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January 2016 - Ice Storms and Tree Damage

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Certain areas of Bucks and Montgomery Counties experience ice storms that can damage many trees.  Fortunately, ice storms do not occur on a regular basis.

The trees that normally take the brunt of the damage from ice storms are the following due to brittle wood:

  • Bradford Pears
  • Poplars
  • Silver Maples
  • Birches
  • Willows

Homeowners often plant fast-growing species like the ones mentioned above for rapid shade.  Fast-growing trees normally have brittle wood and develop week, V-shaped crotches that easily split apart under added weight.  Often, trees with extensive internal rot and decay that may not have been evident from the exterior receive severe damage.

Many times these trees overhang the house, driveway or power lines servicing the home.  When large limbs or tree tops are broken in an ice storm, they can cause major damage and expense.  Trees with major limb or top damage, two questions should be addressed:

Does the condition of the tree warrant efforts to save it or should it be removed?  Major tree repair can be quiet expensive and should only be attempted if a major portion of the tree is still intact and efforts can be made to maintain its attractiveness and value to the property.  If the whole side or top is gone, it’s questionable it’s worth spending the time and money to save the tree.  This is especially true if it’s one with brittle wood that lends itself to similar problems in the future.  While no one wants to remove a large, mature tree, the decision may be to replace it with a young tree possessing desirable qualities.

Can you handle the damage repair yourself or should you seek professional help?  Small limbs can be removed easily with pruning shears or a pole-lopper provided they are within your reach.  If the limbs are out of reach, you should never climb a ladder in a tree.  Many homeowners are hurt every season trying to perform tree work themselves.  Power equipment should never be operated from a ladder or in the tree where firm footing is questionable.  Tree care operations over your head and removing hanging limbs should be left to professional tree services. Make sure they carry proper liability and workmen's compensation insurance before allowing them to start the job.

For trees with tops broken out, remove the hanger to the next major interior branch.  Generally, this will be a major fork.  Avoid topping the tree to allow small side branches to grow out and continue the tree’s height growth.  These branches will be weak and prone to breakage.  In certain situations, a damaged limb may strip healthy bark from the tree. To repair this type of damage, cut any ragged edges of torn bark away from the damaged area. Take care to limit the amount of healthy, tight bark removed. To speed the healing process, the repair cut made with a sharp knife into healthy bark should leave a wound shaped like an elongated bark trace with the pointed ends of the cut running vertically along the trunk or limb or as near parallel to the initial damage as possible. Treatment of the trunk and limb wounds with tree paint is not necessary. In fact, research shows that painted areas can lead to increased rot and decay due to trapped moisture in areas where the paint cracks open.  Trees with split trunks or major limb forks may possibly be salvaged if the split is not too extensive. Repairing this type of damage will involve a cable and brace technique that should be left to a professional tree service.

Some small to medium-sized trees may have been uprooted.  It may be possible to straighten these trees and brace them with guy wires. Do not attempt this unless one-half to one-third of the tree's original root system is still in the soil and the remaining exposed roots are relatively compact and undisturbed. Before straightening the tree, remove some of the soil from beneath the root mass so the roots will be placed below the existing grade level. Attach two to three guy wires to the trunk and anchor the wires 10 to 12 feet away from the tree.  Corrective pruning to help improve the shape of damaged trees is best done now. The tree will respond quickly this spring if it has not been severely damaged. Take care not to remove more than one-third of original branches. This will severely retard the tree's growth in the spring and may damage it beyond recovery. Consider proper pruning for those trees not damaged by the storm to reduce the chances of damage in the future.

You may want to fertilize your tree this spring with a good quality tree fertilizer. Healthy trees will respond and recover faster from the damaging effects of winter storms. Fertilized trees will also be less likely to sustain attack from boring insects that may be attracted to damaged trees.

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