Trees and Ice | Tree Care During Cleveland Winter

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Winters in the Cleveland area can be a roll of the dice. Sometimes they are easy with many warm days and little snow. Other times, harsh blizzards pummel buildings and trees. Because of these harsh winters, it’s important to know what ice can do to your trees and how to take care of them. Working with a Hunting Valley tree company, like Vancuren Tree Service, can also help you take proper care of your trees in the winter, especially when conditions are unsafe for the average homeowner.

Ice can cause a great deal of damage to your trees. The added weight of ice can make trees and branches much more susceptible to breakage. Some trees are more susceptible to damage by ice. Some of these factors may be dead or dying branches, more surface area on side branches, broad or imbalanced crowns, and small branch size.

Dead and decaying branches are likely to break under the weight of ice because they are already weak. When it comes to lateral, or side, branches, when the surface area is increased, that means there is more space for ice to accumulate, thus increasing the probability of branches failing and breaking. Some species of broadleaf trees are more susceptible to ice damage because when grown in the open, they grow broad crowns. If the crown of a tree is imbalanced, it may also be more likely to suffer from ice damage. Trees with multiple leaders and wide branch crotches are also more susceptible to winter storms because they are spread out and structurally weak. Soft-wooded trees such as willows, poplars, birches, and ornamental pears, and elms are more susceptible because of their wood structure and natural growth and branching patterns. Their softer, weaker wood is more likely to crack and break under the weight. On the other hand, evergreen trees and shrubs can hold lots of snow and ice but they may begin to crack if overwhelmed. While all of these factors play a role in making a tree more susceptible to ice damage, these factors can vary, all depending on the time of year, geography, and the tree’s overall health.

It is important to remember that branches that grow into power lines can be a major safety hazard because ice conducts electricity. These trees may also fall into power lines, creating outages and major hazards.

There are many ways you can care for your trees to prevent them from getting hurt or becoming hazardous during icy times of year. Pruning trees starting at a young age can help them be more resistant to ice storms because you are removing structurally weak branches, as well as decreasing the surface area. This also helps trees be more resistant to strong winds. It is a good idea to prune in the late winter or early spring because this can extend pruning benefits into the next winter and reduce the likelihood of damage by storms. Even if your trees are well-pruned, if it still suffers from damage, you can use supplemental support like braces and cables. While it does hold branches in place and keeps them from breaking, know that damage to the area above the cabled part is still possible.

Calling professionals, like Vancuren Tree Service, can also be helpful because they can install cables or braces to increase the tree’s strength when ice accumulates.

There are some small actions you can take to help your trees survive harsh, icy conditions as well. For evergreen trees, if you notice the lower branches are bending under the weight of ice and snow, use something to prop them up and keep them from snapping. If they are already touching the ground though, leave them as is since it is being supported by the ground. However, if you notice that the branches are at risk of bending more, using a wooden support and gently lifting the branch can be beneficial.

Arborvitaes often bend or break because of large loads of ice. You can support them throughout the winter by tying the trunks in order to keep them upright. However, remember to remove the rope before spring so the tree does not girdle as it begins to grow again. For deciduous trees, you can use something like a board to prop lower branches. Apple, amur maple, and crabapple trees tend to be more susceptible, with branches and stems bending during ice storms. Using props can prevent this.

If you notice that branches are already breaking, proper pruning is the best thing to do. This keeps the branch from tearing bark off the trunk when it eventually does break off. This also applies to branches that have already broken off. Properly prune the stub. While this does not need to be done immediately, it should be done before the tree begins growing again in the spring. Remember to only do this with small trees where the branches can be reached from the ground. If the branches are high up and you need a ladder to reach them, call a professional to prune it safely. If you have an older or weak tree in your yard, you may be better off removing it before it is damaged by winter storms.

For small trees and shrubs, you can warp or branch tie them to reduce the likelihood of ice damage. This way, there are no exposed branches and snow can be easily brushed off.
While it may be tempting, there are a few things you should not do to take care of ice on your trees. For example, do not knock the ice and snow off trees and shrubs, especially with a broom or other object. This may break the branches and cause more damage. Also, you should not spray them with water to melt the ice as this will only result in more ice. Do not use ice-melting chemicals like liquid magnesium chloride because chemicals like this can be toxic to the plant. Salt is also bad for the plants because it can mix with melted ice and then damage roots as it soaks into the soil.

Remember that if you are inspecting damage to a tree, keep a safe distance. Ice can be unpredictable and fall without warning. You could also slip on icy surfaces. Also, you should not attempt to cut ice-covered limbs yourself. Branches may slip and slide while cutting, especially when there are vibrations from a chainsaw. If there is ice overhead, you should let it melt naturally.

Oftentimes, if branches are covered in ice or snow. You don’t have to do much. It will melt and fall off on its own. In healthy trees, the limbs are very flexible and will return to their normal positions eventually.

When it comes to taking care of your trees in the winter, much of it involves preventative care, like proper pruning. Taking these steps can help your trees survive and stay strong year after year. For the best care possible, work with a Hunting Valley tree company like Vancuren Tree Service to ensure your trees survive the winter and thrive into spring and summer.

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