With this latest round of heavy sleet and ice, many trees are in desperate need of major injury repair. Ice accumulations of up to 2 inches have caused major branches to crack and fall under this impressive weight.
To put it mathematically, 1 inch of ice covering a square foot weighs about 5 pounds. So, when you have 2 inches of ice covering a large tree branch, the weight can quickly add up.
With this in mind, it is not safe to repair the damage until the ice has completely melted. However, here are some tips to help keep you and your trees healthy and safe the rest of this winter.
The first step after the storm is to decide whether a damaged tree is worth saving. If large limbs have been broken or the tree has a large split down the middle, consider removal.
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 decay extending into the trunk or portion of the tree left standing, it is best to remove the rest of the tree. Likewise, if the loss results in an out-of-balance or lopsided tree, consider removal. Most trees never recover and will develop long-term problems.
If the storm only injured smaller branches, begin with removal of broken branches that are hanging, followed by stubs, split branches and other limbs with problems. Make a good pruning cut at the branch collar, which 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, which have not been shown to help prevent future decay. If you think the exposed wound is just too ugly, paint it with latex house paint that matches the trunk color.
Larger pruning jobs or those involving damaged branches extending over utility lines are better left to certified arborists. Likewise, large splits or cracks resulting from heavy ice accumulations can sometimes be repaired by cabling and other techniques. Check local listings for arborists who are licensed and insured.
Finally, consider an overall tree care program. As trees mature, branches can span from 50 to 75 feet and extend over power lines, houses, driveways and streets. It is important to have your trees examined at least every five years by a tree care professional. Request that they remove branches that are weak, dead or dying.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.