We don't often see snow in Gwinnett. When it does come, however, trees and limbs can come crashing down at an alarming rate. Heavy accumulations of wet snow can also cause damage to trees and shrubs.
Evergreens and weak-wooded trees are more susceptible to snow damage than deciduous and hardwood trees.
Snow damage is also more common to shrubs than to trees, since snow depth often equals or exceeds shrub height.
Evergreen shrubs are more easily damaged than deciduous shrubs because there is more foliage surface for snow accumulation.
To remove heavy snow accumulation, tap the branches lightly with a broom soon after the snow falls, or as it accumulates.
If snow has melted and refrozen, do not use this procedure; you could break the branches. To remove frozen snow, spray the shrubs with a hose connected to the hot water faucet, using caution against plant burn.
Never stand beneath an ice- or snow-laden tree. Falling limbs may weigh hundreds of pounds and can gain a great deal of speed as they fall, causing serious bodily injury.
Shrubs may also be damaged when snow from walks or drives is piled onto them, or when salt is used for snow removal along drives, walks and streets. With a hose, wash off shrubs that have been splashed with salt from streets.
Often, snow damage to evergreens is not apparent until the following spring, since a broken branch will retain its green color until warm weather. Many owners wrongly blame this damage on insects, disease or other problems.
Before removing broken branches from a tree, first determine whether the tree can be repaired, or if it should be removed completely. If the main trunk is completely broken or if the tree is uprooted, it should be removed.
Most broken branches can be either repaired or pruned. Some branches broken at a crotch can be lifted into place, then bolted and cabled. This should be done immediately after the damage. If the exposed parts dry out or are left until spring, the wound probably will not heal.
To remove broken branches, first cut the broken branch back to the nearest branch or to the tree trunk. Remove large branches with three cuts. This will prevent splintering and peeling of the bark on the main trunk. Make the first cut upward from the bottom of the branch about 12 inches from the next branch. Cut about halfway through the branch, or until the saw begins to pitch. Make the second cut five or six inches farther out and continue cutting until the branch falls. With a third cut, remove the stub cleanly without peeling.
Ice and snow storms can leave trees bent, broken and toppled. Just look at the pines that line many of our streets in Gwinnett. But that doesn't always mean they're lost. According to University of Georgia Cooperative Extension experts, if an uprooted tree is small enough to lift back in place, do so before the root ball dries out. Trim broken roots and excavate the hole under the root ball before you begin tugging.
As the tree becomes vertical, the root ball needs to settle back into its former home without obstacles.
Then use strong rope or wire tied to sturdy stakes to hold the tree in place until the roots get anchored again. (If you use wire, pad it thickly where it touches the trunk.)
The old trick of using a short piece of water hose to pad the wire is better than nothing. But UGA experts say wide nylon strapping is much less likely to harm the tree's trunk.
The roots under the root ball, although you can't see them, may have snapped when they were bent at such an acute angle. For that reason, plan to water your uprighted tree as if it were newly planted. Pay special attention to its needs in July and August.
If the tree is too large to upright, cut it up and use it for firewood. If the damaged tree is an evergreen, such as magnolia or holly, it may wilt because of root loss. UGA horticulturists say to wait several days to see if wilting occurs. If it does, prune back the canopy by one-third to compensate for the loss of roots.
If your trees suffered broken branches, they need first aid fast. Clean up wounds on trees and shrubs left from broken branches by making a smooth cut back to the main trunk or main branch. UGA experts say it's not necessary to use a pruning paint on the wounds. Fortunately, ice does little damage to leaves. Stephen D. Pettis is an agriculture and natural resources agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or Steve.Pettis@gwinnettcounty.com.