The combination of wet snow and leaves on trees usually results in bent branches and broken limbs due to excess weight from the wet snow coats that leaves and branches.
To prevent damage, go out and shake the excess snow off the tree before it accumulates. Chances of getting hit on the head are great so protect yourself.
Strong trunks will bend and hang downwards. The quicker the weight is removed the faster the tree with retain its upright position. Some trucks and branches will spring back to their original position once the snow is removed, others will take longer. Staking the trees upright might seem like a good solution but research has shown that the trees recover best if left as is.
When the weight of the snow becomes too much the branches and trucks snap. Regardless if the branch broke part or all the way, chances are that it needs to be removed. Do not leave a jagged end or stump on the tree as it will not heal properly. Instead cut back to a healthy branch or the trunk. In the case of shrubs it might be cut back to the ground.
Problems occur when a main trunk splits into a number of different trunks forming a multi-stemmed tree. The smaller the angle between the trunks the weaker the join and the more likely a branch is to split from the rest of the tree. If the damage is not too extensive, an arborist can bolt the tree trunks together but most often the damaged branch is removed.
When removing large limbs use the three cut method. First undercut the branch 6-8 inches (15 – 20 cm) from where the final cut will be. Undercutting will separate the bark of the limb being removed from that of the rest of the tree insuring the remaining bark will not be ripped as the heavy limb falls to the ground.
Next, cut the limb from the top down close to the undercut, in the direction of the tip of the branch. Once the majority of the branch is removed, make the final cut close to another branch or trunk making sure not to damage the collar.
Do not worry about using sealant or pruning paint on the cuts as it does not seal the cut to prevent insects or diseases from entering the tree.
When removing damaged branches from shrubs cut back to another branch or the ground. Shrubs will send up new growth from the roots that will fill in areas where damaged wood has been removed.
Trees and shrubs that have lost over 1/3 of their top growth will send out a multitude of new growth in the form of watersprouts and suckers next growing season. Remove suckers as they appear, unless the roots are the only part of the tree that survived. In that case, prune back the watersprouts or suckers where needed to make a well shaped plant.
Trees are replaceable. If the tree is not going to be healthy or pleasing to the eye when all the damage is removed, it is best to remove the whole tree. Before making that decision understand that cutting the top off of a tree that is prone to suckering will trigger the trees survival mechanism which means that a multitude of suckers will appear. Killing the tree before cutting it down will stop the suckering.
Often the worst part of tree removal is dealing with the stump. Stump remover will work over time but a faster method is to hire a company to bring in machinery to remove stumps by grinding them.
Mature trees and shrubs are impossible or expensive to replace. If in doubt hire an expert for advice or to do the work.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives close to Rocky Mountain House. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.