Days of sub-freezing temperatures, a dusting of snow, stiff winds, and a north-county ice storm for the record books. Suffice it to say, winter is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest, and whether you’re in the midst of cleaning up after the last storm or just want to be prepared for the next time wicked weather hits, here are some tips to take care of your trees.
First, take some time to assess the damage to any of the trees around your yard. If any tree limbs have cracked or a multi-trunk tree has split but has not separated completely and the bark is still attached to the tree, you may be able to repair the damage. Prune back the branching to remove some of the weight around the edges of the canopy first. Then, with some help, lift the limb back into place and drill a hole through the broken portion of the branch and through the tree. Slide a bolt or threaded rod through the hole and thread nuts and washers onto both ends to hold the limb in place. If you’re able to relieve enough of the weight on the branch beyond the break to close the split or crack, you may be able to stabilize the tree enough for the wound to heal properly.
Additionally, for damaged branches where the bark tore away from the tree but remained partially attached, you may be able to salvage the bark using electrical tape. As soon as you can catch a break in the rain, tape the bark back onto the tree and wrap the tree with electrical tape as you would wrap a sprained wrist or ankle. Over time, the tape will stretch as the tree grows and eventually break and fall off, but in the meantime, it will secure the bark in place and allow the tree to heal.
If, however, your tree has sustained damage beyond repair, you may have no choice but to finish the pruning job that the storm started. When pruning a tree, whether large limbs or small branches, choosing the right place to prune is key to helping a tree recover properly. The ideal place to prune off a branch is just beyond the point at which it diverges from the trunk or another branch. Look closely at the place where a branch splits off the trunk of a tree and you’ll see a swollen area around the base of the branch called the collar. When pruning, always cut at a slight angle away from the bottom of the joint to preserve the collar; doing so will allow the tree to heal properly. Never cut branches flush to the trunk or the adjoining branch as a tree is unable to properly scab over such a cut and may eventually rot.
Finally, the most common inquiry I’ve received in the days since the ice storm is what I recommend using to seal wounds on a damaged tree. My answer? Nothing! Pruning sealants—whether paint-on or aerosol—provide an imperfect seal at best, and eventually, water will work its way in behind the sealant. At that point, the wound will be unable to breathe properly and rot can easily develop. So, the best sealant is a combination of proper pruning and the tree’s natural ability to heal.
Although the weather has moderated, winter is far from over—last year, February brought snow, ice and cold weather for nearly the entire month—so get your trees back in shape and arm yourself with the tools and knowledge you need to help your trees recover from whatever the next storm brings!