Even if the calendar disagrees, I believe winter is officially here. As usual, the season has brought along its good friends snow and ice, who like to wreak havoc on trees. Here are some things to remember about trees affected by recent winter weather.
Most importantly, even if you really want to, do not try to remove ice from tree branches. Doing so will likely damage the tree more, by breaking brittle branches and scraping/bruising others.
Second, keep safety in mind. If branches are still falling, stay inside or at least out from under the trees. Look for utility lines that may cross branches, and never work on any tree with a power line running through it. Contact local utility companies if there are broken or hanging limbs interfering with the power lines.
To avoid tripping, clean up limbs that are already on the ground before doing overhead work. Siberian elms and silver maples are especially prone to breakage, and many of them were planted in our older neighborhoods. Now we know how poorly these trees handle ice (and wind, hail, etc.).
Look closely at the tree for limbs that are broken but still hanging in the tree. These limbs can be set loose by the vibration of a chain saw or the wind and should be removed before doing any other pruning. If you have the proper equipment to reach the hanging limb, remove it carefully, but please, please call in the experts if the branches are out of reach.
A few words about pruning: I am a do-it-yourselfer with just about everything, but even I know when to draw the line. Some things are best left to professionals. If the job is too big, call someone who has the training and the tools to do the job right. Look under tree care in the yellow pages.
Before hiring a professional, check his/her credentials (preferably certified by the Kansas Arborist Association and/or the International Society of Arboriculture. Get three estimates, because costs vary widely. And be patient — in most cases, the tree isn’t going anywhere, and many tree companies will have waiting lists.
If the pruning job is within your reach and you have the tools to take care of it, always use the three-cut pruning method to avoid damaging the tree more. The first cut should be on the underside of the branch, at least 6 inches out from where you want the final cut. Cut about halfway through. Then cut into the top of the branch a few inches farther out until gravity takes the limb and you are left with a stub. The third cut is to remove the stub at the attachment point. Make the cut just outside the branch collar or raised area rather than flush with the tree. This will make a smaller wound that will heal faster.
Pruning paints are not recommended at any time of year. Some of the paints and sealants that are on the market actually slow the healing process.
Trim torn bark to make smooth edges that heal faster, and clean up broken ends of branches that are still attached to the tree.
If more than 50 percent of the tree is broken, or if the trunk is split, consider removal. A weakened, half-dead tree is a bigger risk the next time we have a storm. You should also consider what, if anything, the half-dead tree might fall on when it does decide to come down. An arborist can also help you determine whether removal is necessary.
Finally, keep in mind that good maintenance pruning reduces storm damage in most cases.
Now, I have to go pick up all the broken branches from the Siberian elms in my yard. Some day I will replace them with trees species that are less prone to breakage and disease problems.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent–Horticulture for K-State Research & Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.