Does wind sailing really help reduce the risk of tree or branch failures in our tall evergreens? Maybe so, but many arborists question the practice.
Some tree service companies promote the idea that removal of branches throughout a tree’s canopy will reduce wind resistance and make a tree safer.
This may seem logical to a homeowner since fewer branches would appear to allow strong winds to pass through a tree canopy, reduce the number of branches susceptible to breakage and prevent the tree from swaying so much during severe storms.
While such a treatment may appear to make sense, the truth paints a different picture and raises a number of questions about the practice.
First, there is no scientific evidence that wind sailing makes a tree safer. There are thousands of trees in residential areas that have never been wind sailed that have survived severe storms for decades. Many of the trees that did fail likely suffered from a root rot disease or could not withstand the combination of heavy winds and saturated ground.
Keep in mind that Mother Nature allows trees to grow to adapt to their surroundings. While mankind has altered many of the natural environments, trees generally still have the ability to survive the increased exposure to the elements.
Some studies have demonstrated that the outside limbs actually buffer the trees by deflecting the winds around the canopy. This enables branches to protect each other and the trunk. Aggressive branch removal, however, can expose the remaining limbs to strong gusts and consequently make them more vulnerable to breakage.
The needles, twigs and branches are the food manufacturing plant for a tree. The combination of excessive thinning by wind sailing, the reduced food supply and the increased demands for energy to respond to the wounds can stress a tree and impact its long-term health, survival and safety.
Tree topping should also be avoided. Generally, conifer trees will attempt to form new tops by causing upper limbs to eventually grow upward. This often creates multiple tops. Such new tops are poorly attached to the trunk and are more susceptible to future breakage. Plus, topped trees are just plain ugly.
There are circumstances where limited branch removal may be justified. This includes dead limbs, large branches that overhang valuable targets and branches damaged by a severe wind storm or an ice and snow event.
The key to proper thinning is to employ a knowledgeable and responsible tree service or certified arborist that understands how trees respond to such treatments. There also may be several other options to improve the health and safety of a tree of concern.
I do not practice or recommend wind sailing. However, if a homeowner is truly paranoid about a tree, the investment may be worthwhile if it provides a sense of peace of mind.
But remember, trees have survived many bad storms for years without any kind of “preventative” thinning.
Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist, certified hazard tree risk assessor and Master Gardener from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area. He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners and businesses. Contact him at 253 863-7469 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: evergreen-arborist.com.