Ice Storm: Landscape Damage Assessment and Repair

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
If the weather forecasters are close to correct, we may be in the middle of our first significant ice storm in years as you are reading this. Hopefully, this will not the case, but if we are hard hit, here are some tips that should help your landscape recover with the least possible damage. Even if the forecast proves correct, the news isn’t all bad, we desperately need the moisture.

There is really not much you can do to prevent ice damage from happening assuming you have an otherwise healthy tree or shrub. Trying to be proactive and covering plants will end up causing more damage since the covers will catch and hold more ice than the plants will if 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 very helpful to take pictures of the plants that appear to be damaged. Pictures can serve a couple of purposes. If you have to call in a tree care professional, it can help 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 returns to its former form. They are also a great resource if you don’t need to hire a professional but are unsure how to proceed. Simply email them to Keith at the address below and he may be able to offer suggestions on how to proceed. Pictures 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 since it’s difficult to control a cut, not to mention all the slipping and sliding!

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 and EPP-7323 Managing Storm Damaged Trees for guidance. Unfortunately, the harsh reality with severe storm damage is sometimes it is impossible to leave a textbook finished product. 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. Research has shown that pruning paints are not helpful in helping plants recover from damage so that step is unnecessary.

Best wishes out there. I hope this article isn’t needed by anyone over the next few days.

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, 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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