Tips for Tree Recovery

What a winter it has been for Edmond’s trees! From the significant, early ice storm in October to last month’s historic cold temperatures, the past season has laid a number of stressors upon the trees in our community. It can be overwhelming figuring out where to start when helping your trees to recover from the impacts of such events, so we put together some tips for restoring your trees, while also minimizing additional stress.

Winter Injury

The extremely cold temperatures experienced in February have

most likely caused damage to many trees across the area, especially for species that are marginally hardy to our zone. While it can be troublesome to see early signs of damage such as browning or defoliation on evergreens, the best action for the time being is really to wait and watch.

Some species that are generally evergreen or semi-evergreen may have lost more leaves than they typically do this time of year, but this alone does not mean that recovery is not possible. Take a closer look at the twigs of your tree. Are they flexible, or do they seem brittle and snap when you try to bend them? If you scratch through the bark with your fingernail, is the twig green? Are the buds starting to enlarge, or do they seem dried out? If the twigs can be bent easily without breaking and are still green, it is possible that new foliage may emerge this spring. If twigs are brittle and dried out, dieback has occurred.

If it is apparent that certain branches have died back, find a branch to prune back to that is at least 1/3 the diameter of the limb you are removing. For information about proper pruning technique, view Pruning Young Trees or Pruning Mature Trees. Before removing a tree suspected to have died back due to freeze damage, it may be worth waiting to see if any new growth occurs this spring. Even if branches have died back, a tree may sprout from the trunk or at the base. For young trees, or species such as crape myrtle, the tree may be restored through structural pruning practices over time.

Addressing Storm Damage

Ice storm damage can create an overwhelming situation for tree owners hoping to retain their trees, working with that’s left after the storm event. Some trees are left with next to nothing but a trunk and a branch or two, which unfortunately often leads to the sad decision to pursue tree removal. When more than 50 percent of the canopy is lost, most of the main structural branches have broken, or the trunk has been damaged, this is generally the best course of action.

Topping, or the indiscriminate cutting back of a tree’s branches, seems to pop up everywhere after devastating events such as the recent ice storm. This harmful practice removes a significant amount of the canopy from a tree that may have already lost a lot, which causes a great deal of stress. View Three Reasons Not to Top Trees for more information about this discouraged practice.

In many cases it is possible to restore a tree through pruning after it has been damaged in a storm event. The links below include some helpful information about caring for trees after a storm:
Sometimes it is best to hire a professional for larger trees or safety concerns. In these instances, Urban Forestry recommends working with an ISA Certified Arborist to care for your trees. These professionals have demonstrated knowledge and experience with proper tree care practices.

Improving the Growing Environment

People frequently assume that when a tree is stressed, applying fertilizer will help to improve its condition. In actuality, fertilization can cause more harm than good when soil minerals already present in the soil are sufficient.

It is true that when certain minerals are deficient, this can impact a tree’s growth and ability to regulate its processes. However, when there is no deficiency, an excess in minerals can lead to increased growth that the tree then has to produce energy to support (resulting in more stress). In addition, it can result in reduced pest and disease resistance, not to mention the negative environmental impacts of product runoff into waterways.

Before applying any amendments, perform a soil test to determine whether any mineral deficiencies are present, and then apply amendments to address those specific issues. Basic soil test kits that test for macronutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium can be purchased from local garden centers, and soil samples can also be sent off through your local Oklahoma State University Extension service for a more in depth analysis.
Applying a 3-4” thick layer of mulch around your trees can also help to reduce stress by retaining soil moisture, regulating soil temperatures, adding minerals to the soil, and reducing competition from weeds. View this fact sheet on Proper Mulching Technique for more information.

Finally, stressed trees can benefit from a little supplemental water during dry spells, especially as we get into the hot, dry part of the summer. View Urban Forestry’s Guide to Watering Trees for more information.

View other topics from the Spring 2021 issue of Edmond Tree Mail