Protecting your Trees in the Ice and Snow

Nov 17, 2022


High winds, ice, and snow put tremendous pressure on trees growing near houses or power lines. With winter storms passing through the area, you may see damage to your landscape, including broken tree trunks and branches all over your or your neighbor’s property. 

A winter storm can easily cause a cracked or rotted tree to fail under its own weight. But if wind is strong enough or snowfall is heavy enough, even healthy trees can be uprooted or broken.

Protect Against Snow Weight

Excessive snow can be very damaging. The added weight can bend, break and split tree branches or trunks, causing them to fall or uproot.

Checking Your Trees at Home

Check your trees for overextended branches. Overextended branches is an Arborist term that means:

  • Branches that are horizontal or downward growing
  • Branches that have the majority of their foliage concentrated at the end of the branch
  • Branches that are unusually long for the tree species

It’s a good idea to have your Arborist prescribe pruning of overextended branches before the next extreme weather event. 

Spruce and fir trees with spreading branches are more likely to be damaged by heavy snowfall than trees with more steeply angled branches. 

Arborvitae – evergreen shrubs with tall, narrow growth habits planted in hedges or as foundation screens – are good examples of plants that don’t handle heavy snow well. They tend to grow tall, with multi-stemmed branches that separate under the weight of snow. Too often, they do not return to their upright form after the snow melts, and become permanently disfigured. 

The Upside of Snow

Snow isn’t always bad for your trees. Snow helps insulate the ground, moderating temperature changes for the soil below. This keeps the ground from heating and cooling as air temperatures fluctuate. 

Heating and cooling often cause the ground to heave, which can be damaging to roots. Keeping the ground temperature stable is more conducive to healthy roots. 

And a little breakage isn’t always bad. Nature prunes trees too. Wet snow may break off small twigs and broken or dead branches. It’s a good idea to follow up nature’s pruning with some strategic cleaning cuts by a professional Arborist. 

With no leaves on the tree, an Arborist can better evaluate a tree’s architecture and spot dead or diseased branches. Arborists, especially ones well familiar with common trees and tree issues in our area, can still identify dead from live branches even without foliage. 

Danielle from Seattle Tree Care
Post by Danielle Palmer-Friedman

Danielle was raised in southwest Florida (you may notice her roots showing in her favorite tree pick!) and moved to the greater Seattle area as a teenager. Ever since, she’s felt at home among the snow capped mountains and miles of lush green trees that surround the city. She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in English Literature, and while she may be new to the world of tree care, she has almost a decade of customer service experience and looks forward to working with the Seattle Tree Care family. In her free time, Danielle enjoys writing, cooking, eating, reading, and hosting gatherings of friends and family. Favorite Tree: Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)

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