Groff's Plant Farm Images

Storm Damage

Published: Wed Feb 12th 2014

My love affair with the large oak trees in my yard continues to grow. After the ice storm a quick survey of my yard netted five small limbs. One came off a large maple, two from wild cherries edging the yard, a birch sapling that broke at ground level and a sassafras sapling that broke off about ten feet from the ground.

All trees are not created equal.I didn't have to drive and look very much to see that willows, birch, cherries, poplar and white pines took the brunt of the punishment.Unlike my oaks, all are fast growing. That is the dilemma when landscaping. If you want it fast growing it is usually a weaker tree. If I were to plant an oak, hoping to replicate what I have in my yard, I would be doing it for a future generation.

Many people have damage, so what should you do? My guess is that in a season or so you will be surprised at the results if you just remove the broken limbs and prune the unbroken limbs to even out the appearance of the tree. Commercial arborists regularly give trees rather severe haircuts with no ill effects.

However, if the breakage continues severely into the central leader, the tree is probably lost. At the farm, about ten years ago I had planted nine river birch. Last summer one with a dual leader split during a windy thunderstorm. The ice storm took the other half while the other eight leaned severely and shed small branches until the ice receded but suffered little serious damage.

One caution.If you don't know which end of a chain saw to hold, hire somebody to do the work. Even if you think you know what you are doing, be careful; tree work is dangerous.The important lesson to learn from this storm is that many trees will form dual central stems or at least produce branches at narrow angles to the trunk. If you see this, prune now. I planted a good maple cultivar at my son’s new house two springs ago.

Last summer I procrastinated about what to do about its tight branching habit.This spring it will be pruned. It will look terrible when I'm done. However, in a few years he will have a tree that looks great and will shrug off events like the last storm.

As further reinforcement, on a recent walk I passed a white oak planted most likely by a forgetful squirrel some ten or twenty years ago.I have long admired this fencerow specimen and was shocked to find it split down the middle. What I hadn't seen was the double leader that started about ten feet off the ground.The storm created a mess. A few trees are lost, but most can be saved. More importantly, it brought into focus a landscape principle that is too often ignored. Tight branches or double leaders are an invitation for future problems.