Helping damaged trees and shrubs recover from winter damage

The weight of snow and ice can cause limbs to break or topple whole trees. How you deal with damaged trees after the snow or ice melts will impact their health now and for years to come. Keep the following tips in mind when caring for storm damaged trees and shrubs:

Once the snow has melted, assess the damage. If only small limbs and twigs are damaged, the tree will likely make a full recovery on its own. If many large branches are damaged, the tree may be able to recover with conservative pruning and care, and time. A certified tree care professional can help assess the damage and determine a plan of action.

Young, recently planted trees that have fallen over can usually be saved. Cover any exposed roots as soon as possible to protect them from drying out or freezing. Mature trees and trees with trunks over 10-12” in diameter that fall should be removed. In addition, trees that partially uproot and have over 1/3 of their roots exposed are typically beyond help and should be removed.

Most shrubs damaged by snow and ice can be severely pruned if necessary. Wax myrtles are particularly prone to breaking when weighed down by snow and ice but can be cut back to within a few feet of ground level and will regrow, usually within one or two seasons. Most broadleaf evergreen shrubs (camellias, azaleas, hollies) and deciduous shrubs (spiraea, butterfly bush, knockout rose) can be treated this way, but conifers (juniper, cedars, pines) cannot. Conifers that break apart in ice storms will not recover and should be removed. Keep in
mind spring blooming shrubs cut back now will not bloom this year.

When pruning broken branches, know where to cut. Cutting in the wrong place can lead to decay, failure in future storms, and tree death. Smaller pruning wounds are preferred, even if they leave what looks like a stub. There is no need to paint over pruning cuts with wound dressings, in fact, this can actually harm trees

Don’t over prune either. Leave as many limbs as possible. Removing more limbs than necessary reduces the tree’s ability to feed itself through photosynthesis that takes place in the leaves. Trees may look uneven or out of balance immediately after pruning, but will fill in within a few seasons. Help trees and shrubs recover from storm damage by applying a slow release or organic fertilizer in spring (March-April). Water recovering trees and shrubs during dry spells this summer and fall.

Anytime you have a tree removed, replace it with a stronger wooded species. Trees more resistant to wind and ice damage for the Mid-south include: crape myrtle, bald cypress, hickory, ironwood, ginkgo, and white oak.

Finally, stay safe! Never cut limbs tangled in power lines – call the power company instead. Anytime removing a branch requires a ladder or a chainsaw, you should strongly consider hiring a tree care professional to do the job.

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