Tree Facts: What to do with blizzard damaged trees

Farm Forum

The October 3rd and 4th blizzard that hit the western Dakotas did a lot of damage to trees. The heavy wet snow piled up on tree branches that had not lost their leaves. Many of the branches and even whole trees broke down. Many people are wondering how to prune damaged trees and which ones to keep?

The damage is so extensive that people need to evaluate their trees and prioritize them before taking action. It is best not to make hasty decisions on pruning or tree removal. As long as a damaged tree does not pose an immediate physical risk, the advice is simple: If you’re unsure about its condition, keep the tree for now.

Do not be pressured into hiring people that come around offering to cut down or trim your trees. These people may be trying to take advantage of you and are more interested in your money than the trees. However, there may be arborists and agency professionals that come by to help you. If you don’t know them, ask for identification or documentation.

Evaluate your damaged trees. If the tree is basically healthy and did not suffer major breakage, it should be okay with a little pruning. The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover. If most of the branches are gone the tree may have little chance of surviving. If the main top or leader is broke off, a new one or two may form over time or you can train a new top. A rule of thumb is that if a tree still has half its branches it will probably survive, if it has less than that it probably will not. If major branches have been broken or bark has been damaged, the larger the wound the less likely it is to heal and it will be more vulnerable to disease and pests.

Prune your damaged trees. Remember pruning trees is kind of like cutting hair, you can’t put it back on. Trees with slight damage should have broken branches pruned back to the main stem or healthy twigs, repair torn bark and make cuts to smooth out rough edges around wounds. Remove only broken branches from young trees that have most of their structure intact. Resist the temptation to simply cut down a tree or prune it heavily to be done with it. Remove and replace trees that are weakened by disease, if the trunk is split, or if more than half of the crown is gone. Remove the jagged remains of smaller broken limbs. Prune smaller branches at the point where they join larger ones. Cut large broken branches back to the trunk or a main limb. Repair torn bark by carefully using a sharp chisel or knife to smooth the ragged edges of wounds where bark has been torn away. Don’t top your trees! That is one of the worst things you can do to a tree. Stubs tend to grow back many weakly attached branches that are even more likely to break when a storm strikes. A topped tree that has already sustained major storm damage is more likely to die than repair itself.

Be sure to take safety precautions when working on your trees. Do not over exert yourself. Be sure to be very careful when using ladders, hand tools and power tools. Do not work alone and keep a first-aid kit handy. Recognize when some jobs are too big for you. Get the help of other people and professionals if needed.

My source for this news article was the Missouri Department of Conservation. If you would like more information about “What to do with Blizzard Damaged Trees” call Bob Drown at the Conservation Office at 605-244-5222, Extension 4 or by e-mail at