Trees are very resilient organisms, they are able to survive year-round in some of the harshest climates that this planet has to offer. But that’s not to say that you can plant a tree anywhere and expect it to survive. They are still living things that can be affected by climate, disease, and a whole host of other things. One issue that all outdoor plants if the occasional icing. As we went over in our last post, “What do I do if my tree gets covered in ice?“, you really can’t do anything for a tree once it has ice on it – all you can do is work to prevent it.
When ice coats trees in thick crystal layers, forming perfect icicles that clink together, making pretty music in the wind, it can be a beautiful site (and sound). That is until evergreens start to double over and deciduous tree branches hang heavy as if weeping. Trees like a Bradford pear are known to break apart and fall down at the first signs of ice and winds – so it helps to know the relative strength of the trees on your property first off.
Can You Even Prevent Ice Damage?
Proper pruning is always the best method of maintenance. Particularly important is the removal of weak, narrow-angled, v-shaped crotches, according to the North Carolina State University Extension. When these a covered over by ice, they often can’t support the weight and will snap, leaving you with a big mess and potentially now dying tree.
Trees that tend to suffer the worst damage as a result of snow and ice are multiple leader, upright evergreens like arborvitae and juniper, and multiple leader or clump trees like birch, per the University of Minnesota Extension’s research. On these trees, locating and pruning weak-jointed branches before they become a problem is important. Slow-growing trees like oak are less likely to lose limbs. And, when it comes to ice, age does not make a tree stronger; younger trees actually tend to survive better in ice storms because they are more pliable.
Do NOT Rattle & Shake Your Branches Around
When you find your trees are bending or drooping as a result of ice and snow accumulation, your first instinct is probably to shake the branches and free them of the winter burden. We recommend NOT doing that, unless the snow is very dry and fluffy. Branches coated in ice can become quite brittle – shaking them can cause damage or breakage. Also, since trees are flexible, suddenly knocking the ice weight off may cause branches to snap back, potentially damaging the tree’s circulatory system.
If after a severe ice storm, you notice some limb breakage, properly prune the damaged area as soon as the weather allows. In the case of undamaged limbs bending under the weight of ice or snow, don’t prune as a means of correcting the situation; the limbs should return naturally as the weather conditions change.
Any Other Options?
Aside from pruning, if you live in an area where ice storms are common, tying down / securing your trees and big limbs could be a good option if you foresee a busy winter season. As with any severe weather condition, common sense should prevail. Avoid parking or walking under branches weighed down by snow or ice for safety reasons. And if you notice broken branches entangled in power lines, notify your utility company immediately.