Tree Damage Assessment After the Ice Storm

As I write, the roads are slick with ice and tree crews are out clearing broken limbs from the road.  This week feels a little bit like a flashback to Winter Storm Uri, at least as far as ice and tree damage.  Before you lose all hope for your trees, let me give a few tips and some encouragement to be patient.

The good news about this winter storm is that the temperatures did not get much below freezing.  We did not break any historic records for low temperatures, so most of our plants should survive the storm well.  The only plants that might not make it are plants that are not native or adapted to our region.  A tropical plant that was left out in this weather might be injured or dead.

The main concern from this winter storm is broken branches due to the ice.  A walk through my neighborhood shows quite a few trees that lost limbs.  If your trees lost branches, do some inspection and think through these questions to help you determine what needs to be done.

Did you lose major branches or the main leader branch?  If many major branches are gone, the tree might not recover.  Generally, a tree that loses more than 50% of the canopy will have a hard time recovering because it cannot produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another season.  If the tree lost the leader branch, the main upward growing branch on most trees, it could survive but might be deformed or stunted.  Saving a tree that lost the leader branch is a personal judgement call.

If a tree lost some branches but has enough remaining limbs to form a new branch structure, the new growth should be vigorous and able to support the tree.  Be sure to provide plenty of water through the summer to support the new growth.

As you look through your trees that can be saved, consider the location of existing trees.  Do you have potentially tall trees that are under power lines or hanging over buildings?  If these trees had serious damage, consider removing them to prevent future problems.

If you have healthy trees with only minor damage, keep them!  A healthy, mature tree can survive the loss of a major branch.  Prune it back to the trunk with a clean cut and remember not to cut into the branch collar.  Young, healthy trees can survive more damage if the leader branch remains intact.  Prune off any damaged branches and maintain the tree to keep it healthy.

Healthy trees that have sustained more damage might be in the “wait and see” category.  Prune off any broken branches but try not to prune too heavily.  The tree will need remaining foliage to make energy as it tries to recover through the next season.  A certified arborist can help you determine which branches might need to be removed.

Unfortunately, some trees might not be salvageable.  If a tree lost more than 50% of its canopy or has a split trunk, it should be removed.  If you are unsure, contact an arborist who is certified in Tree Risk Assessment.  They can determine if a tree or limbs need to be removed for the safety of building structures and people underneath it.

After Winter Storm Uri in 2021, many trees survived but are noticeably weaker and show significant signs of stress.  I anticipate that the drought over the summer, the quick, hard freeze in December, and this ice storm might be enough added stress that we lose those trees.  Keep an eye on weak trees this spring to see how they leaf out and consider contacting an arborist to determine if the tree is in good enough condition to keep.

To find a certified arborist in your area, visit the Texas Chapter of the International Society of Arborists:

For more information about trees or other lawn and garden topics, contact County Extension Horticulturist Kate Whitney-Hajda at the Williamson County AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.

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