Homeowners can help trees recover after snowstorms

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 12:59 p.m. CST; updated 5:21 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Trees bend under the wet of the heavy snow Tuesday morning in a neighborhood southwest of Stadium and Broadway. The heavy snow has resulted in power outages across mid-Missouri.

COLUMBIA — When you got out of bed Tuesday  morning, you might have looked out your window and seen a beloved tree bent way over, doing the limbo in the snow.

Do you leave it alone?

Researchers in MU’s Department of Forestry said young trees often will recover from their snow-induced yoga postures on their own. Larger trees with damaged branches will require pruning. 

During an interview, research professor Richard Guyette looked out into his yard at a young redbud. He said it looked like a tent — bent over and draped with snow.

Guyette said that if the tree is young and limber, a homeowner can try shaking off the snow and ice, then using a brace to prop it back up. Take care not to damage the bark, he said.

Young, flexible trees will often return to good posture on their own. He's seen evidence of it plenty of times in his work.

Guyette is an expert in dendrochronology, the analysis of tree rings to interpret a tree’s history. By looking at the rings of a stump, Guyette is able to determine what hardships a tree encountered in its past.

Young trees, especially conifers, commonly recover from bow-backed youthful periods to stretch their limbs high among the canopy in their later years, he said.

As with people, it’s more difficult for an older tree to recover from an injury.

"If it’s a big, tall cedar, for example, more than 2 inches in diameter, you’re out of luck," Guyette said.

If larger trees have broken or hanging limbs, homeowners can act to prevent further damage, Rose-Marie Muzika, a professor in MU’s Forestry Department, said.

"If, after a big event, you notice any damaged branches, prune those right away so they don’t cause an infection," Muzika said.

Homeowners should prune these branches before the last hard freeze of the winter, Muzika said. In Boone County, that falls around April 10, on average, according to a report from state climatologist Pat Guinan.

On Tuesday morning, Muzika also looked out her window and saw little trees in her yard bent from the storm. She will let nature take its course.

"It always amazes me how resilient trees are," Muzika said.

She mentioned Eastern red cedar of an example of a common local tree she has seen rebound from a crooked past.

She said she might be walking in a forest near Columbia and see one of these cedars entirely bent over. Then, "a month later, it’s perfectly erect," she said.

"Trees live a long time," Muzika said. "They have to withstand a lot of different disturbances."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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John Schultz February 26, 2013 | 3:29 p.m.

I've had at least three good-sized cedars that have lost their tops with the latest round of snow. Not really sure how I'm going to prune that kind of mess...

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 26, 2013 | 10:20 p.m.

JohnS: Did the tops snap off? If so, the cedars are probably toast and not correctable. A young hardwood that loses its central leader will grow 3-4 new leaders, so you just clip off all but one and let 'er rip. Not so with a cedar. It's always gonna look funky.

Hey, they grow fast. I'd start over.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz February 27, 2013 | 9:26 a.m.

These are older trees. I don't know how old, but I've owned the property since '98 and they are (or were) at least 25' tall, one was over 40' I would estimate. That one has three or four trunks growing out of it and is the boys' climbing tree after I had to take down a massive hedge apple several years ago after it split with a heavy load of apples. I guess we'll see how things look come the spring time, but I sure hate to lose those trees.

(Report Comment)

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