In northern areas, when cold fronts sweep down from the Arctic on the heals of a warm spell, the result is often a rain storm during the day followed by hard freezing temperatures for several days. When this happens, ice may form on the branches of trees adding significant weight load.

Of course, this leads to branches bending down and many of them breaking off under the stress. What happens then?

Broken - Well, if the branch is clearly broken, it will need to be cut off. Depending on where the break occurs, this could mean just cutting back to the next main trunk. If it is the main trunk that has broken, the entire tree may need to be cut to the ground.

Either way, you need to look at the area to be cut and try to picture what it will look like a few years down the road. Leaving a small stub or stump after the cut may just result in some weak side shoots growing which will never amount to strong growth.

Cracked - The second thing to consider is branches that have only "cracked" but have not broken off completely. In some cases, these will need to be cut off because they have sustained enough damage that they will never recover.

In a rare instance, such a partially cracked branch might be lifted back into place with some type of support. Of course, this may have to stay in place for a season or two until new wood grows to provide proper support.

Remember that plants do not "heal" like animals do when they simply replace damaged cells and tissue. Plants only continue to grow and do not replace the damaged parts. So, they either have the ability to grow new tissue that can support the plant but the broken part will always be there until the plant dies.

Bent - The final case is when the branch is young and flexible so that it just bends over but does not appear to be damaged upon visual inspection.

These bent branches may simply straighten up over time and might look perfectly fine by mid-summer. Birch (Betula) trees seem to fall into this category often in ice storms. Branches on many maple (Acer) trees will also bend significantly and then bounce back to their original location.

They key here is that often these tree trunks or branches "appear" to be undamaged. In reality, their bark may have been split when they were bent over. This might allow the entry of fungal spores in the spring that will cause open wounds called cankers to form. Of course, these will not show up until perhaps a year or even two after the ice storm so people may not relate the two events. Unfortunately, there is nothing the gardener can do about this but accept it.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

 

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