Dear FOT: The weight of the snow and ice is causing my new trees to lean and bend over. What should I do? Will my trees be OK? I wonder how many people with taller, newer trees are going to have this problem from the ice…
-Jacob in Rose City Park, Portland
As your young tree collects ice and snow, it may gain a little winter weight. (Yep, we’ve all been there.) New trees are especially vulnerable to the extra weight, as their young, flexible branches may begin to bend under the heavy load. There are a few ways you can help your tree deal with challenging winter conditions.
Reduce the weight. If the extra weight is snow build-up, consider brushing loose snow off the trees branches with something soft, like a broom. Take care not to damage the tree’s branches. Some extra weight, like frozen ice, should not be removed from the tree. In doing so you may do more harm than good by damaging the tree’s living tissues.
Support your tree. Keep an eye on your tree during ice storms. If your tree’s branch or leader is beginning to bend, simply prop it up with a board, a bucket, a ladder, or some other kind of sturdy support to keep it from bending further and potentially breaking. If the branch is already touching the ground, it can be left in place as its weight is now being supported by the ground. If a branch is at risk of bending further, place a support under the branch to keep it from bending any lower and potentially breaking. You do not want to try to bend the tree back into shape; just prop it up a little bit to support the weight.
Prune off broken branches. If a branch has already been damaged and broken from the heavy load, you’ll want to remove the rest of a damaged branch to help the tree heal. Don’t just cut randomly; make sure to cut back to the closest branch collar. (Not sure what that means? Check out this article about proper pruning.)
Your tree should return to normal position as the ice melts off. If not, consider re-staking your tree to straighten it out. Earlier this week we re-staked some newly planted broadleaf evergreens which were uprooted from the weight of the heavy ice. They’ll probably be fine, but it’s good to correct these issues as soon as possible!
–Ian Bonham is a Neighborhood Trees Specialist at Friends of Trees
Have a tree care question? Send yours into [email protected].