An ice storm can cause major damage to trees. Those with soft, brittle wood, like willows, maples, and elms, are often the ones that suffer the worst damage when an ice storm hits. The following tips can help you minimize the damage before and after the storm, as well as provide some ideas on how to fix any damage that does occur.

Tip #1: Protect the trunk and major branches

The thin bark on trees can burst if an ice storm occurs after the sap is running in late winter or before it stops in early fall. This is especially true if clear skies and bright sunshine precedes the ice storm. The storm can freeze the running sap, causing it to swell and weaken the outer bark layers. One way to avoid this is to wrap the trunk and large branches with burlap before the storm arrives. This will provide insulation to prevent the freeze and expand cycle. Just make sure to remove the burlap as soon as the storm has passed.

Tip #2: Don't handle a frozen tree

Ice storms can completely coat a tree in a layer of ice. This can be disconcerting if the storm hits in late winter or early spring when the buds have already begun to swell. Fortunately, the ice can also protect the buds so that the tree will resume leafing out once the ice melts. Don't be tempted to touch or try to remove the ice from the tree, since this can cause the buds to break off or cause damage to the brittle, frozen branches. It's also a definite bad idea to try and rake ice or icicles out of the tree. Just be patient and wait for the freeze to end.

Tip #3: Tie up weak crotch angles

Many fast growing trees have weak crotch angles where the trunk either splits or where main branches emerge. These V-shaped crotch angles can lead to a split when the tree is weighed down with ice. You can help prevent these issues by wrapping a wide soft rope around the two branches that form the crotch, which will give them support through the storm. Alternatively, use heavy gauze or a strip of burlap to tie the branches together. Simply remove the material and free the branches once the ice has melted.

Tip #4: Repair damage promptly

Some branches may still break off, no matter how careful you are. This is especially true if wind accompanies the ice storm. If the branch doesn't pose a danger to those below, then wait for the storm to pass and the ice to melt before removing it. Cut the damaged branch back to the nearest healthy wood, whether it is the trunk or another branch. If a major fork splits, you will have to determine which side of the fork is most likely to survive, and then you can remove the other one. For a heavily damaged or split tree, it is often best to call in a professional tree trimmer, such as those at Williams Lawn Care & Landscaping, Inc., to assess and repair the damage. They will have the experience to better determine the best course of action.