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Avoid Damage: Leave Icy Trees Alone

Care should be taken when trees become caked with ice, as has been the case as a result of recent ice storms in the Midwest. According to arborists, knocking ice off of trees will do more harm than good to trees.

As the nation waits out snow and ice storms, care should be taken with ice-covered trees. In most cases, ice-encrusted trees should be left alone and any pruning delayed until the water melts. Most limbs bent under the burden of ice and snow will spring back when the weight disappears.

A recent study published in Northeastern Naturalist (Rhoades and Stipes, 2007) noted that ice affects different tree species with various rates of damage. White oak and arborvitae (thuja) were rated as relatively resistant, while sugar and black maple fared poorly. Trees in good general health--and regularly pruned--do better than diseased or unruly trees.

Trees like this ponderosa pine near 8,000 ft. in California's Angeles National Forest have weathered centuries of winter weather. Younger conifers are much more susceptible to snow and may need help "standing up" after storms.
Photo: Erik Skindrud

Let Trees Be

The weight of the ice has left trees sagging or even broken fragile branches, and evergreens may be bent over. A natural inclination may be to go out and knock off the ice, but experts say don't do it.

"Leave it alone," said Mike Meismer of Casey's Garden Shop in Bloomington, Ill. "It could be close to the breaking point."

Knocking off the ice could take it to that point.

Dale Palmer, a landscape architect with Grieder Sod and Landscaping in Bloomington, agreed. "You shouldn't do anything. If you try to snap the ice, chances are you'll snap the branches," he said.

Wait for Warmth

Instead, wait until the ice melts and the tree warms up. Many trees will bounce right back. Meismer said the exceptions could be evergreens.

"They have a difficult time," he said. "They catch more ice and don't recover as easily."

Once the ice is gone, it may be necessary to help the evergreen stand up and tie it to a stake so it can stay up, he said.

Palmer said to be sure to use a tie that won't gouge the tree. Part of a garden hose acts as a good barrier between wire and the tree.

"Don't do it until it's really thawed and (the evergreen) is warm enough to be limber," said Palmer.

Meanwhile, if a branch is damaged and needs to be cut, make sure you do it at the proper location or you could cause the tree more damage.

Sources: Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, Northeastern Naturalist

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October 15, 2019, 5:07 am PDT

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