Polk County landscapes have been covered with ice and snow this winter. The loropetalums at my house are bent out of shape. Polk County homeowners are dealing with damage on trees and shrubs that have suffered due to heavy ice and snowfall causing branches to bend and break.
What can a homeowner do?
If the homeowner looks closely at many of the branches that broke during these storms, they will see that damage due to breakage is often associated with certain defects.
One of the most common defects involves very long branches that are attached vertically rather than horizontally. The Bradford pear is an example of this. As a general rule, branches that grow vertically are weaker than branches that attach at 45-degree angles or wider.
To prevent this type of damage in the future, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends avoiding planting trees with the tendency to grow vertical branches near homes or power lines.
There are exceptions to every rule. If problems line wood rot, wood decaying fungus or parasitic mistletoe compromise a branch, it could not handle the extra weight of the snow no matter which angle it is growing. Also, evergreen trees and shrubs accumulate more snow than those that shed their leaves.
Pruning is the best way to correct and remove any broken branches or limbs that were bent from the snow and ice. Winter is actually prime time to prune most plants if they need to be pruned. Trees and shrubs can be quite resilient to winter damage and past pruning mistakes.
For most broken branches, make a clean cut back to the point of attachment. Whether you do the job yourself or hire a certified arborist, it is important to make the cut at the proper angle. If you cut too deeply, making a flush cut, then you create a wound that will not close properly. If you cut the branch short, leaving a stub, then the wood will likely rot before the tree can seal off the wound. The key is to leave the “branch collar” intact when making the cut. Most large branches have a visible swelling near the point of attachment. Never cut below the collar. If you make the cut at the proper angle, the collar should be visible. This branch collar is where the tree grows and new-callus tissue to properly seal off a wound.
Do not use pruning points, current research has shown that they are un-necessary and may actually slow the cut’s healing. Make sure to keep tools sharp and make clean cuts that will heal properly.
For smaller shrubs, remove all broken branches back to a major fork or a healthy bud somewhere along the branch. Now step back and assess the overall shape of the plant. If you are left with a lopsided shrub, prune adjacent branches to balance out the overall shape of the plant. More severe pruning should be done in late winter before spring growth occurs. Shrubs pruned in late winter or early spring will quickly seal off pruning cuts and produce new growth.
Plants that produce flower buds on old wood may not bloom for several months or a year after major pruning. By the second year, they should flower at their normal time.
For more information refer to UGA Extension Bulletin 961, “Pruning Ornamental Planta in the Landscape,” which can be found online at http://extension.uga.edu/publications.
Information for this article was provided by Paul Pugliese, UGA agriculture and natural resource agent.