.
If a tree is struck by lightning only on one side, it may have a good chance of survival. However, if a tree is struck and lightning travels down the middle of the tree, causing damage to both sides, the tree most likely will die. Other factors, such as age and species of tree, health of tree, and water content help to determine if a particular tree will survive being struck by lightning.
How You Treat a Tree Struck by Lightning
If your tree is struck by lightning, it should be inspected by an arborist as quickly as possible. A professional will be able assess the amount of damage caused and suggest a course of action.
If the tree isn’t damaged too badly, a fertilizer regime should be started immediately. Fertilization, like that in our SEASONS program, will increase the vigor of the tree and promote healthy roots. A strong root system in turn helps ward off insects and pathogens looking for a weak and easy tree to attack. Additionally, pay close attention to providing supplemental irrigation during times of drought. Since a lightning strike can damage roots as well as bark, these trees are more likely to suffer during drought.
If a tree is damaged beyond saving, it’s important to have it removed as quickly as possible. Severely damaged trees can quickly become serious safety hazards to people and property alike.
If you suspect your tree has been struck by lightning, contact us and our arborists for a professional opinion.