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‘Tis the Season to Watch for Falling Tree Limbs

There’s no question about it: a winter wonderland can truly be a delightful sight: A fresh, pristine snowfall sparkling in the winter sunlight. Jauntily snow-capped trees bejeweled with dangling-diamond icicles. It all combines to create a breathtakingly beautiful vista.


But a danger underlies all of that wintry beauty, because the burden of snow and ice that can weigh down trees is enormous.

And every winter, without fail, many trees that are groaning under the strain of the immense weight they are bearing suddenly succumb, and with a crack and a crash a massive limb plunges to the ground. Sometimes even an entire tree is pulled down by the ice, like a massive moose taken down by a wolf pack.

When you’re sitting snug and warm in your cozy home, and you hear that ominous CRACK, you cringe. Because you know that as that limb falls, it may plunge you into darkness. Or shatter a windowpane with dagger-like branch tips. Or worse.

3 Tips for Reducing Wintertime Tree Damage

Fortunately, before Jack Frost moves in for the season, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the amount of winter-related damage your trees suffer. Here are 3 strategies for pre-winter prep that can help to minimize the damage:

  • Select Your Trees with Care. The first tip for reducing winter damage may occur 1 year, 5 years, 10 years or more before that killer ice storm strikes. And that involves choosing trees for your landscape that simply aren’t as vulnerable to breaking under the burden of ice.

Fast growing species are often popular for lawns and landscapes because they can provide lots of shade without a decades-long wait. But fast-growing trees also tend to be weak, brittle-limbed trees, and are far more likely to collapse under a load of snow and ice.

Some of the trees that are popular with homeowners but prone to winter damage include:

  • Chinese Elm
  • Silver Maple
  • Poplar
  • Hackberry
  • Boxelder
  • Mimosa
  • Eastern Cottonwood
  • Birch
  • Willow
  • Elms

You can also help to head-off future problems by selecting species that do not hold on to their leaves long into the late fall and early winter. A tree that still has lots of leaves when an ice storm hits offers thousands of square feet of extra surface for ice and snow to cling to. And the tree must bear all of that extra weight – if it can.

  • Prune Annually. Begin pruning your trees every year, starting when they are young, if possible. Limbs that are dead should obviously be pruned away. But also look for limbs that are weakened in some way, such as through areas of decay or structural defects.

As young trees grow, you want to train them to have one dominant, central trunk. Allowing a split, or crotch, to form between two trunks (also called leaders) creates a weak spot that is more susceptible to splitting. Ideally, you want branches coming off the main trunk roughly every 12 to 18 inches.

For larger, more mature trees, it’s probably best to have an arborist evaluate and prune any weakened areas that may be prone to breakage.

  • Reinforce. For smaller trees that have developed multiple leaders, you can help them to bear their icy burdens by adding reinforcing wrappings. Use a strong material such as strips of carpeting scraps, and intertwine among the leaders about 2/3 of the way above the crotch. That way, each of the leaders will be helping to support the others. Be sure to remove the wrappings before spring so that they don’t damage or impede new growth.

For larger trees, wire cabling or forms of bracing can be used to provide reinforcing strength, but it’s best to hire a trained arborist for that job.

You’ll Probably Still Cringe…

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to eliminate all risk of ice breakage from your lawn or landscape. But anything you can do to reduce the risk will help. And putting the tips above into practice can significantly reduce the risk you’ll experience when Mother Nature unleashes her icy fury.

You’ll probably still cringe when you hear that loud CRACK on an icy, wintry day. But it’ll be less likely that it will be one of your trees that’s breaking – not that that will be much comfort if a neighbor’s limb falls on your power line!

This entry was posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013 at 4:08 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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