Preparing for Winter Weather

by Ann Barnes

Once again, forecasts of ice and snow have Triangle residents nervous. Once we’ve purchased all the bread and milk in our stores, perhaps we should take a few minutes to prepare our homes and landscapes for the weather.

First, make sure you are prepared for a weather-related emergency. Fill containers or purchase bottled water and make sure you have plenty of non-perishable food that can be eaten without requiring cooking. Locate a manual can opener and flashlights in case the power goes out. Once severe weather arrives, stay off the roads if conditions aren’t favorable for driving.

For more Winter Weather Preparedness tips, follow this link.

Once you are prepared for a few days indoors, you may want to take a look at your landscape. Some plants are more susceptible to breakage when weighted down by ice or snow than others, but a little preparation can help to protect them.

Tall, narrow trees, such as sky pencil holly, arborvitae, and Leyland cypress are prone to damage by winter precipitation. Branches may break or become permanently bent over during a storm. If your narrow conifers aren’t too tall to reach, you can wrap your trees with rope or strips of cloth (even those old pantyhose would work). Smaller trees can be wrapped together (see the first tree below), while tying branches of trees together 2/3 of the way up will help to protect your larger trees (second tree, below). Remember to remove the ties once ice and snow melt.

Graphic: extension.umn.edu
Two ways to protect trees from winter precipitation damage. Image: extension.umn.edu

Trees with dead or damaged branches or those with narrow branch angles (such as Bradford pears) are also more likely to suffer damage when weighted down with ice and snow. Unless you have an arborist on speed dial, there is probably little that can be done to prepare these trees for tomorrow’s storm, but future pruning may be beneficial.

More preparation and pruning tips are covered here and here.

Stay warm! I’m off to wrap my beloved sky pencil holly.

Ice, ice, baby…

Hopefully, last night’s freezing rain caused little or no damage to your landscapes. Many of us can remember past ice storms and the toll they took on our trees and shrubs – and maybe even nearby power lines, buildings, or vehicles.

Ice can add a great deal of weight to a branch. This puts a great deal of stress on the branch and may cause it to break. Plants with narrow crotch angles (such as Bradford Pears) are less able to withstand the stress and weight of a heavy ice coating. Fast growing tree varieties often suffer broken branches during ice storms as well, as many tend to have weak or brittle wood. Multi-stemmed evergreen trees and shrubs are also prone to damage from ice cover.

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The branch on the left has a narrow crotch angle. It is likely to be more susceptible to ice damage than the branch on the right (image: extension.missouri.edu)

While it would be nearly impossible to protect every tree from ice damage, properly pruning damaged, crossed branches or large limbs that overhang (and could fall on) buildings before the next freezing rain forecast could lessen winter’s toll. For more information on pruning, see: http://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%209.PDF. Large pruning jobs are often best left to a professional.

Multi-stemmed evergreens can be protected from ice damage by tying them with twine or cloth strips, loosely wrapping the plant from the base to about 3/4 of the way up. Remove the twine or cloth when the ice melts or before new growth appears in spring. (Clemson).

If your plants are covered in ice, let the ice melt on its own. Attempts to remove ice from branches are more likely to cause breakage than to help. Once the ice has melted, assess the damage and begin cleanup. This article Dealing with Ice Damaged Trees offers excellent advice for storm cleanup

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-Ann Barnes