It seems lately that the only sure thing about the weather is that you can never be to sure about the weather. One day the sun is warm and bright, the next we are in the middle of an icy snow storm.
Now that several storms have come and gone and more are on the way, it is time to pay a bit of attention to storm-damaged trees. When heavy snow and ice accumulate on branches and trunks, they tend to break and can cause major damage.
Here are some tips to get your storm-damaged trees back into shape and ready for spring.
The first step is to assess whether a damaged tree is worth saving or not. If large limbs have been broken, or the tree has a large split down the middle, consider removal.
To assist with the decision, inspect the downed portions of the tree for decay. Discolored, spongy or rotted heart wood are all indications of a tree in trouble. If you find extensive decay extending back into the trunk, or a portion of the tree left standing, then it is best to remove the rest of the tree.
Likewise, if the loss results in an out-of-balance or lop-sided tree, consider removal. Most trees never recover and only lead to long-term problems.
If the storm damage did not seriously harm the appearance or possible stability of the tree, then consider saving it. Start by removing jagged branch stubs, branches that are spilt and limbs that appear to be injured.
Make a good pruning cut at the branch collar. The branch collar is the area of slight swelling where the branch attaches to the trunk or next major limb. Cutting the branch too close to the trunk or leaving too large of a stub will lead to long term decay.
Do not paint the cut with black tar or other types of pruning sealant. This has not been proved to help prevent future decay. If you feel the exposed wound is just too ugly, paint it with latex housepaint that matches the color of the trunk.
Larger pruning jobs, or damaged branches extending over the house or utility lines, are better left to be worked on by certified arborists.
Large splits or cracks resulting from violent weather can sometimes be repaired by cabling and other techniques. Check the local listings for tree care professionals that are certified arborists, and are licensed and insured. In short, choose an arborist like you would choose a doctor.
Mature trees not only provide shade and beauty to the landscape during the summer, they also provide value and a sense of "home." Unfortunately, they are not immune to the wrath of Ol' Man Winter.
When a seemingly healthy tree falls victim to a winter icy snow storm, the ensuing steps you take may make the difference between survival and death of the damaged tree. Proper damage analysis, good pruning cuts and selective branch removal may help an otherwise doomed tree recover and live for many years.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more gardening information call the Master Gardener Hotline, 843-7058, between 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday.