Was your tree struck by lightning? Follow these steps to triaging lightening-damaged trees…
Lightning is dangerous to humans and trees alike, so please stay indoors until the storm passes.
The state of Florida ranks higher than any other for lightning fatalities. That’s because, according to Accuweather, Florida has over 3,200 cloud-to-ground lightning flashes per day. That’s plenty of chances for damage!
Trees in residential areas are particularly vulnerable to lightning because they tend to be tall, filled with moisture, and relatively isolated from other large groups of trees. These characteristics make them good conductors (and attractors of) electricity.
All trees are susceptible to lightning, but studies have found that Oak trees tend to be hit more often than other species in Florida. Oaks tend to be taller than other surrounding trees and hold more moisture naturally, making them particularly vulnerable. In Spring Hill and Brooksville, Oak strikes are followed closely by these common types:
What happens when a tree is struck by lightning?
Remember, a tree is a living thing. Its biology is permanently changed by the electrical charge of a lightning strike. Think of it as your body after surgery. You will heal, but a scar remains. Biology is changed by trauma, whether you have roots in the ground or in your hometown.
A lightning strike is a wound. It might be fatal, or your tree might live. Just like in humans, some wounds are seen by the eye and some are not. The wounds that cannot be seen are the ones most likely to be fatal. Injuries to a tree’s root system are particularly troubling and can cause the tree to stop thriving and slowly die. In general, a surface wound is less traumatic to the tree, even if it’s more troubling to the one witnessing it.
Unlike in humans, trees wounded by lightning will not heal. Instead, they attempt to seal the wound off from the healthy parts. This is a natural process and the best thing you can do for your tree, in most cases, is to allow it to happen.
Wayne K. Clatterbuck — Associate Professor of Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries — University of Tennessee
Trees do not heal. They seal.
What do I do if my tree’s been struck by lightning?
To save a lightning struck tree in your yard, it’s important to take quick action. Most trees struck by lightning will continue to thrive, with or without human intervention, but there are important steps you can take to help minimize stress and keep your landscape healthy.
Note: Not all trees can be saved and many lightning-struck trees are dangerous. We recommend consulting a Certified Arborist before deciding whether to treat or remove your tree.
Help the tree to minimize water loss.
Within 8-24 hours of the lightning strike, help your tree to begin self-healing by making sure it has plenty of water. Moisture loss is the most stressful part of a strike for most Central Florida tree varieties.
Resist the urge to treat the wound yourself.
It can be tempting to trim away the damaged area or try a wound dressing. However, studies have shown that these tactics often do more harm than good. Instead, provide your tree with extra water and fertilizer to encourage its own natural callus growth response.
Trees are incredibly resilient! Your favorite shade tree will send chemicals to the injured area as quickly as possible to try to isolate the damage. Whatever the species, what your tree needs is extra food to do its natural work. That means, fertilizer and water (the photosynthesis will take care of itself).
Resist the urge to prune too soon.
If the lightning strike hasn’t caused damage that is hazardous to your home or family, resist the urge to prune right away. Most experts recommend the wait-and-see approach to trauma management. After 4-6 months, you (and your Arborist) will have a better understanding of how the healing process is coming and what steps to take to help your tree thrive.
Should I try to protect my trees from lightning?
It is possible to protect trees from lightning strikes with special systems to disperse the electrical charge lightning causes between a cloud and the ground. Unfortunately, the options tend to be expensive. If your property features a historic or rare tree that you wish to invest in protecting, it’s essential to consult with an Arborist or Urban Forestry expert.
A tree struck by lightning doesn’t necessarily mean your tree needs to be removed.
Remember, most Florida trees struck by lightning will seal off the wound and recover just fine. If you’re unsure of how your landscape has faired through the tumultuous Brooksville storm season, we recommend making it an annual practice to have an inspection and trimming assessment each fall. It’s the perfect time of year to help your favorite shade sources thrive!