WICHE: Ice-laden branches need attention

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Be careful and be smart about dealing with damaged trees.

By Jeneen Wiche

The 2009 January ice storm knocked down limbs, electricity and phone service across Kentucky. The damage to trees was astounding, to say the least.

Last week’s icy “situation” brought back the memory of those dread-filled days as we slowly tackled the clean-up effort at the farm. This year’s ice is not nearly as bad as 2009, but it sure left a mess in its wake. If you are among those with heavy damage assess the situation with an eye towards safety, first, and foremost.

There is no need to rush arborists. Let them take care of the emergency jobs first. A tree with a couple of broken branches can wait as can one that needs to be taken down.

The dangerous stuff should be priority. And, as sad as I am about the apparent losses, I do realize that there is opportunity here. We can avoid repeating site and selection mistakes and replace trees with improved varieties (but no tree is perfect every season of the year, under any circumstance).

The majority of the trees here at the farm that were damaged either had some preexisting conditions or a certain profile that made them more vulnerable to a heavy ice load.

The eastern white pine, with its soft wood, long needles and shallow roots, made it susceptible to breakage and, in one case, being uprooted. There is so much surface area for ice to accumulate on white pines that the volume of ice weight is a heavy burden.

Other evergreens around town and at the farm seem to be managing just fine: species of spruce (Oriental, Serbian and Norway), fir (Nordmann and white) and the Bosnian pine have shorter needles, so less surface for ice accumulation.

Of course it is not surprising that trees that are multibranched are more susceptible to damage, but the lacebark elm takes the cake. We lost a big one in 2009. and the remaining of the pair got hit pretty hard this time around.

I love these trees, but their open, multibranched canopies make them susceptible to failure under a heavy ice load.

Other trees that need work include old “farm” trees. These old hackberries have forked trunks, with included bark that results in a weak point. They also have old wounds that housed some decay. These trees failed at these exact points under the ice load.

As usual, the black gum, sweet gum, bald cypress, gingko and most oak species held up well to the ice. Basically species that have strong main leaders manage to hold up to the ice. It is not necessarily a matter of hardwood verses softwood. It is multi-branched verses single main leader.

Some trees are bent to the ground but have no signs of breakage. The river birch is extraordinary at this. Do not try to “help” by propping it up while it is still covered in ice. We would be the ones doing the damage in this case. Let everything thaw out naturally and proceed accordingly.

Back to the issue of safety. Certified arborists can help determine if your trees are safe. Properly pruned trees can help to offset some problems and clean up others. Be mindful of any damage that could continue to be a hazard to a pedestrian, farm animal or structure, and make these clean-up chores priorities.

You are responsible for what is on your property, from the trunk to the parts that may have fallen on your side of the fence (even if its origins are from another).

In the case of tree damage during storms ,where it lands is where the responsibility lies.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.