by Bill Eck
ISA Certified Arborist MA-4657A
That tree didn’t just grow a perfectly shaped crown, but whenever a limb grew out of profile, it was broken off by wind, ice, or snow. Evergreen trees are often thought to have a nice taper from bottom to top and every child can draw a Christmas tree or a Holly. These trees don’t always grow with a perfect taper, but if any limbs grow out of profile, they are usually lost to storm damage and the conical outline is restored. It has been taking place in nature of eons, but is not always acceptable in the landscape. The long limb in your Oak or Maple that extends beyond the outline of the tree will eventually break off and the profile will be restored; in the forest this is acceptable, but if the limb is over the sidewalk or over the roof it is unacceptable. The overextended limb in the Southern Magnolia will break off leaving a large hole in the crown; it would eventually fill in, but in landscape and ornamental plants it is undesirable. We have had more than our share of storm damage to trees in the last couple of years with the “Snowmagedon”, Hurricane Irene, the “Carpocalypse”, and more recently the Derecho. Each of these storms brought their own brand of damage with different weaknesses in local trees being exposed in each. In a reactionary way, many trees have been pruned in a manner to limit wind damage after wind storms and to reduce the risk of snow damage after the major snow storms. A more proactive approach is certainly desirable. While managing the risk of snow and wind damage is still of great importance, it is equally important to have your tree inspected for conditions that may predispose your trees to failure under ice loads. Throughout history there have been storms that involved significant ice accumulation in this area several times a decade, but the last major ice storm in the DC area was January 14-15, 1998. Much of the damage at that time was a result of structural issues (mostly poor branch unions and dual leaders), poorly shaped evergreens, and ivy accumulation on the stems and branches of the trees.
Simple solutions can make a big difference. For example, pruning can lessen branch weight and wind resistance. Removal of ivy can reduce the potential surface area for ice and snow accumulations. Shaping evergreens can allow for more even snow and ice weight distribution. Installation of structural supports including cables and brace rods can also be effective in limiting branch movement and protecting trees with multiple leaders.
If you haven’t had your tree inspected by a qualified arborist recently, you should make it a priority this fall. Inspections are generally free and it could make a big difference in the safety, health and beauty of your landscape.
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