Ice-Bent Trees and Shrubs Part 2: Recovery

Broken branches need pruning
Don’t leave broken branches roughly split; prune dowto the trunk for better healing.

Moving into spring in Howard County, we’re happy to see little ice damage. Hopefully you followed our wise advice on what not to do during winter storms and have experienced no arboreal or personal trauma at all.

That said, do take a walk around as the weather improves and verify that all is well. If not,  simple measures will often help.

A very common problem is a shrub that has splayed out under the weight of ice and snow, leaving gaps between branches. Wait a couple of weeks to see if it recovers on its own. (Japanese hollies often will, arborvitae not so much.) If your shrub does not, you can tie branches up temporarily into position until they strengthen. Use something relatively soft such as plant tie tape, strips of cloth, or even pantyhose to hold up the branches. Patience is required; recovery may take months. If you can’t wait, consider the option of replacement. Next time you can tie up branches before ice and snow strike and prevent repeat damage measure; just be sure to remove the ties at least by spring to allow free growth.

Another problem may be a young tree left leaning, having been bent but not broken by snow and ice. You can often stake such trees back into position. One stake may be enough for a small tree, or you can use two or three, attached upwind of the tree if you are in a windy area. Be careful not to damage major roots while driving in stakes, and again use soft material (tree staking straps, canvas strapping, nylon webbing…) for ties to avoid chafing or breaking bark. Attach stakes at the lowest level on the trunk that allows you to (gently) pull and hold the tree upright. Remove the tie(s) by the end of the growing season. Tree Pros is happy to assist or advise on trees where  size or other factors may complicate correction of this type of problem.

You may also of course encounter trees and shrubs with ice-broken branches. The key here is to remove jagged breaks to allow clean healing. Wait until mid-spring, when all danger of snow is past, as even dead foliage can shelter and protect the rest of the plant. Prune branches back to another branch or to the branch collar area on the main trunk if necessary Do not leave stubs or cut completely flush to the trunk. Also cut off any torn, loose bark. You do not need to apply any paint or sealer over the exposed wood; research shows tree “wounds” heal better without it. The University of Maryland Extension has an excellent summary guide to pruning.

If the branch is 4 inches or more in diameter, if it requires a chainsaw and ladder work, or if you just want some expert guidance, then please contact us. Don’t endanger your safety. We can also help with more extensive structural pruning to make your trees less vulnerable to future winter weather.


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