A few people have asked me my thoughts about the recent damage to trees from the ice storm. A few comments follow.

Remember that, in a forest, trees get pruned naturally. Competition for light, physical contact between closely packed trees, and the physical forces of nature (weight of snow, ice storms, wind against diseased limbs) will cause lower branches to drop resulting in a tall, straight trunk which is desirable. Trees weakened by disease within the trunk are also eliminated due to such environmental stresses of nature. (Take a look inside the exposed trunks of older trees which snapped as a result of our recent storm—you will see several with “heart rot”: the inner portions are soft and rotted.) The worst ice storm damage involves trees where the main trunk leader snapped off. The tree will survive, but side branches will begin to fill in and a main leader may not develop. This can lead to an unattractive form and a less than strong structure. There is really not much you can do about this. You can try to prune it, but may want to remove the tree instead.

If you have a lot of damage, get an arborist in to assess your trees and shrubs. You might as well let that individual handle the pruning and perhaps even prune/thin some of your undamaged trees at the same time. Beware of non-professionals driving along in their pick-ups in your subdivision asking everyone they see if they want their trees cleaned up.

If you want to “do your own thing”, read previous nature notes (last year and this year) on pruning to help guide you. They are archived on the biology web site. In the case where side branches have snapped, saw them off as close to the trunk or connecting larger limb as possible. In the case where a main trunk has snapped and you think you can handle it safely yourself, you will have to use your best judgment. The tree will heal, but the form you are left with is what you need to look after.

Read the information in the article by Heather Harris on the front page of the Georgetown News-Graphic (March 2, 2003). The advice given by our county extension agent, Mark Reese, is excellent. The accompanying “tips” section is also good.