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How to prune ice damaged trees

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By Dennis Morgeson

The ice storm of 2009 will go down as one of the worst, if not the worst on record. With that said, soon if not already, electricity will be restored, water will be restored, clean-up will begin, and we will go about our lives as if nothing happened. However, there is still a nagging long term problem, trees! The scars from this storm are going to be troubling us for years. We will be cutting down and pruning up trees of all sizes and ages. This is only going to cause problems down the road.

As you assess the damage and the clean-up, keep in mind that topping is bad! The first trees that sustained damage had been topped for at least two years. Secondly, when cutting branches from trees, take it back to the trunk and don’t make cuts flush. You need to keep that crinkled area known as the branch collar intact to speed the healing process over the wound.

And lastly, if at all possible, hire a person that has been certified by the International Society of Arboriculture  (ISA) to assess and prune your trees. These people are few and far between and are going to be in high demand. So, just remember no topping, take branches that are badly broken back to the trunk and make good cuts leaving the branch collar to heal.

There are some legal issues to keep in mind when hiring someone to clean up you property. Insist that they have insurance against damages to your property and insist that the company or people doing the work on your property have workman’s compensation insurance.

Generally as a private contractor, you can be sued if someone gets hurt on your property that is working for you. Your homeowners insurance may or may not cover you and you may or may not have enough coverage. I would check with my insurance company also before allowing someone to work on my property. Or, like me, you can do the work yourself.

If you are going to prune your damaged trees yourself, keep the following in mind:

1. Make a partial cut from the bottom of the branch about one foot from the swollen ridge where the branch joins a larger branch or trunk.

2. Make a second cut from the top of the branch outside the first cut. This cut will sever the branch. The first cut will prevent the bark from peeling or splitting into the remaining tree.

3. Make the final cut just outside the swollen ridge or branch collar at the point of attachment. Make sure to leave this collar intact as it is important to the health of the wound.

One thing is for sure, almost every species of tree suffered damage during this ice storm but one has been almost universally destroyed. You guessed it, Bradford Pear! I have always had an uneasy feeling about these beautiful spring trees especially when we have high winds, but the ice has completely obliterated them.

As you might know, I won’t be recommending them to anyone, similar to Japanese Maples from the April freeze a couple years ago. So, as far as I am concerned those are two of our more popular landscape trees that are now on my no plant list!

 If you would like information on pruning call me at the Washington County Extension Office at (859) 336-7741. Also, if your trees are very bad, the best thing for you and the tree is to cut it to the ground and plant a new one. Remember topping is bad! 

If you would like some advice on what to do with a tree call me. I will be doing home visits in Washington County but it may take a while to get to you. If the trees aren’t causing immediate hazard to life and property, you have a month or two to decide what to do. Stay Warm.