These arborists explain how to save your trees from breaking in the next big storm

A powerful storm in Elora, Ont. recently left a large number of trees bent and broken. The storm brought down trees that were more than 100-years-old, and a number of those trees also came dangerously close to falling on nearby homes.

Experts urge homeowners to invest in preventative maintenance, following Elora, Ont. storm

Two women stand in front of a large tree, the trunk of which is broken in half at a height above their heads.
Arborists Toni Ellis, left, and Serena Gunter, right, stand in front of a sugar maple tree that snapped in half during the recent storm in Elora, Ont. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

A powerful storm in Elora, Ont. recently left a large number of trees bent and broken, bringing down some that were more than 100-years-old. A number of those trees also came dangerously close to falling on nearby homes. 

Local arborists say there was a way to prevent that — tree maintenance.

"Look at what else you invest in on your property, whether it's roofing or electrical ... We're encouraging people to look at it that way," said Toni Ellis, executive director of Tree Trust, a program that helps preserve mature trees in Elora.

She said routine professional tree maintenance can greatly minimize damage after a storm.

"Of the Tree Trust trees that we've done here in Elora, all of them for one sustained zero damage. The one that did get damaged was minor — and the tree beside it was major," she said. "It really speaks to getting qualified professional care to take care of your trees."

WATCH | An arborist explains how this 150-year-old tree could have been protected: 

This over 150 year old tree was destroyed in a storm. An arborist explains how we could have saved it.

1 year ago
Duration 1:25
A violent storm in Elora left behind many broken trees. Arborist Toni Ellis breaks down how tree care could have prevented the destruction of countless trees, including this Sugar Maple estimated to be about 150 to 200 years old.

Ellis said waiting to call the professionals after a tree has fallen can cost more.

For example, a 150 to 200-year-old sugar maple that recently split and snapped in half because of the recent storm in Elora will cost the homeowner close to $9,000 to clean up because of the tree's enormous size. Preventative tree maintenance would have cost roughly $2,000 to $4,000, said Ellis. 

"We're talking about urban trees here," said Ellis. "They're the trees that struggle because they're in an urban environment where they have to deal with a bunch of things that if they were in the woods, they wouldn't have to."

She said tree care involves removing dead wood from the tree, carefully lowering the tree canopy and fixing architectural defects that could prevent a tree from one day falling on your home or shed.

When is it time to call the professionals?

A good time to call a professional would be once a tree is more than six metres tall, explained Ellis. Inappropriate pruning and a lack of symmetry can leave a tree vulnerable to breaking in a storm.

Serena Gunter, an arborist and the co-owner of Baum Tree Care in Elora, said determining the type of tree you have also matters.

"For instance, a sugar maple is a harder maple. At [more than 150 years old], they tend to have more decay and definitely need more maintenance to keep them healthy," she said.

"What we've seen is a lot of Norway maples that have failed. They are a faster growing maple, it's a softer wood, they tend to grow with a lot of included bark so it's not well-attached and they failed a lot [during the recent storm in Elora]."

Gunter said tree preservation bylaws like in Toronto or Ottawa are also needed to protect mature trees in Elora. In the Township of Centre Wellington, bylaws only protect trees on municipal property.

"People like trees until they're in the way," Gunter said. "They say 'It's not such a big deal if I cut a couple of branches off.' But people don't understand tree dynamics the same way arborists do."

She said trimming a tree the wrong way could encourage it to hollow out over time and fall.

"The recent damage is extreme ... Elora is definitely where most of the damage has happened."

There is ongoing work being done by the Township of Centre Wellington, where the community of Elora is located, to clean up the many fallen trees in the community.

A township representative said an estimate on how much it will cost to clean up broken trees in Elora is currently not available. At the time of publishing, there was also no official estimate on how many trees were damaged in the area.


Aastha Shetty

CBC journalist

Aastha Shetty can be reached via email or by tweeting her at @aastha_shetty