Ice Storm Damage
Many of Oklahoma City‘s trees are damaged by ice storms each year. Most require some degree of immediate attention. Homeowners working on their trees should assess safety concerns and consider the best approach for dealing with the damaged tree.
For trees with limb or top damage, homeowners should answer some basic questions. Does the tree warrant efforts to save it or should it be removed? Consider the tree‘s worth in an economic, aesthetic, environmental and sentimental sense. Will the tree still be able to serve those functions? These questions may not be easily answered while the tree is still dormant. Don’t be too hasty to make a decision to remove a tree if you can delay that decision to the spring.
Immediately after damage occurs, do not prune or remove more than necessary. Address any obvious safety concerns, such as loose or loosely attached branches and split trunks, as soon as possible. These limbs could injure someone or damage property when the branch or that part of the tree eventually falls. Save other decisions on pruning and branch removal for later. While the damage may look severe immediately following an ice storm, one should assess how to save trees rather than making quick decisions to cut them down. In recent years, many communities across the country have lost viable trees to major ice storms by making hasty decisions to remove them.
If your tree is so badly damaged that it needs to be removed, and there is no immediate threat to life or property, you may want to contact your insurance carrier before any tree work is performed. Some homeowner policies will cover at least part of the cost of tree removal if some structural damage occurs.
Homeowners should not attempt to prune branches hanging over or in contact with power lines, as they pose a major safety hazard. Special training is required to prune branches near power lines safely. Contact your local power company to have these branches removed.
What Damage is Repairable?
When evaluating the damage to a tree, the homeowner should consider whether they can handle the damage repair or should seek help from a professional arborist.
Small limbs can be removed easily with pruning shears or a pole-lopper provided they are within reach from the ground. If the homeowner elects to repair the damage, the only pruning that really needs to be done is the removal of broken branches. Leave the fine pruning and finishing cuts until late winter or early spring. All pruning cuts will dry out to some degree during the winter. Dieback of the inner bark around a pruning cut can be minimized if the final pruning is left until just before the tree begins to grow in the spring. The tree should respond quickly if it has not been severely damaged. Take care not to remove more than one-third of original branches. This will severely retard the tree’s growth in the spring and may damage it beyond recovery.
Only professional arborists should do chain saw and other heavy work on branches unreachable from the ground as well as all work on large trees. Look for them under “Tree Service” in the Yellow Pages. Make sure they carry proper liability and workmen’s compensation insurance before allowing them to start the job. (See City Tree Notes, “How to Hire an Arborist”)
When pruning, the three-step procedure (see Figure 1) should be used to avoid further injury resulting from improper pruning techniques. Such as, one improper cut could cause a heavy branch to strip healthy bark away from the trunk as it falls. Instead the initial cut is made on the underneath side of the branch about 18 inches out from limb to remain or trunk. The cut should be approximately halfway through the branch or until its weight first starts to bind the saw. The next cut should be made on top of the branch about 1 to 2 inches in front (toward the end of the branch) of the bottom cut. Continue cutting until the branch drops free. The last cut removes the remaining branch stub from the trunk. The cut should be made from the top of the branch at the branch collar. The collar is the slight ridge where the branch attaches to the tree’s trunk or another major branch.
Never use paint or wound dressing to cover wounds. These materials do no good for the tree and actually interfere with the tree’s wound sealing process.
Broken Branches and Tops
Generally, if the branch has not split away from the trunk, the broken segment should be removed back to the next major fork. Do not leave branch stubs. Stubs encourage rot and decay. Branches that have pulled away from the trunk should be removed at the bottom of the split. Avoid causing any additional damage to the trunk. Remove any loose bark, but do not cut into bark that is living and still attached.
For trees with tops broken out, remove the snags to the next major interior branch. Generally, this will be a major fork. Never top trees. Topping creates serious hazards and dramatically shortens the life of a tree. The small side branches that grow out of a topped tree and continue the tree’s height growth will be weak and prone to breakage.
Trees with split trunks or major limb forks may possibly be salvaged if the split is not too extensive. Repairing this type of damage will involve a cable and brace technique that should be installed by a professional arborist.
A tree that has been tilted due to the heavy weight of ice should be evaluated to determine if the trunk or the roots are broken. Trees leaning from root breakage usually do not survive well. If a tree tips in a storm, it often means the tree had damaged or poorly developed roots before the storm pushed it over. If a tipped tree does survive, it is likely it will fall again due to its weakened root structure.
Mature trees rarely survive attempts to pull them back into place after being tipped over by a storm. These generally should be removed and replaced with new trees. It may be possible to straighten and brace some small to medium-sized trees with guy wires. Do not attempt this unless one-half to one-third of the tree’s original root system is still in the soil and the remaining exposed roots are relatively compact and undisturbed. Before straightening the tree, remove some of the soil from beneath the root mass so the roots will be placed below the existing grade level. To brace the tree, attach two to three guy wires to the trunk and anchor the wires 10 to 12 feet away from the tree.
Tree Replacement and Additional Information
Following the cleanup and repair of storm damaged trees, you may wish to plant new trees. A few suggestions on tree selection can help reduce future maintenance problems for these trees. First, make certain the tree being considered is hardy to the area. Then, consider the potential insect and/or disease problems that may be associated with a particular species. It is also helpful to know the approximate size and shape of the tree when mature. This will help determine where to plant to minimize pruning due to interference with utility lines, branches rubbing against the house or other buildings, etc. Finally, consider characteristics of the tree other than the provision of shade, such as presence of spring flowers, attractiveness to birds, fall color and winter appearance. Proper selection, care and maintenance of trees perpetuate our continued enjoyment of healthy tree species that will contribute infinitely to the landscape for many years to come.