Winter damage to trees, landscapes depends on local weather

Winter damage to trees, landscapes depends on local weather

Despite taking a proactive approach and hiring a tree service to trim trees before winter storms hit, members Gary and Dorothy Dungan say ice storms in the Dallas area this winter caused more branches and limbs to fall.

“The red oak in the front yard, the limb snapped in half and was laying on our roof,” Gary says, adding that branches also landed on their patio table, but didn’t damage it. “Luckily we don’t get ice storms all the time.”

Before the storms, the Mesquite, Texas, residents paid highly rated Complete Tree Services in Dallas $1,500 to trim eight oleander bushes and several large oak and elm trees, the latter of which threatened to damage their roof, pool and fence, as well as a neighbor’s property. Once the ice storms passed, Gary says, Complete Tree returned for cleanup.

Experts across the country say the damage from this year’s winter storms on trees and landscapes depends on where you live and the heartiness of your plants. “If the storm damage is big enough or high enough off the ground that you have to get a ladder, it’s a good idea to call in a pro,” says Kent Honl, a tree care researcher at highly rated Rainbow Treecare in Minnetonka, Minn.

Assessing the damage

This year’s record-breaking snowfalls may actually protect unbroken plants because snow acts as an insulator, Honl says. If any damage occurs near power lines, call the utility companies first to avoid electrocution.

Fallen trees may be obvious, but in places buried under mounds of snow, it may take spring melt to unveil plant problems, providers say. In the Upper Midwest, heavy snow can break limbs, and trees and plants can be damaged by animals scrounging for food, Honl says. “They don’t have any other food source in the winter, and they will eat bark,” he says. “There’s not a lot to do after the fact. It’s a wait-and-see approach.”

Hire smartly

Before hiring a tree trimmer, ask for proof of insurance and a list of references. Also check for International Society of Arboriculture certification or Tree Care Industry Association accreditation.

Beware of contractors who knock on your door during the spring and summer months. They may claim to be working on another home in the neighborhood and offer you a “great deal,” but then they do only shoddy or incomplete work, according to member reviews.

Once you’ve decided who to hire, tree trimmers and landscapers say it’s best to book as soon as possible for service.

Before the snow melts in Minnesota, Honl says he’s got room on his schedule to book clients for spring and summer maintenance, as well as pruning. He charges $85 for a one-hour visit to assess a homeowner’s property, but removal costs vary from a few hundred dollars for small, easily removable trees to more than $5,000 for large trees with limited access. These types of trees may need rigging or a landing target before chopping down.

Not all tree trimmers charge for consultations, and prices may vary depending on urgency, schedules and region.

Don’t wait to book an appointment

Jeffrey Jones, owner of highly rated Classic Stonescaping & Gardens in Falls Church, Va., says he’s already booked through June, and he’s anxious to see how landscapes fared along the East Coast after a long, brutal winter.

“I’ve never seen weeks of single-digit temperatures,” he says. “A lot of things typically fine for our zone may die or have cold damage that we just aren’t used to.” Jones says residents in the Washington, D.C., area can plant as usual once warmer weather arrives, but they might see a delay in perennials and bulbs emerging.

Member Lewis Nelson of Charlottesville, Va., hired highly rated Cunningham Tree & Landscaping Service in Madison, Va., after snow damage toppled five pine trees, which were planted too close together in his backyard.

The company immediately performed emergency work, then came back in the spring to clean up other limbs and determine which trees remained salvageable. “The work they did actually created a beautifully landscaped backyard and recreational area,” Nelson says.

Different problems, different regions

Highly rated Alpine Tree & Shrub Care owner Jonathan Hammond says deciduous trees in Denver are more susceptible to summer problems, such as bug infestations and storm damage, but snow from winter storms can still break branches.

“If the tree is leaning or has broken branches, those should be addressed immediately,” says Hammond, who also previously worked on the East Coast.

Whether your trees need pruning must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. “Tolerances for trees are better in the Midwest and East Coast, where you can take out 25 to 30 percent of a tree and it’ll be OK,” he says. “But in Colorado, that’s a death sentence.” The state’s low humidity, fluctuating temperatures, and alkaline clay soils contribute to restricting plant growth, according to the Colorado State University Extension, and untimely snows and freezes can break tree limbs and leave permanent scars.

Homeowners can trim trees if the branches don’t require climbing, Hammond says. He suggests buying a handsaw and asking your contractor to show you how to make proper cuts.

Don’t give up on a tree with broken limbs or one that’s bent over from ice, he says.

“Trees are very resilient and strong. If a tree has righted itself back up [after bending from snow or ice], it’s probably OK,” Hammond says. “Trees heal just like the human body does. A tree gets rid of disease and goes back to normal.”


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