mike derer/the associated press file photo


Heavy snow weighs down the branches of a pine tree. With windstorms, heavy snowfall and dry air, the cold months of winter hold special dangers for trees of all types.


An ardour for arbours does not cool with the seasons, but the cold months hold special dangers for trees: Windstorms, heavy snowfall and dry air that can turn branches brittle.

If a storm has come and gone, a little know-how — and the willingness to call a professional — can guide any gardener.

• Assess the damage: Often, elements that are harsh on humans barely harm sturdy trees. After a storm, grab a broom and tour your lot. Only trees with trunks bowed by snow need be touched.

Gently shake the trunk and bounce branches from underneath, using the bristle end of the broom to dislodge snow. After an ice storm, do nothing at all, said Patrick Parker, a plant health-care specialist at the SavATree lawn service. The icy coat acts as both a load and support.

If more severe damage has occurred, including large broken branches or a split trunk, a decision must be made whether it’s worthwhile to save the tree, depending on its condition and value. Uncertain owners should call an arbourist to make the determination, Parker said, because “small rips and cracks over time can impact the structural integrity of the tree” and cause it to tumble unexpectedly.

don heupel/the Associated press

This file photo shows a tree damaged by heavy snow.

•Prune: For salvageable trees, the next question Parker advised asking is: “Can I repair the tree myself or should I call a professional?”

Major repair often requires chainsaws and climbing equipment, which can be dangerous for those unused to Tarzan-style yard work. When removing broken branches yourself, Michigan State University’s extension service recommended making the cut at the nearest lateral branch, bud or main stem, not in the middle of a branch.

“Such careless pruning may result in death of the entire branch or in excessive sprouting and the eventual development of more problems later on,” according to information from the university.

•Replant: Hope remains even after tree roots have been pulled above ground, as long as they are shorter than 7.5 metres and half the roots are still in the soil.

A power lift is usually needed to pull the tree upright, according to Michigan State’s extension service, and soil should be filled in around the roots and watered once the tree is back standing. Several guy lines tied to anchors three to 4.5 metres from the base will hold the tree in place until the roots regain a firm hold.

Checkup: Tree owners often must wait until the spring thaw to fully nurse their arbours through the recovery process. At that time, Parker recommended regularly fertilizing the soil to increase root health and checking for bugs or illness.