Storm Damage to Trees_ Common Problems and Solutions

Storm Damage to Trees: Common Problems and Solutions

In 2019, the Bomb Cyclone followed by the May 20th late heavy snowstorm after temperatures were warming up did a number on trees. Part of this damage was caused by heavy winds and heavy, wet snow, but another reason why we are seeing tree damage is because of the hard freeze that occurred after the snowstorms, when many trees had already begun to awaken from their winter slumber.

This caused a lot of the die-back we currently see, as trees that were already beginning to bud lost their leaves.  Young trees, or those with any damage or health issues, may have been left with too little energy to re-leaf. Our arborists have compiled information to aid you, and your trees in recovering from this and future storms.

As with any extreme temperature fluctuation, the damage to trees isn’t always short term. Severe weather events like these can cause problems in trees for years to come and may even result in tree loss. Be sure to inspect your trees for weather damage, and keep your eye out for the following:

  • Dead leaves and flower buds hanging on branches all summer
  • Insects and Diseases
  • Damage to Branches & Pruning
  • Blackened Leaves
  • Frost Cracks
  • Salt Damage

This type of damage from fluctuating temperatures can happen in late spring and early fall from severe freezes.

Anytime damage occurs to your trees, they have to expend more energy to encourage new growth and healing. These energy expenses can cause trees to become stressed. Deep-root fertilization is a good option to reduce stress and nurse your tree back to health. This is done during early Spring before sap flow to ensure that nutrients are in place to be taken up by roots and sent to new leaves.

Preventing Damage to Your Trees

No matter how prepared you are, a late or early snowstorm can strike and cause damage to your tree, but mitigating that damage is possible.

Proper Pruning Provides Preventative Care for Trees

It can help lessen the chances of limbs breaking, improve tree health and vigor, and reduce the weight on tree branches where necessary.

Proper Pruning Provides Preventative Care for Trees

Protect by Mulching

In the case where temperatures drop to extreme lows and begin to freeze the ground, having mulch placed over the root system of your tree can help prevent freeze damage to the roots, which can often be extremely damaging.

Winter watering also helps your trees to stay healthy in winter so they are more resilient to damage.

Reducing Initial Damage

After a heavy snowstorm, wait until it is safe to remove snow from branches. Be aware of the risk of a branch snapping above you. Carefully remove snow from branches before the snow has a chance to turn into ice which is harder to remove. Note: Do not shake the branches as this can actually cause snapping and do more harm than good.

remove snow from branches

Insects and Diseases

Because of the large amount of limb breakage and open wounds in trees, you should expect an increased possibility of bark beetles and boring insects, diseases, and tree health problems. Stressed trees are less resilient and can even attract insects that are harmful.

Large scale storm damage makes certain trees more prone to bark beetles and borers. These trees will need to be properly pruned and have a preventative spray applied to them to reduce the risk of getting attacked. Typically, with damaging snowstorms, damaged and stressed trees will attract insects and actually cause a population increase in that general area. This is why preventative care after storms is so important.

Damage to Branches & Pruning

Damage to tree branches from snowstorms can range in severity. When your tree is storm damaged, repairing stub and branch tears is critical to reducing the risk of disease and decay. Proper pruning (cutting away dead or injured limbs) can mitigate the damage.

severe tree damage from snow storm

Pruning also works as a preventative treatment to minimize that damage your tree suffers from future storms. It can also help to reduce heavy lateral weight and reshape the tree to be symmetrical.

When a heavy snowstorm occurs, damage to smaller branches is typically less severe but pruning may still be necessary to reduce the chances of disease. Tree recovery from damage to larger limbs is more difficult and requires special care and precautions. In these cases, we recommend you call a certified arborist to take care of your tree and reduce the chances of disease and tree loss.

Blackened Leaves

The leaves on your tree may appear blackened from a freeze event that occurs after a snowstorm. In many cases, the damaged foliage will slough off and be replaced by new growth if given time.

blackened leaves from freeze

Frost Cracks

Frost cracks are caused by sudden drops in temperature.  The inner layer of wood contracts more slowly than the outer layer because of the quick temperature extremes. This can cause a crack in the tree’s trunk. This exposed tree tissue should be treated to prevent diseases and insects from causing damage. Over time, the crack will callous over and heal, but this could take several years.

All frost cracks occur on the south or southwest side of trees.

tree frost crack

Frost cracks can cause long term damage to trees, but there are preventative measures you can take. Wrap your trees in October to insulate the trucks and to reduce the chance of frost cracks.

Timberline wraps trees with a thick crepe paper type material. Wrap from the base of the tree to the first branch while keeping the material tight and overlapping. This ensures that the wrap stays in place and insulates the tree well.

Salt Damage

Tree roots can also be damaged from the salts that are used to control ice during winter. To tell if your tree is suffering from salt damage, look for a bare area in the grass around the trunk of your tree if it is planted in a lawn. Branch die-back could also be a sign of salt damage.

Depending on the level of salt damage, flushing salts from the soil with water could help the tree to recover. In moderate cases, you’ll need the help of a certified arborist or horticulturist to minimize the damage and bring your tree back to health. When salt damage is severe, the tree is typically not recoverable.

salt damage to tree

Try to not use salts anywhere near the soil around your trees to prevent salt damage. Spruce, fir, pine, and other evergreen trees are especially affected by salt damage.

Late winter storms can be damaging to trees because they are just beginning to enter into their growing season and out of dormancy. Although late and early weather events are unpreventable, there are some things you can do to make sure your tree has a good chance of surviving. Proper pruning and watering are the best ways to prepare your tree for stressful events. Always avoid placing salts near your trees as well. Injured trees can attract insects and disease, so react quickly to help your tree get back to health.

If you have a tree that needs some help, call us at (719)638-1000. Our Certified Arborists specialize in tree health care and can help you get your tree happy and healthy.