How to treat trees for snow damage, broken limbs
Q: My small crape myrtle trees suffered quite a bit of damage during the recent snows, their limbs broken or bent.
And my the Raywood Ash tree has a large limb broken off, ripping the bark down one side of the tree.
How can I help my trees recover from this damage? Is there any way to save my Raywood Ash tree?
A: Heavy wet snow like we just experienced in the North State can cause a lot of damage to trees and shrubs.
In most cases the bent limbs will straighten after a few days unless the wood fibers in the limb were stretched. To check if stretching damage occurred, check the top of the bent limbs; if they were damaged the bark and wood on the top of the limb will looked cracked or split.
The first thing to do with trees and shrubs that have been damaged by snow or wind is to assess the damage and make sure there are no safety issues: Limbs hung up in the tree. limbs on or about to fall on power lines, etc. If you have any of these issues it’s best to call a professional arborist to help you remove the broken limbs.
When assessing damage, the age and health of the tree will make a difference in how well the tree will recover. Most trees can lose a few small limbs, and if the broken stubs are properly pruned, you will not even notice the tree lost limbs by next year. Young trees can suffer a lot of damage and as long as the main trunk and a branch or two remain it will make a full recovery. Just make sure to prune the damaged limbs back to the main branch collar on the trunk, or an outward facing node on the limb. Even a mature tree can survive the loss of one or two major limbs.
For your damaged Raywood Ash tree, if there’s a broken stub, prune it back to a node or the branch collar on the tree. This allows the tree to heal over the wounds caused by the broken limb.
For the bark that was ripped down the tree trunk, if it has not dried out, put it back in place and tie it by wrapping stretchy plant tie tape in several places around the trunk. Make sure that you match up the edges of bark and get good bark-to-cambium layer contact. The cambium layer is the inner layer that was exposed when the bark was ripped, and it holds the vascular tissue for the tree. Trim any jagged edges of bark or wood. Use a tree protectant paint or boiled linseed oil (Don’t boil it. It’s sold that way.) on the exposed bark to keep it from drying out and protect it from sunburn.
For trees that have suffered a lot of damage and you’re unsure if they are worth saving, it’s best to wait and see how well they recover. You may be surprised by how well they can bounce back.
We had a large oak tree on the Shasta College campus that lost almost half of its limbs during the snow in 2019. Looking at it today, you cannot tell it was ever damaged until you get up close and look for the damage.
Trees that have snapped off completely, leaving just the trunk, or trees that show a rotting inner core or have split down the middle are not worth saving.
The Shasta Master Gardeners Program can be reached by phone at 530-242-2219 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The gardener office is staffed by volunteers trained by the University of California to answer gardeners' questions using information based on scientific research.