As families continue to recover from what is being dubbed as the worst ice storm in Oklahoma’s history, many are wondering if their trees will survive.
The heavy accumulation of ice left the four states with a mountain of brokenbranches. Both pines and hardwoods were affected, from young stands to mature trees with large crowns.
The storm killed many trees outright, according to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, but many damaged trees can survive if given the right care.
Agronomist warn homeowners to not make any hasty decisions about tree removal. Some damage will not become evident until after the leaves emerge in the spring.
Specialists say that excessive icing from the storm resulted in several different kinds of damage to trees, and each damage category has specific, long-term consequences to tree health.
The first and most severe damage occurs when the main stem, or central trunk of the injured tree, splits off or is broken.
Larger, mature trees are most susceptible to the damage. Strength of the remaining stem is reduced immediately. In addition, research indicates that wood decay has a high probability of developing from injuries (areas of the stem where the bark has been removed and the wood exposed) of a size greater than 50 square inches.
When secondary stems of multiple-stemmed trees are split away from the main stem, decay will almost certainly occur over time. The decay will further reduce stem strength and result in the tree becoming a potential hazard, especially when in a landscape setting.
The second damage category of bending generally occurs to younger trees of sapling size or smaller. Bending of the main stem will result in a “set” to the stem. The recovery of the tree to an upright position will depend on the degree of the bending, and the length of time the tree has remained in the bent position. Trees unable to recover become susceptible to further damage from ice, or even snow loads, and to uprooting by wind.
The final, and generally least damaging category, is that of broken branches, where the break occurs at some distance away from the main stem. Broken branches will not usually threaten tree survival, unless they involve over 75 percent of the tree’s crown, or leaf supporting area. And, although decay may eventually develop in the broken stubs and proceed into the main stem, the process is likely to take several years and should not threaten stem strength.
An individual tree may have any combination, or all the damage types described above. Trees with multiple injuries are especially at risk to declining health from decay and insect activity.
Once a homeowner has decided whether their trees are salvageable, several websites are available with instructions on how to properly prune damaged trees.
The Ottawa County Extension office offers several brochures on how to determine if a tree can be saved and how to do so. Visit their office on the second floor of the courthouse or call them at 542-1688.