JoAnne Skelly: Big storms and tree damage

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

What a wild beginning to 2023! We have already received almost our entire annual precipitation and its only January. Heavy wet snow followed torrential rains.

Yes, we need the moisture to fill reservoirs, lakes, and recharge ground water. No, we didn’t need it all in a couple of weeks. I spent much of the first two weeks of January lifting damaging snow off our fruit trees. Amur maples, shrubs, and dwarf Alberta spruce, two to three times a day. I found new use for my extension pole fruit picker reaching the mounds of snow high up in trees!

There are damaged trees everywhere. Branches simply couldn’t bear the weight of the wet snow that turned to ice. My neighbor’s beautiful multi-stemmed flowering plums were hit hard. She has already put in a call to get on the waitlist for her arborist.

While major limbs crashed down in some trees, we only lost a couple of smaller branches on an ash tree that had only been pruned a few weeks before the storm to remove an old broken branch. Now it looks as if it wasn’t pruned because more limbs broke. One of our blue spruces has a drooping branch, but since it is high in the tree, it’s hard to tell if it’s broken or still attached. Quite a few lower limbs in the Arizona cypresses were torn off and are on the ground. We will have a big cleanup project once the snow is gone. I’m sure there are many people with the same problem.

Perhaps you noticed I said I spent time “lifting” the snow off the plants. It is better to lift from below than to knock snow off or push down on stressed limbs. That can cause additional damage. I use a broom for this purpose, gently pushing up from below. After all the snow removal I did, the broom looks like it has the worst case of a bad hair day ever with every bristle sticking out.

With a small branch that is somewhat torn, but still attached, try saving it by lifting it back into place, carefully matching up the tear with the original, wrapping it tightly, and providing support underneath to take the weight off of it. Ideally do this almost immediately after the injury. Leave it wrapped until summer and check to see how it’s doing. Hopefully the tissues will reconnect and be able to support the branch again.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email skellyj@unr.edu.

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