Ice-Bent Trees and Shrubs Part 1: What Not to Do

Snow and ice covered trees and bushes need care in Howard County.
Where’s the hard hat? Don’t damage your trees or let them damage you.

Howard County has had a stormy February. Branches bow under snow, glitter with ice from freezing rain. Winter wonderland, yes, but are you also thinking “let’s knock some of this off the shrubberies”? If so, stop. Make no sudden moves.

Trees and shrubs native to this area have evolved to deal with periods of snow and ice. If they are healthy and structurally sound, they can deal with being temporarily bent down by precipitation. The snow and ice will even provide them with insulation against more damaging cold.

What the trees and shrubs have not evolved to deal with is sudden violent shakings or beatings with a snow shovel or broom. Frozen branches are brittle and can easily break. Even beyond this, the tiny tubes that make up much of any woody plant’s vascular system (the xylem) are full of water, likely frozen water after a storm. Rough treatment of branches will cause this internal ice to break, damaging tubes. Come warmer weather, the tree or shrub may have difficulty conveying water and nourishment from roots to foliage, causing problems such as scorched-looking leaves and branch dieback.

A few other don’ts–

  • Don’t pour hot water to melt the snow and ice. It may injure the tree or shrub. And if the air temperature is still freezing or heading back in that direction, you will be left with more ice than you had originally.
  • Don’t use salt or de-icer on or near trees or shrubs. These are toxic to plants.
  • For your own safety, don’t try to remove damaged branches in icy conditions. In fact, don’t even walk under ice-laden branches without a hard hat and awareness of the possibility of getting whacked by a falling ice ball.

So what can you do when you see those drooping branches? A little bit, in moderation:

  • For powdery snow, you can take a soft-bristled broom and brush branches off gently, either every few hours while the snow is falling, or after the snow stops but before it crusts with ice and hardens. Brush gently upwards starting at the highest section you can easily reach. If snow doesn’t come off easily, leave it alone.
  • You may be able to break large clumps of icy snow into smaller pieces that the wind can blow off and that will melt faster, using something such as the end of a broomstick. Work from beneath branches to avoid putting extra weight on them. 

However, especially for the limited level of ice Howard County has seen lately, we advise leaving well enough alone. Stay warm, mind your own business, and let your trees and shrubs mind theirs. They’ll be fine. 

And stay tuned for our next post on Sue’s News, which might (but won’t) be titled “What If They’re Not Fine?” It will look at the weaknesses that are most likely to leave you with snow-broken trees and shrubs as well as what treatments can be helpful.

In the meantime, if you have ice or other arboreal damage that you need an answer on fast, please comment below or contact Tree Pros for help.


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