After the storm—
Farm News staff writer
LAKE CITY – In the aftermath of last week’s ice and snow storm that ravaged western Iowa, heavy accumulations of ice caused major structural damage to countless trees.
Within hours of the disaster, tree companies from as far away as Kansas poured into Iowa to offer their services as homeowners assessed the condition of their groves, windbreaks and other trees on their property.
“If your trees have been damaged, carefully examine the extent of damage,” said James Romer, a horticulturist with Iowa State University Extension, who noted that multi-stemmed evergreens, such as junipers and arborvitae, along with weak-wooded deciduous trees like green ash and silver maple, are most susceptible to branch breakage.
“Unfortunately, assessment is a judgment call with a large gray area.”
Two questions should be addressed. First, does the condition of the tree warrant efforts to save it, or should the tree be removed? Major tree repair can be quite expensive and should only be attempted if a major portion of the tree is still intact and efforts can be made to maintain its attractiveness and value to the property.
If the whole side or top is gone, it’s questionable whether it’s worth spending the time and money to salvage the tree. Also, few trees can survive when severe splitting has occurred on the main trunk, or when an injury removes more than one-third of the bark around the trunk, Romer said.
Next, can property owners handle the damage repair themselves, or should they seek professional help from a reputable tree care service? Small limbs can be removed easily with pruning shears or a pole-lopper, provided they are within arm’s reach.
However, power equipment should never be operated from a ladder or in the tree where firm footing is questionable.
Safety is a primary concern when working with ice-damaged trees. Often, trees with extensive internal rot and decay that may not have been evident from the exterior receive severe damage during an ice storm.
In addition, ice storms create untold hazards with many weakened and broken limbs in the upper crowns of trees.
This material is a serious safety threat to workers below, and only trained and properly-equipped individuals should prune or remove damaged trees, said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“Make sure the tree service you select carries proper liability and workmen’s compensation insurance before allowing them to start the job,” he added.
When contracting repair work, both the homeowner and the tree service professional must clearly understand the work to be done and the cost involved, Romer said.
“If your area has received considerable damage, repair professionals may be heavily booked.
“It may take some time before they can get to your site, so it’s important to keep people away from potentially dangerous situations until the necessary work is completed.”
Follow proper pruning techniques
Most tree repair work involves pruning. Generally, if the branch has not split away from the trunk, the broken segment should be removed back to the next major adjacent branch. Do not leave branch stubs, because they encourage rot and decay.
When removing larger limbs, with a diameter exceeding one inch, a three-cut technique should be used to prevent the branch from tearing away and stripping the healthy bark from the trunk, Romer said.
The initial cut is made on the underside of the branch, six to 12 inches from the trunk, about one-third to one-half of the way through the limb. The second cut is made on the top of the branch, one inch further out. As the second cut is made, the weight of the branch will cause it to break at the pivot point between the two cuts. Once the branch falls, the third and final cut is made outside the branch collar.
Wound dressings are not recommended for trees, Romer said. Research shows that painted areas can lead to increased rot and decay due to trapped moisture in areas where the paint cracks open.
While cabling and bracing may be appropriate with some damaged trees if the cost involved can be justified, this method of repair does not save trees with extensive structural damage, Romer added.
Assess tree replacement options
Corrective pruning to help improve the shape of damaged trees is best done now. The tree will respond quickly this spring if it has not been severely damaged. Take care not to remove more than one-third of original branches, Wolford said, because this will severely retard the tree’s growth in the spring and may damage it beyond recovery.
If tree replacement ends up being the best alternative, select tree species and cultivars with a sturdy reputation, Romer said. Avoid Chinese and Siberian elms, poplars, silver maples, birches, willows and other species with brittle wood that are easily damaged by ice and wind storms.
While homeowners plant these fast-growing species for rapid shade, these trees normally have brittle wood and develop weak, V-shaped crotches that easily split apart under the added weight of ice.
Trees that have a better chance of withstanding Iowa’s harsh storms include black and sugar maples, and oak species including white, swamp white, burr and red. Linden trees, both American and littleleaf, thornless honey locust and ginkgo are other good choices, Romer said.
Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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