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Stay safe after ice storm, leave trees alone until ice melts

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, U of M Extension, (612) 626-4077, ajsandve@umn.edu
Source: Mike Reichenbach, U of M Extension; Phil Sell, Kansas State University Extension


ST. PAUL, Minn. (4/11/2013) —A University of Minnesota Extension forester warns that in addition to falling branches - which literally can weigh thousands of pounds - fallen and sagging utility lines are a hazard that ice storms can bring. Damaged wires in or around your trees could still be energized. You should let the power company complete its repairs before any tree work begins.

After the power company has finished their work in the area, homeowners can move downed limbs that are an immediate hazard, but would do well to wait until the ice melts before dealing with damaged trees and their debris. Never use a pole pruner anywhere near utility lines. If necessary, hire a certified arborist trained in that specialty.

"Using chain saws or even simple saws while standing on icy ground underneath compromised trees could endanger your life," said Mike Reichenbach. Attempting to knock ice off the trees isn't wise, either, he said. Hanging branches could fall on you at any time.

Do not rush to make a decision about removing or pruning trees. Contact an arborist or forester to help evaluate the condition of the tree. The arborist or forester can identify trees that are hazardous, and make recommendations to eliminate the hazard. They also can provide recommendations for pruning or removal based on their knowledge of how different trees react to storm damage. Conifers that have been severely damaged may not survive, while hardwoods that have been severely damaged might recover. Different hardwoods will react differently. Aspen, birch and poplar trees that have been severely damaged may recover but because of the nature of the damage, decay organisms may colonize the wounded tissue and create a future hazard.

When pruning, avoid the temptation to top the tree. Also avoid the temptation to cut back limbs in an effort to balance or even out the tree's appearance. The discredited practice of topping can lead to more damage in the future, according to Reichenbach. After the ice melts is the best time to assess the full extent of a tree's ice storm damage.

Beyond obvious breakage, look for cracks in crimped branches that haven't broken cleanly. Check for vertical splits below branch crotches. Never declare a tree a complete loss before considering its potential for recovery. In general, a tree may not be worth salvaging if more than half of its crown is gone, its overall form is ruined or the main trunk is split.

Sometimes, however, new growth can re-establish the framework of a damaged tree. Once their ice load is gone, limber branches may return to their natural upright position.

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