Tag Archives: Winter plant damage

Caution! Power Lines

Contributed by Jim Lynn2016-1-29 ice pix for blog

The colder temperatures are settling in and we are starting to see snow in our forecast as we head deeper into winter. Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have what New Englanders refer to as a dusting (anything under 6 inches), but it is becoming more commonplace to see greater snow accumulations or destructive ice storms with our winter weather. Last year we saw numerous landscape plants damaged by the weight of our heaviest snowfall on record in the Boston area.

Many times as we maintain the beauty of gardens we are working in the vicinity of service lines, especially when we are clearing downed or broken branches due to heavy ice and snow loads. To enable us to properly identify utilities, understand electrical hazards and conform with safety standards when working around electricity, Christie and the crew got together with the Tree Care Industry Association for Electrical Hazard Recognition & Compliance Training.

We were surprised to see just how many potential hazards there can be with electricity. It is hard to remember that we have to keep a good distance from service lines when we see squirrels and birds using them as an elevated walkway or a place to rest between flights. Unless you are a certified line worker, the closest anyone can safely work around service lines while conforming to electrical safety standards is 10 feet! Ten feet is the closest anything you are touching should be from any service line.

One thing is for certain: electrical safety is serious business and should not be taken lightly. Allow trained professionals to handle potentially unsafe situations for you. Properly maintaining trees and shrubs around service lines and selecting the right plant material for these areas can2016-1-29 danger electricity blog pix also help prevent unsafe situations. When working near electricity it is always better to work with extra caution rather than work with any questionable circumstances.  As always, if you have any questions or concerns don’t hesitate to have us evaluate the situation for you – we can safely perform what’s needed for your trees or plants, or we can put you in touch with professionals in the tree care industry that are qualified for more dangerous tasks.


split tree crotchHow many of you had deep sadness this spring when you saw the snow’s violent impact on your favorite Weeping Japanese Maple, Mounded Pine, or other beloved plant? Christie Dustman & Co. spent much of the spring in plant triage mode; in many cases, we had to remove and replace the plant.

The problem with mixing winter and plants is that the plant’s branch carrying capacity – tensile strength of the limb – can be overtaxed by the weight sitting on it. A large volume of light and fluffy snow is much easier for the branch to bear than the same volume of heavy wet snow.

Heavy weight on limbs causes different effects:

Bending: When a branch bends, it still is attached and can generally right itself when relieved. The branches sag downward.

Breaking: If the branch bends too far, it breaks and often tears or rips off of the plant, leaving an ugly torn area of bark. In the spring we cleanly re-cut the break and trim the edges of the ripped bark so that the plant can try to heal over this open wound.

Splitting: This is when two branches attach in a V shape and the attachment of the two fanning branches is weak. We call it a “weak crotch” in arborist terms. Many Japanese Maples had weak crotches that split last winter. For some, we used a stainless steel screw and cinched them back together; if this didn’t didn’t provide enough stability, we had to remove one large limb or say goodbye to the whole plant.

Uprooting: If the snow pulls over the plant or tree, we call this a plant failure. This sort of damage is more common with high winds combined with weight on the plant.

shrub taped to protectSo what can you do to minimize damage? Let us implement these solutions at your house:

Lightly tie/bind columnar evergreens or other vase-shaped type plants for added resistance against the branches splaying open and breaking. Don’t cinch too tightly – just tie loosely like a hair net. We use a stretchy Arborist tape.propped tree limbs

Prop up horizontal limbs from underneath with a Bamboo support or with another tree branch with a crook in it.

Build an A-frame structure over a Weeping Japanese Maple or mounded type shrubs in vulnerable locations – like where shoveled snow will collect or slide off a roof.

a-frame slotted shelterVery carefully knock off snow from plants where you see them sagging. This is NOT advisable if the snow is icy and is stuck on the branch or if you apply a lot of force. You can do more damage.

Protect your favorite and most valuable plants. We are fabricating shrub sheltercustom winter protection solutions for our clients – both A-frames that can be reused year to year as well as tying/propping up limbs. Call us and we can devise an individualized solution for your plants!

SNOW MELTING – should I close my eyes?

broken branches - snowAs the temperature warms this week, the woody plants of your garden will start to show again.  Oh, the irony of finally seeing your “winter interest plants” now that spring is almost here!

We are getting inquiries about how to handle damage seen on shrubs and small trees.  You may see more evidence of broken branches as the snow recedes – or you may find that the snow acted as a support cushion under the branches.

What can you do?

We are advising that you resist pushing on or otherwise testing the branches.  If we provide garden maintenance services for you, we would prefer to evaluate any partially detached branches to see if they can be reattached.  And wiggling them to see just how much they wiggle (admit it – you want to do this) can make the tear more acute.  In some instances, a clean removal cut may be advised to allow the plant to start healing the wound immediately.  But in some cases, when the branch is still mostly attached, and if determined to be significant to the plant for health or aesthetic reasons, we can bind, brace or use a stainless steel screw to bring the two split sides together. Some of you may have seen us use this approach with a Japanese Maple branch and the plant heals over the crack and envelops the screw.

If you want to tackle this on your own – observe the crack and figure out if the branch is still attached by greater than 50%.  If the branch is a major branch for form, structure and/or leaf coverage (food production), try binding it with a splint to stabilize the force pulling the two sides apart.  Don’t tie so tightly that you overly constrict the sap flow in the bark, and remove it this fall to evaluate whether the crack has healed enough to stand alone or take a looser brace for the winter.  If the branch is not healing quickly, we would most likely advise removing it since leaving a torn wound is an entrance point for disease and pest invasion.

You can always send us a photo – info@christiedustman.com