The mounds of snow and ice that recently created a magnificent winter wonderland are little more than melting piles of dingy sand, salt and road grime.
Not only were recent storms miserable for driving, but they were hard on landscape trees and shrubs. The heavy snow and ice accumulations on branches and trunks caused major damage. With many tree branches failing under the tremendous weight, homeowners are left wondering: "What do we do now?" Proper tree care is the key to helping storm-damaged trees recover.
Here are some tips to help you clean up -- and in some cases start over -- in your landscape:
Determine whether the damaged tree is worth saving. If large, major limbs are broken, or the tree has a split either horizontally down or vertically across the trunk, think removal. The larger the split, the greater the chance of tree failure in the future. Likewise, 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 -- the portion of the tree left standing -- then it is best to remove the rest of the tree. Finally, if the loss of limbs results in an out-of-balance or lopsided tree, consider removal. Most trees never recover and only experience 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 proven 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.
As for preventing damage from ice and snow, it is not a good idea to knock it off the branches. The ice and limbs are both brittle, and any attempts to remove the ice may result in more damage. Let the ice melt naturally. A better choice is to plant trees and shrubs that are more resistant to storm damage. Avoid weak-wooded trees such as silver maple, Bradford pear, green and white ash, willows and hackberry. Choose trees such as oaks, ginko, male clones of Osage orange, walnut and hickory. For smaller trees, plant redbud, crabapple and other varieties of ornamental pear (not Bradford).