Have your trees been damaged by heavy snow? Start here to choose the right plan of action for your tree.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

Trees are remarkably resilient. If the tree is healthy, and the damage is not major, the tree will likely recover in time. Remember that trees are dormant in the winter, so further damage by insects and disease is not as much a risk as it is during the growing season.

Step 2: Assess the damage

  • Do the broken limbs pose any danger to people or property?
  • What kind of tree is it?
  • Was it healthy before the damage occurred?
  • How extensive is the damage to the crown?
  • Is the trunk broken?
  • Can a branch in the upper canopy become the leader?
  • Is the tree of any value to wildlife?

Although you can assess a tree at any time, wait until the tree has thawed or snow is no longer on the branches before making your final decision. Trees that are bent over will often straighten when they thaw, making it easier to see whether pruning or staking is required. Remember to use caution when assessing a damaged tree and only approach it if you are sure it is safe to do so. Do not approach any damaged tree that is close to power lines. Do not try to remove ice from a tree by shaking or striking it with a blunt object. Trees are brittle in winter and you could cause further damage.

Step 3: Prune or Remove

The general rule is that if damage to the crown of an otherwise healthy tree is less than 75%, you should try to save the tree by pruning out the damaged limbs. If the damage is more than 75% you should remove the tree. This is not a hard and fast rule though, as your decision will be affected by where the tree is located and whether it serves a specific purpose. For example, you might opt to do all that you can to save a tree that shades your house, but if the tree is located in a wooded area to the rear of your property, you might opt to remove it instead.

If you are dealing with a young evergreen that has been broken at the top, you may need to establish a new leader, the branch at the very top of the tree that points upward. Cut the top just above the first live whorl, then find the best branch and gently bend it upward. Attach it to a pole that is tied to the tree’s trunk, encouraging it to grow straight up and become the new leader.

Proper Pruning
Proper pruning is the key to tree recovery. Instead of trying to cut the damaged branch flush to the main stem, trim as close to the branch collar, the raised ring of protective tissue where the branch meets the main stem, as possible without cutting into the collar. A large pruning wound will take longer to heal and a long branch stub will slow wound healing and encourage insects and fungus. Removal of large limbs or trees is dangerous, and a job best left to professionals. Contact your local arborist for help.