Ice Storm: Landscape Damage Assessment and Repair

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
If the weather forecasters are correct, we may be in the middle of a significant ice storm this weekend. Hopefully this will not the case, but if we are hit hard with accumulating ice, here are some tips that should help your landscape recover with the least possible damage.

Assuming you have an otherwise healthy tree or shrub, there is not much you can do to prevent ice damage from happening. It is best to simply let the process play out. Trying to be proactive and covering plants will end up causing more damage since the covering will catch and hold more ice than if the plants are left unprotected.

Once the storm is over and you begin to assess the situation, the first priority is to make absolutely sure no downed power lines are in the area. If there are, your landscape can wait; it’s just not worth the risk. Once it is safe to do so, it can be helpful to take photos of the plants that appear to be damaged. Photos can serve a couple of purposes. If you do have to call in a tree care professional, it may help them to know what the tree looked like at its worst since ice damage splits or ruptures can virtually disappear after the ice melts and the limb springs back into place.

Photos are also a great resource if you don’t need to hire a professional but are unsure how to proceed. Simply email them to the address below and we will offer suggestions on what actions need to be taken. Photos can also help you diagnose problems that come up in plants for a long time after the ice storm is forgotten.

Do not attempt to prune plants with the ice still on them. The additional weight increases the risk factor to you as well as the plants. It is difficult to get good clean saw or pruner cuts and we hope the risk of slipping or falling with pruning equipment in your hands speaks for itself.

Do not try to hurry the ice removal by shaking, broom whacking or other means. Once again, the extra weight makes the plant unstable and you are likely to cause more harm than good. Be patient and wait for the warmer temperatures to do the job.

Once you do begin pruning, try to follow the guidelines for proper pruning techniques. See OSU Fact Sheets HLA-6415 Training Young Shade and Ornamental Trees
(PDF/Mobile) and EPP-7323-Managing Storm Damaged Trees (PDF/Mobile) for guidance. Unfortunately, the harsh reality with severe storm damage is that sometimes it is impossible to leave a textbook, properly pruned, finished product. The damage will be too great. In those cases, do the best you can by making clean cuts on all breaks and open fractures. This will increase the plants odds of making a full recovery as a clean cut will heal quicker than a tear from a jagged break.

Watch the plant closely the next few years as additional pruning may be needed as heavily damaged trees will often tend to produce suckers near the damaged areas.

Best wishes. May this advice be something you do not need anytime soon.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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