Ice Storm Restoration: Coping with Snow- and Ice-Damaged Trees and Shrubs

Have winter storms battered your landscape? When the weather finally clears, it’s time to evaluate the damage done to your landscape plants by wind, snow and ice. Don’t try to remove ice from branches after an ice storm; you’ll likely do more damage than good.

winter ice storm.jpg

Tips to restore your yard after a winter storm

Be safe.

Steer clear of hazards, such as downed or sagging power lines, large cracked limbs and trunks, and hanging branches. Notify your utility and seek out the help of a certified arborist.

winter storm.jpgRemove snow but not ice.

Don’t try to remove ice from branches after an ice storm; you’ll likely do more damage than good. However, if heavy snow is weighing down branches, especially on evergreens, use a broom to gently knock off some of the snow. Be careful of limbs springing back as the weight is lifted.

Trim torn branches.

The ragged edges left when a limb breaks invite disease and insect invasion. Use loppers or a pruning saw to create clean, straight cuts. Make sure tools are sharp.

Leave the branch collar.

The raised area where a branch meets the trunk is called the branch collar. When trimming broken branches back to a trunk, leave the branch collar intact to speed healing. Make your cut 1/4″ to 1/2″ outside the collar.

Will it survive?

Don’t be too hasty to give up on damaged trees and shrubs, because they have remarkable powers of rejuvenation. Wait until spring and see what the plant looks like when it leafs out. Note that it may take a year or two for damaged plants to recover and look normal again. The exception is a tree that has lost several large branches on one side; it may become unstable and need to be removed. In some cases, the tree or shrub may survive but may have been disfigured so much that you’ll want to replace it anyway.

winter ice storm damage.jpgCheck with your insurance company.

If fallen limbs damaged your house, shed, deck or fence, your homeowner’s insurance may cover the cost of repair or replacement.

Consider the opportunities.

Some types of shrubs, such as lilacs, benefit from “rejuvenation pruning,” where up to one third of the older branches are removed to bring them back to a manageable size and encourage healthy new growth. And a few (but not all!) types of shrubs can be cut back to 12″ to 24″ from the ground and will re-sprout; butterfly bush (buddleia) and smoke bush (cotinus) fall into this category. If the storm has started this rejuvenation pruning, you may as well finish it! Also, keep in mind that removing storm-damaged shrubs and trees can open up a landscape to bring in more sunshine, potentially creating opportunities to grow different types of plants. For more information, read Early Season Pruning.

Replant wisely.

It may be tempting to replant with fast-growing trees — such as Leyland cypress, box elder, Lombardy poplar and silver maple — to fill in the empty spaces. Don’t. As a general rule, the faster a tree grows, the weaker its wood and the more likely it is to lose branches in a future storm. If you do choose to plant fast-growing trees, plant them well away from your house and other structures to reduce the likelihood of damage from fallen limbs.

Last updated: 06/30/2023