The series of tornadoes that ripped through central Mississippi April 24 left 15 counties with substantial damage from wind, hail and water.

As Mississippians begin the long process of rebuilding and cleaning up their tornado-ravaged landscapes, there are ways to make the process safer and easier.

Safety is the first consideration when removing damaged trees or large limbs that have fallen on electric power lines or pose other hazards to homes or people. Hire a professional to do this when the job is not safe.

Using a licensed, certified arborist or tree surgeon to assess the damage and make decisions with you about what needs to be done is worth the time and money invested. Take pictures before the cleanup process begins for insurance claims and to document the damage. Keep receipts for work done.

These professionals can determine what can be salvaged and what needs to be removed. They can safely remove downed trees and prune or brace remaining trees. Be wary of a stranger driving up with a chainsaw and offering to clean up for a fee.

To find a certified arborist or tree surgeon, call the local Mississippi State University Extension Service office. The phone number is under your county name in the white pages of the phone book. Or, find these professionals by going to the Mississippi Forestry Commission Web site http://www.mfc.state.ms.us/pro_tree_care. This Web site lists tree surgeons by county. Click the site’s link to the International Society of Arboriculture to find certified arborists by county.

The commission’s Web site also has information on how to select a tree care company and how to prune shade and ornamental trees. It includes a noninclusive listing of tree appraisers for insurance claims.

Use little orange flags to mark areas of herbaceous plants so heavy equipment operators can avoid damaging them when removing large trees. It is unlikely that tree service professionals can avoid damaging some areas as they work, but marking the areas will let them know to be careful.

For shrubs, flowers and other landscape plants stripped of leaves or damaged by flooding or hail, clean up what is obviously damaged beyond recovery and leave the rest alone to recover. Remember that plants are resilient and most will recover if damage is not too severe.

What looks like a dead plant with no leaves may begin to put out new growth in a few weeks. Prune broken or damaged shrub branches as soon as it is safe. For shrubs that are uprooted but can be replanted, get that chore done as soon as possible.

Plants that can regenerate will show signs of new growth within a short time. At that point, prune back flowers and cut back branches of shrubs if needed to encourage new, thicker growth.

Beginning the process of cleaning up damaged landscapes after tornadoes can seem daunting. Using safety, professional advice and common sense will make the work easier. Take one area at a time to evaluate and perhaps change plantings to meet the needs of the new landscape, which may have more sun due to the loss of large trees.

Find landscape and gardening information on the Mississippi State University Extension Service Web site at http://msucares.com/lawn/.

Visit MSUcares.com to download the new version of Extension Information Sheet 1355 “Repairing Storm-damaged Shade, Ornamental, and Fruit Trees,” or contact the local Extension office for help and guidance on rebuilding landscapes and gardens.