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How to Manage Ice-Covered Trees and Shrubs in Rochester, New York

How to Manage Ice-Covered Trees and Shrubs in Rochester, New York

Winters in Rochester, New York, can bring a mix of dry spells, snowstorms, and the occasional freezing rain or ice storm that leaves trees coated in ice, power lines down, and shrubs flattened. Knowing the dos and don’ts when dealing with ice-covered trees can mean the difference between healthy or dying trees come springtime.

The Dangers of Ice-Covered Trees

Ice can be one of the most perilous winter hazards, not only because it makes driving treacherous but also because it can cause significant damage to trees and shrubs.

When ice accumulates on tree branches, the added weight may lead to branch breakage and falling, potentially causing damage to anything (or anyone) below. Multi-stemmed trees, trees with narrow branch crotches (like Bradford pears), and evergreen shrubs (such as arborvitae) can also be weighed down by ice, causing them to split or splay outward.

Before approaching an ice-covered tree, check for these potential dangers:

  • Is the ice-covered tree near or touching power lines? If so, contact your utility company before going near it. You could be electrocuted even without touching the tree.
  • Are any branches broken or hanging from the tree? Look carefully, as it can be hard to tell if an ice-covered branch has already broken or is just bent under the ice’s weight. Sometimes a bent branch will recover as the ice melts, but it may also snap unexpectedly. Avoid walking beneath broken branches, as they can fall without warning.

Pro Tip: Don’t attempt to cut a tree that’s blocking a roadway, walkway, or driveway using a chainsaw. Ice makes using power tools extremely hazardous due to the slick surface, and ice contacting power tools can become a projectile and cause injury. It’s wiser to call in a professional to remove the tree or branches.

Immediate Actions to Take for Ice-Covered Trees

Once you’ve assessed the danger and determined there’s no safety risk, there are a few things you can safely do for ice-covered trees.

In general, it’s best to wait until the ice has melted. While it may be tempting to go outside and “help” your trees, they’ll usually be fine without assistance.

For smaller trees and shrubs, carefully prune broken branches and pick up any fallen debris. Avoid walking under ice-covered trees or structures unless wearing head protection (like a hard hat), as ice can break off and fall at any time.

What NOT to Do with Ice-Covered Trees and Shrubs

You might think that removing the ice will benefit your tree or shrub, but that’s not necessarily true. Avoid shaking the tree or shrub or hitting it with objects (like a broom or rake), as this can cause further damage and lead to ice, snow, or branches breaking and falling.

Additionally, do not spray trees or shrubs with water in an attempt to melt the ice, as the added water will eventually freeze and worsen the problem.

Lastly, refrain from using any ice melt or salt on or around plants, as this can kill them. Salt damage can cause plants near treated roads or walkways to turn brown or die.

Waiting for Recovery

In many cases, waiting for the ice to melt is the best course of action. Most trees and shrubs will recover from ice-induced stress and should return to normal by spring. However, if they haven’t recovered by spring, consider requesting a consultation with a professional arborist.

Professional corrective pruning may be needed if the bark has been torn or if a fallen branch left behind a jagged stub. Contact Tree Service Rochester NY for the best time to have this done (usually, corrective pruning is done before spring bud break).

If more than 50% of the tree is damaged and requires extensive pruning, it may be better to remove the tree altogether. Excessive pruning, especially topping the tree, restricts its ability to produce energy through photosynthesis, leaving it weaker and more susceptible to pests and diseases, as well as disfigured.

For damaged shrubs, some species can be cut to the ground in spring (known as rejuvenation pruning). However, this method is not suitable for all types, so research your specific shrub before attempting this. For shrubs with extensive damage that cannot tolerate rejuvenation pruning, you may want to consider a replacement.

Trees and Shrubs Most Vulnerable to Ice Damage

While all plants can suffer from winter damage, some are more susceptible than others. Fast-growing trees tend to have softer wood, making trees like elms, birches, poplars, and willows more prone to damage from snow or ice’s extra weight.

Fruit trees may also require extra care during icy conditions.

Evergreen shrubs can split after a heavy snow or ice storm, and some may lean due to the weight.

If an ice storm hits early in winter or late in fall, deciduous trees may still have their leaves. Ice-coated leaves are heavy and brittle, causing extra strain and damage to the trees. If these trees survive, they will need extra care to recover.

Preventative Measures for Ice Damage

Prevention is key when it comes to ice damage. Although you can’t prevent all ice-related damage, ensuring that your trees and shrubs are healthy and well-maintained can make a significant difference.

Before winter arrives, have your trees professionally inspected and address any issues that may be found. Specific things to look out for include:

  • Multi-stemmed trees or trees with more than one main stem (prone to splitting under heavy snow or ice load)
  • Broken or dead branches likely to fall when ice-covered
  • Split trunks
  • Narrow branch crotches

Some of the issues above can be addressed with corrective pruning, while others, like multi-stemmed trunks, may require cabling to maintain the tree’s integrity.

To prevent ice damage to your shrubs (especially evergreens like arborvitae), wrap them in burlap or another protective fabric. Remove the fabric in spring, or the shrubs may die when temperatures rise.

In conclusion, dealing with ice-covered trees and shrubs in Rochester, New York, requires a combination of careful assessment, patience, and preventative measures. Keep your trees and shrubs healthy and well-maintained to minimize ice-related damage and ensure their continued growth and vitality. And when in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact a professional arborist like Tree Services in Rochester, NY for expert advice and assistance.

Also read, what to do with flooded trees.

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