Winter Ice Damage to Trees
Rosie Lerner, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Department
of Horticulture, Purdue University
Homeowners assessing tree damage from the ice storm will want
to make a few important decisions soon.
"First assess if there are breaks in branches that have
not yet fallen," said B. Rosie Lerner, extension specialist
in Consumer Horticulture at Purdue University. "For
small, lower branches it is relative easy for the homeowner to
remove them from the tree."
Lerner emphasized using proper pruning tools
to ensure a clean smooth cut that will allow the tree to seal
off the wound. Proper tools include hand sheers, lopers, and
pruning saws. Hand
sheers are used on branches up to 1/4 inch in diameter. Lopping
sheers are used on branches up to one and a 1/2 inch diameter.
Pruning saws are used on branches over one inch thick.
For larger limbs, or those that are too far up for the owner
to reach, Lerner suggested hiring an arborist.
The next step is to make a cleaner cut on jagged broken branches to allow proper
healing. Lerner noted that this does not need immediate attention, but
should be done before spring growth.
"People often ask if they need to apply pruning sealants
or tar," said Lerner. "There is some controversy
regarding these products, but generally they have not been shown
to be helpful."
Lerner adds, "Some scientists believe
that the sealant may interfere with the tree's ability to form
a protective callous over the wound."
Just because a trunk is split does not necessarily
mean the tree will die soon. Large, split branches or
trunks that have not broken off the tree can be braced and
possibly saved by an arborist.
"If limbs have fallen completely off the tree there is
nothing that can be done to save the branch," said Lerner.
In either case, the wounded area in the tree will always be
a weak spot that is susceptible to disease, rotting, and insects.
In typical ice storms, the trees hardest
hit are weak wooded species such as silver maples, Siberian
elms, river birch, and willows."Evergreens are also particularly vulnerable because
they still have foliage and so tend to collect more ice" she
Many of the evergreens, such as pines and
spruce are not capable of filling in new growth where the damage
has occurred, so the natural shape of the tree can be permanently
In many cases, topping causing trees to
re-grow numerous weak branches that are susceptible to breakage," said Lerner. "These
are among the first of the branches that fall during an ice storm."
For more information on pruning contact
a Purdue University cooperative extension service office and
ask for bulletin "HO-4,
Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs" or go online to http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-4.pdf
For an arborist, look for companies listed
in the local phone directory under tree service. It may
pay to get estimates and references of others who have used
the tree service before signing a contract agreeing to service.