Hopefully, last night’s freezing rain caused little or no damage to your landscapes. Many of us can remember past ice storms and the toll they took on our trees and shrubs – and maybe even nearby power lines, buildings, or vehicles.
Ice can add a great deal of weight to a branch. This puts a great deal of stress on the branch and may cause it to break. Plants with narrow crotch angles (such as Bradford Pears) are less able to withstand the stress and weight of a heavy ice coating. Fast growing tree varieties often suffer broken branches during ice storms as well, as many tend to have weak or brittle wood. Multi-stemmed evergreen trees and shrubs are also prone to damage from ice cover.
The branch on the left has a narrow crotch angle. It is likely to be more susceptible to ice damage than the branch on the right (image: extension.missouri.edu)
While it would be nearly impossible to protect every tree from ice damage, properly pruning damaged, crossed branches or large limbs that overhang (and could fall on) buildings before the next freezing rain forecast could lessen winter’s toll. For more information on pruning, see: http://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%209.PDF. Large pruning jobs are often best left to a professional.
Multi-stemmed evergreens can be protected from ice damage by tying them with twine or cloth strips, loosely wrapping the plant from the base to about 3/4 of the way up. Remove the twine or cloth when the ice melts or before new growth appears in spring. (Clemson).
If your plants are covered in ice, let the ice melt on its own. Attempts to remove ice from branches are more likely to cause breakage than to help. Once the ice has melted, assess the damage and begin cleanup. This article Dealing with Ice Damaged Trees offers excellent advice for storm cleanup