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Winter Damage to Trees Q&A

Woody Plants Need Attention Q&A

Question: I had 6 inches of wet snow. Now I have broken limbs on trees, and my shrubs are bent to the ground. What can I do?

Sometimes we have heavy wet snow in late fall, which damages trees that are late to lose their leaves, such as Bradford pears. But this much wet snow in late April is another freak weather event that will make the record books!

On the bright side, it didn't get very cold, and it should be warming up and melting off relatively rapidly. It's usually best to let the snow melt off. Trying to sweep it off can cause more damage to brittle limbs. An occasional conifer (with multiple trunks or branches prone to splitting apart) may benefit by using a broom to lift branches from underneath while shaking the snow off.

Many multi-stemmed deciduous shrubs will spring back on their own. Broken branches can be removed at the base, and new branches will emerge. At Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, we have a factsheet on rejuvenating shrubs.

Small trees varied in the amount of damage. Some natives had not leafed out yet, and so experienced no damage. Other trees lost major limbs. Good pruning can help prevent further damage by insects or diseases that enter the wounds. Flush pruning is no longer recommended because it creates a larger wound and removes the "branch collar", a special area of cells that will grow to cover over the wound. The "branch collar" is often quite obvious as a circle of enlarged bark near the base of the branch. The pruning cut should be immediately to the outside of the "branch collar." For factsheets on pruning, please contact Tompkins CCE at 272-2292.

Then there is the occasional disastrous tree that splits apart in the middle. There may be no way to save it. Look upon this as an opportunity to replace that tree with a more rugged species with better branch structure. Occasionally, the tree may have suckers (sprouts from the bottom of the trunk where it attaches to the roots). If the tree is NOT grafted, a strong sucker can be selected as a replacement. However, if the tree is grafted, the suckers will be emerging from the rootstock, and they will not be the same as the scion that was grafted onto the rootstock.

Large trees may have large broken limbs, and these should be pruned by a professional. Look in the Yellow Pages under Tree Service, for arborist listings. Always inquire about full insurance coverage and membership in professional arborist groups. Consider getting estimates from a couple of arborists. If badly damaged trees are ash, plan on just removing them. The Emerald Ash Borer will eventually arrive, so paying to prune large ash trees would usually not make financial sense at this point.