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Quick, efficient and did an amazing job cleaning up! ” - Shirley O.

Q&A: What happens when lightning strikes your tree?

Our newest arborist, Laura McLarry, recently came upon a Live Oak that was struck by lightning last year during storm season. Here in North Texas, storm season seems to last year-round. Your trees endure everything from high winds to heavy rains, tornadoes, flooding, and even the occasional strike of lightning no matter the season. Because trees are often the tallest feature in the landscape, they are often the most vulnerable to lightning.

When lightning strikes a tree, sap boils, steam is released and cells explode within the trunk. Strips of wood and bark are blown from the tree or the bark simply peels off, exposing the fresh wood below. If your tree is only struck on one side, the tree has a good chance of survival. But, if your tree is struck and it passes through the tree, causing damage to both sides, then the tree is most likely lost.

In this particular case, lightning struck the tree and caused about 2/3rds of the bark to become loose on the trunk. As you can see from the photo above, half of the tree is nice and green, while the other half is showing signs of struggle. To improve vigor and ward off pests that attack weakened trees, fertilizer was applied last spring, feeding not just the tree but increasing nutrients in the soil around its roots, as well. It was also treated for borers.


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Laura, concerned the tree would decline come summer, turned to her co-arborists for advice. Her question, “what are my next steps and would bark tracing be worth it?”

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The Cure

Chief Arborist and Consulting Arborist, Billy Cook, says “There is not much else you can do other than promoting over health as best as possible. Continued liquid compost applications, especially those applied before summer heat, would promote healthy soil that will in turn help tree roots to uptake nutrients and water more efficiently. Since pests tend to seek out weakened trees and turn them into a delicious dinner, now is the time to start a soil drench with Imidacloprid to greatly reduce damaging pests such as borers or aphids.” 

And while we always try to use the products that have the least impact on our environment, if an infestation breaks out it is smart to use what is needed to keep pests at bay.

Is Bark Tracing Necessary?

Bark tracing is another technique that can be used on trees with lightning damage. Bark tracing involves cutting around the wound with a sharp knife roughly ½ to 1-inches back from the split bark. After the bark is carefully removed from inside the traced area. The area will be bare, but it will now create a collar to protect itself. There is no need to treat or paint the wound. Bark splits will often close over completely leaving a slight ridge in the trunk where callus tissue has been produced.

At this point, bark tracing wouldn’t be necessary for the tree featured here. After a year, the tree should be well on its way to healing on its own. It should already be doing what needs to be done to compartmentalize the wounded tissue.  

A tree growing with good vigor usually calluses over quickest. Encourage vigor in your trees with yearly tree checks, spring and fall fertilizer applications, skilled pruning, and be sure to provide adequate irrigation in hot, dry weather.

Questions about potential lightning damage on your tree? Give us a call today!



Entry Info

Categories: Storm Season
Tags: storms, lightning
Posted: May 22, 2017