Ice storms damage trees, shrubs across state

Ice storms are not my idea of fun. I really enjoy one or two decent winter snows each winter because the trees, shrubs and over all landscapes are just beautiful when cloaked in a layer or bright white reflective snow. One or two nice snows a year doesn’t cause very much damage, just puts our world on slow or pause for a few hours or even a day or two and is just postcard beautiful. Few things are as inspirational or beat the beauty of the sun coming out or a full moon shining on a fresh layer of snow covering our landscape. Ice on the other hand can be quite beautiful when the sun or light bounces off the covered tree branches or leaves like they are covered in diamonds or crystals but ice is so heavy it can cause mind boggling damage and frankly is not much fun as we Oklahomans have been reminded this last week.

I don’t remember so many significant ice storms when I was growing up but the last several years have certainly produced several heavy ice storms that have caused major damage to our trees, shrubs, overhead electrical, telephone and cable wires.  Over 650,000 electric service customers learned a new appreciation for their electric service when they went to turn on the switch and there was no power. The problem was further complicated for those without water if their well pump or the pumps for the water system they use were without power. Imagine our forefathers just 100 years ago at statehood going through the whole year without electric, water, gas or even sewer service instead of just a few hours or days. Maybe these experiences are to help us truly appreciate our blessings, we too often take for granted.

The tree and shrub damage is just heart breaking for me and most of you and not as easily restored as OGE or your electric cooperative getting your power lines back up or your electrician remounting your service box. This ice was heavy enough and thick enough to damage young trees and old mature hardwood trees alike depending on their shape, orientation and locations. We often expect the most ice or high wind damage to fast growing softwood trees like Bradford Pears, Silver Maples, Sycamores, Mimosas and the like. We expect less damage to slow growing harder wooded trees like Pecans, Walnuts, Pin Oaks, Caddo Maples and Sweet Gums. Bradford Pears have probably received the most consistent damage with many now one sided or open style trees. I have seen a few where all the branches peeled down like a banana to leave just a stump or one or 2 vertical standing branches.

It seems that the more vertical the branching style from the trunk the more damage this storm caused and the flatter or more horizontal the branching the less damage. Most Bald Cypress trees branch out almost flat or near 90 degrees from the trunk and appear to have less damage as they did not bend as far down from normal with the ice load as a tree like the Bradford Pear where the branches come out and then turn up almost parallel to the trunk. With the nicer weather this week all the ice load has melted off and some of those branches that looked like they might be lost may have bounced back up to their normal position or at least closer to normal. Trees like Pin Oaks and Magnolias that had not dropped their foliage had a lot more surface area to catch the ice and are two of the trees that look a lot better this week since the ice melted. Although we lost a lot of branches on the magnolias many of the branches that were bowed down so far have lifted back close to normal and will probably be okay. It is best to hire a certified Arborist or a local nursery or landscaper to do the tree pruning and cleanup if you are not able to do it yourself.  Don’t get too anxious and prune too quickly or carried away and prune out branches that might bounce back or survive. With these significant tree losses we need all the tree canopy we can save. Do prune out and make clean cuts where possible when the branches are actually broken out or have structural cracks. I have seen significant damage to trees that were here before statehood, trees planted in the thirty’s to the fifty’s in response to the dust bowl as part of the conservation and wind break effort of our predecessors and even recently planted trees. Many trees had received some damage in earlier ice storms in 2001 or even January of this year. After the tree canopy is altered by earlier ice or high wind damage it seems more vulnerable to additional damage as future ice or wind can reach down into the crown of the tree in new ways with part of the canopy or tree cover missing.

I’m seeing hundreds of truckloads of branches headed to the landfill and it is a terrible waste to send all these years of great biomass to the dump instead of to a collection yard to burn for fuel or even to grind for mulch. Many of our cities could do better in handling this tree growth for a high value use instead of only using it to fill our limited landfill area. We will all need to do a lot more tree planting the next few years to restore and add to the tree canopy of our state. Now is a good time to be thinking about the best spots in your yard and the community to add trees and to be thinking about the type of trees you will want to plant.

Don’t forget there is still time to buy poinsettias, Christmas cactus, amaryllis, flower arrangements, Norfolk Island pines or other plant material to liven up your Christmas celebration. Gardeners love gifts of plants, tools, gloves and garden center gift certificates as you finish your Christmas gift list. Speaking of the beautiful Christmas Poinsettias one of our readers, Janet Williams, did some great research on Ambassador Joel Poinsett and advises me that he was not actually the first director of the Smithsonian Museum as I mentioned in my last column. As a South Carolina Congressman he apparently led an effort called the National Institute for the Promotion of Science that was involved in the debate that led to the Smithsonian Institution we know and love today. He may not have been the first director of the Smithsonian but he did still introduce the poinsettia to the United States and we will always remember him for that. Thanks for correcting us and we hope you each and everyone have a very Merry Christmas Season and a great 2008.

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