Mother Nature’s ice storm gave many of our trees and shrubs not just a haircut, but a new hairdo.
By now, a week and a half after the storm, all hazardous trees and limbs should have been removed. Beyond that, depending on the amount of damage, some of us need to make some unexpected decisions about our landscapes.
The weight of the ice sped up the falling of dead branches. However, injuries and cracks in live wood may have left openings through which insects and diseases can enter trees and shrubs.
It is important to repair jagged edges from branches broken by the ice. Make a clean, slightly slanted cut just outside the branch collar, leaving the lower edge farther away from the trunk than the top edge. Do not cover the wound with tar or paint. The tree should be able to heal around the wound. If bark has been torn below the branch collar, smooth out the ragged edges with a sharp knife.
If an old, valuable or specimen tree has been damaged, call in a certified arborist for proper restorative pruning. Various trees respond differently to damage. An arborist will know the right course of action for each type of tree.
Know that a tree that has lost more than half its branches it is unlikely to recover. Also, be aware that if the central leader (the main upright trunk) is broken the tree probably will not survive.
Don’t top any tree. If you have a Bradford pear you likely know that the trees are top heavy. The tight v-shaped crotches of mature trees do not adequately support their overhead weight. Don’t allow a self-proclaimed “landscaper” or “tree expert” to talk you into topping a Bradford Pear. Topping will result in a an excess of sprouting where the cuts have been made – that will make the top of the tree even heavier, thereby exacerbating the overhead weight problem. Instead, the crotch branches should be pruned to make crotch angles wider. That will relieve the stress from the overhead weight.
There is some good to be found in the aftermath of the ice storm. Take advantage of opportunities. If you lost an old azalea, why not replace it with a repeat bloomer? If a shrub has outgrown its location this is the time to switch to a species or variety that will grow to a mature size more suitable for the location. Install a special plant you have long wanted in a newly vacant spot. Why not replace a Bradford pear with a crape myrtle?
If broken limbs and branches have left some shrubs lopsided or unbalanced, consider removing the limbs opposing the broken ones to restore visual balance or the center of gravity. However, be careful not to over prune, especially if a tree or shrub has already lost a significant number of branches.
Wax myrtles’ weak branches are notorious for breaking in ice storms. Prune them back to a desired shape or to the ground. They will grow back.
There is no need to be alarmed about your sago palms. Brown leaves do not mean that your plant has died. Palm-like sago palms are cycads which are different from palms and consequently require different care. In spring, fertilize your sago. Wait two weeks, and then cut off all the damaged leaves. (This year that may mean all the plant’s leaves.) Pruning off the old damaged leaves promotes new growth. In three to four weeks healthy new leaves will emerge from the stem. Stimulating new growth too early in the season may subject young leaves to a late season freeze, in which case protect the new leaves if freezing temperatures threaten.
Look for sunshine. If the ice storm caused heavy damage in your or your neighbor’s yard you may find newly sunny garden spots. Consider the changes in light when you choose new plant material for your gardens.
The ice storm was tough on trees, shrubs and perennials. When in doubt about a plant’s future, wait to see if it produces new growth. Spring is just around the corner. Give gardens some compost in the meantime.
Reach DEBBIE MENCHEK, a Clemson Master Gardener, at firstname.lastname@example.org.