This summer I noticed an increase in calls asking me to look at lightning-struck trees. There were a couple of trees that broke my heart a little. I could tell these were trees that were loved, and now their survival is questionable.
What happens to a tree that gets hit by lightning?
The damage from a lightning strike can be very minor to significant. The electricity conducts through the water along the tree. It can follow a narrow line just under the bark, flash boil the water in the sap, and blow a narrow line of bark off. It can also follow lines that get into the wood and cause structural damage. Lightning can also cause root damage as it is conducted through the root system.
If your tree is struck by lightning can you save it?
Maybe. Have an arborist inspect the tree to assess the health and risk level of the tree. Be prepared to give the tree extra water if it has been struck. Your tree may be suffering from root damage and needs a little more water to help it reduce stress which can lead to boring insect infestations. Some of the damage from a lightning strike may be unknown. Trees that look like they have minor injuries can die quickly due to extensive root damage.
Copper lightning protection can be installed in a tree. A cable is connected from a conductor in the tree to a ground rod that is set away from the trunk of the tree. It can be a bit of an investment so it is not for every tree. Certain trees may be good candidates for protection.
Trees Next to Your House
Lightning can arc from a tree to a house, causing damage to your home. If trees are much taller than your house and within 20 feet you may consider lightning protection.
If your yard is a forest, lightning protection may not be practical. If you have a single significant tree that is more important than any of the others, you may consider lightning protection.
Lightning Prone Areas
There are a few hilltop areas in the Richmond area that show repeated lightning strikes. If in talking to your neighbors, you find that several trees in the area have been struck, the odds are greater that there will be more strikes.