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How To Deal With Lightning Damage To Your Tree

Following a lightning strike, you’re going to want to start with damage control. Clear out any hanging or broken branches. Put out any small fires with a heavy blanket, non-toxic fire extinguisher, or just plain water. 

Wood too big to remove on your own? Worried a burned branch might collapse and damage your car? Reach out to a certified arborist. For larger fires, reach out to the fire department before the problem gets out of hand.

Signs Of Tree Damage Resulting From Lightning

Lightning damage isn’t always some massive crack in a tree that smokes and hisses. Sometimes, they can actually be very subtle. When lightning hits a tree, it typically impacts the inside of the plant, targeting layer-after-layer just underneath the bark’s surface. This is all plant matter we can’t actually see with the naked eye, so trees may actually look completely normal for some time before eventually starting to decline. Sometimes, the tree may just suddenly die, even though it seemed fine, leading up to that. 

Some signs you might see, if the damage is severe enough, include:

  • Cracks running down the entire length of your tree’s trunk.
  • Bark stripping away from your tree.
  • Leaves withering and wilting throughout your canopy.
  • Burned or blackened areas.

Will A Lightning Strike Kill Your Tree?

This depends, but not always, no. Much like any living thing, every tree is different. Sometimes the same amount of damage will have less of an effect than others. A tree may be “hardier”, overcoming damage if given enough time and love. Another tree might not. 

Your tree’s fate depends on any one of the following factors: 

  • health
  • species
  • age 
  • location

Also, keep in mind that “not dying” isn’t necessarily a win for your tree. It may have sustained major internal injuries, opening itself up to infections or opportunistic insects, all of which might damage it irreparably.

The general rule of thumb is that a tree which was struck on one side of the trunk is likely to survive. If both sides of the tree have been damaged, however, you’re much more likely to need removal.

What Steps Can You Take? 

The classic lightning protection system is the tried and true answer for tree defense against lightning damage. The system diverts any and all lightning away from your tree and into the ground, along a set path. This is lightning we’re dealing with, here, so it must be noted that no system is 100% guaranteed. But anecdotal evidence positions this as one of the top players in the whole lightning protection game. 

As always, make sure to consult with a certified arborist before taking any major steps to protect your tree, if for no other reason than to save yourself a lot of potentially wasted money.

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