The recent record-breaking snow storm caught us of guard. If you have lived in the Midwest you should know that storms and sudden changes in the weather can happen anytime and any season. What made this storm different from other snow fall is that it was early, wet, heavy and deep. This combination caused unfortunate damage to trees, especially conifers.
The damage at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum was heartbreaking. We had damage to many unusual conifer trees. The damage hit large and small alike. I received numerous calls from concerned homeowners about damage to all kinds of trees.
The damage has been done so now what do we do? Here are a few things to remember when heavy snows hits again.
Deciduous trees that have dropped their leaves are not as hard hit since large amounts of snow do not collect on bare branches. Trees like Pin Oak, which keep their leaves until spring, may collect wet snow, causing the limbs to hang low. If there is no cracking of broken limbs these trees will slowly bounce back to normal for the next growing season.
Conifers or evergreens are another story. The wet needles collected the first heavy snow that fell, creating a perfect platform for the rest of the snow to pile up. As the weight increased, the branches began to bend from the excessive weight. During the storm you could have gone out and shaken or pushed the branches upward to knock the snow off. Brooms or plastic snow shovels can be used to reach higher branches. The higher limbs are on their own, unfortunately. Do not pull branches down to remove snow. This adds more stress and can cause limbs to break.
The wood fibers of the branches and limbs will stretch and bend if the snow load occurs slowly. These fibers will pull back as the snow melts and the weigh comes off. Limbs of arborvitae could be seen touching the ground. In extreme cases these limbs may need a little help straightening back up. This can be done in the spring when the wood fibers are warmer and easier to help back to their normal position. On a warm spring day use a soft rope and slowly pull the branches or trunks upright. For thicker branches, limbs or trunks you may need to tighten the rope over a few days or a week to give the fibers time to reposition back to normal.
Branches that are cracked or broken will need to be removed. This can also be done in the spring when the weather is more favorable. Branches that pose a danger will need to be taken care of as soon as possible. The final and last option would be to remove any severely damaged or deformed trees. Conifer branches that have fallen out of trees can be used for holiday decorations. Wreaths and door swags hung outdoors will last throughout the season. Greens used for indoor arrangements and decorations should be left in the shade outside or in an unheated garage until you are ready to decorate. Treat an evergreen arrangement just like you would fresh flowers by adding fresh water every few days. Put the arrangement in a cool location at night and it will stay fresh for several weeks.
Margo Hansen is the director of Bickelhaupt Arboretum and host of The Great Green Garden Show on KROS Radio.