Storm Aftermath in Atlanta: Damaged Trees

In the aftermath of a severe storm, trees may be damaged or felled. Take a moment to safely evaluate next steps. 

  • If a damaged tree is on public property (i.e., a right-of-way or street tree, in a public park, or on other city-owned land), contact your city. In the City of Atlanta, trees on public land should be reported to the Office of Parks (Department of Parks & Recreation). Call 404-546-6813 to report trees down and request inspections. You can also call 311 for all city services-related assistance.
  • If a damaged tree is on private property (i.e, in your yard, a parking lot, commercial property, etc.), your local tree protection ordinance (TPO) may require you to obtain a permit before pruning or removing a tree. Check your city website and search for “tree ordinance”. The City of Atlanta TPO can be found here. Also, consider contacting a Certified Arborist to assess the damage and discuss next steps.

The following suggestions and tips are for information only and cannot substitute for onsite, professional evaluation. 

After a storm, please use caution when clearing debris and evaluating damaged trees.

  • Many damaged trees can be saved with proper post-storm care. Not all damaged trees must be cut down.
  • 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 a Certified Arborist as soon as possible.
  • Items that touch power and utility lines should not be handled. Contact your utility company for assistance.
  • Check your homeowner’s insurance before beginning any tree work. Some policies cover tree damage if structural repairs are needed.

Check your city’s Tree Protection Ordinance 

  • In many metro Atlanta cities, including the City of Atlanta, homeowners must apply for a tree removal permit prior to removal. Each municipality has different codes for tree removal. In the City of Atlanta, permits can be obtained here.
  • The homeowner is responsible for obtaining permits and paying applicable fees (as well as applicable fines, should penalties be applied). Verify any claim from a tree company representative who says a permit is not required. Ask for a copy of city-approved permits if the tree company offers to obtain the permit for you as part of their service. Use the Accela online permit system to look up permits filed in the City of Atlanta.
  • If a tree is determined by a professional arborist as “dead, dying, or hazardous tree” (DDH), a permit for removal is required. Typically there is no fee to receive a permit to remove a DDH tree, but fines may be applied if you remove trees without a permit. 
  • Trees presenting immediate danger may be removed prior to obtaining a permit if you can demonstrate that you removed the tree due to an emergency situation. Typically there are specific requirements for documentation (e.g., photos) to avoid fines and fees.

Pruning your trees before or after a storm

  • For large branches, a Certified Arborist with proper equipment and knowledge should be hired to ensure the work is done safely and properly. Large limbs or branches that touch structures should be evaluated ahead of storms as part of your regular maintenance reviews.
  • Proper pruning promotes good branching and allows cuts to heal. Be wary if a tree company mentions “trimming, topping, tipping or flush cutting” — these methods can damage trees. Limit the amount of pruning as much as possible, as each cut can present an opportunity for disease. As a rule of thumb, no more than a quarter of the canopy should be removed.
  • 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.
  • 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 stress or 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. 

Replacing and planting trees

Trees are living things, and require care. Ongoing maintenance will go a long well in helping to reduce the risk of falling trees. But when a trees falls or is damaged and needs to be removed, we strongly recommend new trees to replace them so that you can continue to enjoy the benefits of trees in your community. Some services Trees Atlanta can provide are:

  • Plant a tree in your front yard. Several metro Atlanta cities participate in Trees Atlanta’s Front Yard Tree program. Qualified residents can request and have trees planted in their front yards for free or for a small fee. 
  • Select the right tree for the right place. The best tree to plant is one that will thrive its environmental conditions. Consider the amount of space (both vertically and horizontally) of the mature size of the tree, light and water needs, and ecological benefits, as well as your aesthetic preferences. We recommend shade trees if you have the space and native species whenever possible. We can help you select the right trees for you at our next Annual Tree Sale. Experts are on hand to give you advice. 
  • Trees standing together help each other. A network of trees with intertwined root systems can be much stronger than a single, stand-alone tree with no tree neighbors. Stands of trees also better protect the soil, provide a richer habitat for wildlife, and multiply the benefits of trees. A mature stand of trees is invaluable, but a newly planted stand is next best!


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