Tree health and recovery from ice storms

A week ago I was in warm Tampa, Florida for a meeting and they were all talking up and getting ready for the Super Bowl. I came home early last week, just in time for another Oklahoma ice bowl. It seems like we have been making a habit of these ice events the last few years. Thankfully this ice was not nearly as thick as the two terrible ice storms in January and December 2007. We occasionally get ice up to ¼” in thickness but historically only get ice accumulation of 1” or more once every 50 years. In addition to power outages these heavy ice events cause significant splitting, bending and breakage of trees. Thankfully the storm this week did not get to even a ½” accumulation in most areas but we still have seen some damage to trees and branches still stressed and weakened from the terrible and heavy ice of the 2007 storms. The extreme weight of ice can cause many broken limbs and even trunks leaving jagged holes on the bark of the remaining branches. Sometimes the damage leads to severe damage of the cambium and bark leading to dieback and weak growth of new buds and shoots. Branches lost to dieback and breakage reduce the total leaf area on the tree and this reduces the carbohydrates or food available to the roots and branches. It can lead to sunscald of newly exposed bark and open up the trees to attack by borers and other insects. Wounds and dead branches lead to decay which can lead to more branch loss in the future.    

Our goal is to help our trees heal by promoting reasonable vigor, to contain wounds and re-establish a stable, well spaced, branching structure. We can do this with good pruning, proper watering, mulching and moderate fertilization. A good level of vigor will help the trees compartmentalize decay and limit its spread. When a tree loses over half its branches the best approach may be to remove it. If it has over half the branches left use good pruning to help the tree recover. Cut the damaged branches back to laterals or the trunk but preserve the branch collar by making cuts that angle out from the trunk. Never leave stubs.  Spread heavy pruning out over 2 or 3 seasons so the tree maintains sufficient leaf area to produce adequate food.

Trees need sufficient rain or water to keep the tree healthy. Most trees do best with about an inch of rainfall (0.62 gallons per square foot) per week. It is particularly important to provide extra water during the hot dry summer, during dry winters and any drought. We are very dry right now and this ice/sleet/ snow will only provide about a ¼” of rain so your trees need some extra water now. A mulch of natural bark or hulls around the base of the tree will help conserve soil moisture and keep the soil temperature more consistent. Mulch is particularly helpful to young trees.

Select the proper site for any new trees, clean out damaged branches and prune properly on existing trees and water thoroughly to avoid stress and keep your trees healthy.


One response to this post.

  1. The sunscald sure is slim on resources to read about. When adapting my sunburn and sunscald advice page for an online arborist article a while back, the sources of facts for sunscald were very few compared to many other gardening subjects such as pruning, or planting. And some of the university websites differed from one another on some aspects of the subject. Where we live, sunscald is pretty rare, with sunburn in summer being a more common cause of damage.

    MDV / Oregon


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