Trees dealt a nasty hand by Midwest ice storm

This oak should have been cut down before the ice storm, but definitely so now.

An enormous swath of the central Great Lakes region from Michigan through Pennsylvania and Maine was stymied by an epic ice storm just a few months ago.


The 2013 Christmas ice storm wreaked havoc on trees across Michigan.
Michigan – as well as Pennsylvania, New York, Maine and Ontario – suffered an epic ice storm the Saturday night before Christmas 2013.

While we knew it was coming, only a couple of degrees make the difference between rain and ice and snow.   This storm went all ice in Michigan – cutting power to nearly 381,000 households, many for a week or longer.

It was the worst ice storm in Michigan in 10 years, and the worst-ever storm during the lead-up to Christmas.  Which unleashed its own set of issues and hasty re-arrangements.

In our neighborhood, ice began pelting the roof about 8 p.m. and continued through the night.  About 3:45 a.m., I heard the first “gunshot.”  Then another, and another.

I got out of bed briefly to turn up the heat before the furnace went out (which it did) and saw the sky turning red and bluish.  Sleepy and thinking that was an odd thunderstorm, I later learned that was electricity arcing out of ice-popped circuits.

Apparently at about that time of the early morning, the ice became more than the trees in my neighborhood could bear and dozens upon dozens of branches began snapping under the weight of the ice and a stiff wind.

Branches would continue to snap off for the next day, and temperatures dipped well below freezing.  No sun appeared to melt off the ice.

Three months later, the signs of damage are still very evident including these photos taken in late April.  Piles of cut branches are stacked street-side, and large trees will show snapped limbs for years – a reminder of just how savage nature can be.

Some tree companie

Birches, like this gorgeous river birch, particularly took it on the chin in the ice storm.

s are not taking any new clients for 2014, as the deformed trees of their existing client base will take up the rest of this year!  And many of us just got done cutting down trees killed by the ash borer.

So if you have ice-damaged trees, what should you do?

It’s always a good idea to use pruners or a sharp pruning saw to re-cut branches that are peeled, twisted or jagged.  Clean, straight cuts always heal best.

Many people like to use thick, black pruning paint to seal these wounds – but horticulturally speaking, it’s really not necessary.

Some trees, especially birches, elm and yellowwood are likely to “bleed” from these jagged wounds.  That means sap will pour out excessively during the spring sap run until later in the season when they will heal the rift.

There’s not much you can do about that.  The open flow of sap could prove attractive to insects, and consulting an arborist may prove a smart move to avoid additional damage from insects, disease or virus.

Whenever branches are over your head, and especially when a broken branches is balanced in mid-air, you should contact a professional tree trimmer.  Getting the branches down is trickier than it looks, and even a glancing blow from a falling branch – tomorrow or in 2 days or 2 weeks or 2 years – could kill you or any children playing beneath them.

When the number or placement of broken branches creates an unbalanced shape in a tree, it is probably worthwhile to fell the entire tree and plant over.  The tree may never regain its natural, symmetrical shape or may be unsound.

Also use this occasion to consider any trees around the utility wires, including young ones that haven’t yet grown up into this space but are likely to.  While we would all like to say it’s the utility company’s responsibility to trim the trees, you can save yourself a lot of grief by removing trees and branches that are likely to interfere with your power and telephone lines in the future.

For the ice storm of 2014, the landscape clean-up will probably last a couple of years.  Most of the trees will survive, but it’s up to you to decide if they should.

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