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Hurricane Irma Aftermath in Atlanta: FAQ

We understand that in the aftermath of the storm, many trees may be damaged and/or hazardous. Please read on for information on how to SAFELY, legally prune and remove hazardous trees.

But first, here’s some good news:

Strong winds demand trees to hunker down with all their might in their roots and hang on. In this way, trees adapt over time to windy conditions by bolstering their root systems. When we think about tree health, we often think about trunk, branches, and leafy canopy – the obvious parts that we can see above ground. However, much of the mighty resilience in a tree comes from its roots; a wide-reaching root system yields a healthy, adaptable tree and this foundation allows the tree to reach its canopy tall and wide. Furthermore, a network of trees with intertwined root systems can be much stronger than a single, stand-alone tree with no tree neighbors. So trees standing after a storm like Irma can end up being stronger trees, more stable and resilient to future storms, winds, and other disturbances.

The lesson here? Don’t assume that a tree after a storm is always a compromised one, and don’t assume that more trees always equals more hazards. It’s often likely that wind-blown trees — especially when they grow in a network like a forest — will be tougher and even greater contributions to our urban canopy!


PLEASE USE A CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL ARBORIST and ask to see proof of insurance. Tree work can be dangerous.


  • Check your homeowner policy before beginning any tree work. Some policies cover tree damage if structural repairs are needed.
  • Call an ISA certified arborist to help with safe and proper removal. See Georgia Arborist Association Professional Members Directory for professional tree care workers in your area. Ask to see the tree care company’s proof of insurance.
  • If you use equipment including chain saws to remove limbs and fallen trees, take all safety precautions including the use of full personal protective equipment – especially hard hats, eye protection, leather gloves, and close-toed shoes.
  • Attend the screening premier of Felled in Atlanta on October 1, 2017, hosted by the GA Arborist Association and co-sponsored by Trees Atlanta, for inspiration about how to repurpose wood from felled trees to put that wood waste to good use and keep it out of landfills. Find a local woodworker, farmer, or artist who may benefit from the free, healthy wood.


  • On private property: if there is a perilous-looking, damaged tree that is about to fall on your personal property and time is of the essence, take photos to show evidence and you may go ahead and make steps to have tree safely taken down. In Atlanta there is a fine for illegal (unpermitted) tree removal UNLESS you can demonstrate that you removed the tree due to an emergency situation.
  • Trees that show cracks in the trunk or large limbs, have roots that seem to be lifting from the ground or have a new noticeable lean should be evaluated by an arborist as soon as possible.
  • For a Dead, Dying, or Hazardous tree removal permit on private property, please visit the Atlanta Arborist Division and follow the steps on their website.
  • On public property (i.e., right-of-way trees, public parks, or other city-owned land): contact the Office of Parks by calling their customer service number, 404.546.6813, to report trees down and request inspections.


  • For large branches, a certified arborist with the equipment and knowledge should be hired to ensure the work is done safely and properly. Ask to see the tree care company’s proof of insurance.
  • When the damage is limited to a few small branches on smaller trees, light pruning is usually all that is needed. Make sure pruning tools are sharpened. Dull edges can cause further damage to the tree.
  • Remove loose or loosely attached branches to avoid further injury and decay to the tree.
  • Branches that have pulled away from the trunk should be removed at the bottom-most part of the rip with a clean cut close (but not quite flush) to the main trunk or next intact branch connection. See the “Pruning” section for proper pruning tips.
  • Never “top” the tree, which means you should never simply cut the entire top of the tree off. This weakens the tree and makes it more susceptible to further injury and disease over time.


  • Proper mulching, watering, invasive vine removal, and protection from hardscapes and construction will give your trees the best chances against strong storms in the future. Explore our website and learn to care for your trees or come to our TreeKeepers program to learn how to steward your part of the urban forest like a pro.


  • Many damaged trees can be saved with proper post-storm care! The Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance prohibits the removal of trees without a permit from the City of Atlanta Arborist Division, and you will be fined a minimum of $500 for illegal removal. Please do not remove trees unless they are imminently hazardous or without a professional arborist’s diagnosis of a dead tree. Now is the time to do so!
  • When working with arborists or forestry professionals, request proof of certification and/or of membership in professional organizations. A qualified arborist should be an ISA Certified Arborist (certified through the International Society of Arboriculture).
  • When working with arborists or forestry professionals, request proof of worker’s compensation and liability insurance.
  • Check references for tree workers whenever possible.
  • Get multiple estimates for the work you need done, whenever possible.
  • Visit the ISA website or the Georgia Arborist Association to find a certified arborist near you.


  • Request up to 3 free yard trees to be planted by our NeighborWoods team this coming planting season
  • Come select a tree with the help of our expert staff and volunteers at either of our TWO tree sales coming up in October! 
  • Attend our Atlanta Canopy Conference on September 22nd for a full day of exploring our tree policies in Atlanta, and participate in a community-wide discussion with experts, professionals, and citizens about how they might be improved.


Georgia Arborist Association Professional Members Directory

Georgia Forestry Commission Pre-Storm Safety Plans (September 8, 2017)

North Carolina Forest Service “Caring for Storm-Damaged Trees”

“The Effects of Staking Trees,” Arbor Day Foundation

Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance

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