In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
November, 2011
Regional Report

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This relatively weak-wooded honeylocust took the brunt of a heavy fall snowstorm.

Coping with a Fall Snowstorm

When a heavy, wet snowstorm blows in during late October, damage is imminent to deciduous trees, still draped with leaves in fall splendor. Those trees that are not structurally sound are even more vulnerable.

During a recent fall snowstorm, one of my favorite trees, the bur oak, did not even shed a leaf or branch. That's because it is a tree that grows slowly and is typically stronger in branch structure, even with its leaves holding on. Nearby, the honeylocust and Siberian elm tree suffered some major damage with split and broken branches.

Faster growing trees always tend to be more brittle. Soft or silver maples, Siberian elm, weeping and globe willows, and cottonwoods are some of the fast growing and most brittle deciduous trees. Green ash, American linden and honeylocust are ranked as moderate growing trees. My bur oak, the Norway maple, and littleleaf linden are examples of slower growing trees.

If this is a wakeup call for you and the trees in your landscape, just remember this when replacing severely damaged trees: careful selection and proper pruning techniques will greatly reduce snow and wind damage to trees.

Shade and ornamental trees represent a valuable asset to your landscape. It is important to properly select and maintain trees that are best suited to our region. A professional arborist can help you evaluate your existing trees and even suggest suitable replacements, if needed.

Trees with relatively straight trunks and evenly spaced branches are typically stronger and more resistant to damage. When looking at trees, avoid those that have several branches originating from the same point on the trunk. Co-dominant trunks (stems or trunks of similar size) should not be allowed to develop during the early growth of trees. When multiple trunks begin to develop, select the most dominant one and remove all others.

Branch growth is also a factor. Select trees with wide crotches in the primary branch development from the main trunk. If the branch crotch is narrow, the union of this branch to the trunk is generally weaker and prone to breakage. A 90-degree crotch angle of branch to trunk is ideal.

Hopefully your trees will come through any fall snowstorms in good shape. If pruning is needed, do it carefully and correctly. Large trees that need structural pruning from damage becomes a safety issue and are beyond the experience of most gardeners. Hire a licensed, certified and bonded arborist. Certified arborists will list their credentials and may be found on the website of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) at www.isa-arbor.com.


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