Does Ice Damage Trees and Shrubs

“Rain, rain, go away” is most known as a summer tune for antsy kids who are looking for a fun day outdoors. But even us grownups might catch ourselves singing this jingle in winter when freezing rain quickly turns our trees and shrubs into icicles.

Frozen tree branches are never a great thing to see. The more ice builds up, the more danger it poses to plants.

But don’t let icy trees give you the chills. Here’s what you should know about how ice damages trees and how to help them recover.

Does ice damage trees?

Yes, some take it harder than others, but ice can cause damage to trees.

Ice can get quite heavy, and as it builds up on trees or shrubs, branches get weighed down. Frozen tree branches are at risk of snapping under pressure. And, anytime a tree loses branches or bears wounds, its health is put at risk.

How much ice is needed to break a tree?

Just to give you an idea, a layer of ice that’s a fourth of an inch to half an inch thick can break smaller branches. It would take half an inch of ice or more to break a large branch.

But, the amount of ice isn’t the only consideration—some tree types are more tolerant to ice damage. In general, trees with a dominant central branch that grows much faster than the side branches (think pyramid-shaped trees, like pine and spruce) are less prone to breaking when ice builds up. On the other hand, trees with branches that grow at about the same pace (think oval-shaped trees, like oak, maple or ash) aren’t as resistant to ice damage.

Should I remove ice from trees and shrubs?

It’s best you don’t try to remove ice from your trees and shrubs; it can actually make matters worse. Instead, do this when you find ice or snow on your plants.

Will trees recover from ice?

So what’s the verdict? Can trees and shrubs recover from ice damage? The truth is, it’s hard to say. As you read above, trees respond quite differently to ice damage. But, you can help get your tree on track to recovery by following these steps:

  • Let the ice melt. Remember, trying to chisel away ice will only damage your tree further. Wait until the plant thaws before you intervene.
  • Look for hazards. Large, hanging branches, a cracked trunk or a leaning tree is nothing to play with. Get in contact with an arborist right away if your tree is posing a threat.
  • Make a judgment call. Healthy trees that just bent (but didn’t break) as a result of ice will likely straighten out and recover in no time. More serious damage, like torn bark or lots of fallen branches, calls for more attention.
  • Get a professional opinion. In many cases, ice damaged trees will recover with proper pruning. Trained arborists can pinpoint which branches should be pruned on healthy trees to help them bounce back. Arborists can also tell when tree damage is more severe and a different course of action is needed.

Concerned about a tree? Contact a local certified arborist for a consultation.

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