The big northeastern US snowstorm in early February 5 caused
extensive damage to plants in my landscape. Big limbs were broken
out of a mature white pine, my red twig dogwood is absolutely
smashed, and the blue hollies do not look much better. Can you tell
me how to prune out the damage properly and get them on the road to
It is hard to recommend specific pruning cuts without seeing the
damaged plants in person, but I can make some general
recommendations. First off, it is critical that you hire a certified
arborist to deal with large trees that have sustained storm damage,
such as your white pine. They have the training and equipment to
properly and safely prune large trees, and to assess the future
stability of damaged trees. Undoubtedly some trees that have major
structural damage will have to be removed for safety’s sake.
Major Losses from
is hard to lose mature trees since it takes so long to replace the
shade, shelter and character they bring to the landscape.
Although many fast-growing large trees have a well-deserved
reputation for being weak-wooded, there are some that grow
reasonably fast without that liability. Some replacement trees to
consider include Freeman maples (Acer x freemanii),
silver linden (Tilia tomentosa, especially Green Mountain®),
dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides),
disease-resistant American elms such as ‘Valley Forge,’ (Ulmus
americana ‘Valley Forge’) and Japanese zelkova (Zelkova
Home gardeners can safely prune broken branches from small trees and
shrubs. In most areas, enough snow and ice has melted away so that
you can clearly see the problem areas. Cleaning up storm damage is
mainly a matter of removing damaged branches and cleaning up the
ragged edges created when they snapped. A clean, well-placed pruning
cut will heal more quickly than a jagged tear and help restore trees
and shrubs to health and good form. As with large storm damaged
trees, it may be that some small trees and shrubs have been damaged
so severely that they will have to be replaced. Much depends on the
growth habit and vigor of the damaged plant, as well as the severity
of the damage.
There are some basic pruning principles you should know before you
grab the pruning saw and limb loppers. This is going to be the
Reader’s Digest Condensed version since space does not allow me to
go into great detail. I encourage readers to reference this website,
as well as the websites
listed at the end of the article, for a more in-depth explanation as
well as drawings of various pruning techniques and equipment.
Right Pruning Cut
Especially when pruning small trees, if you must remove a limb back
to its point of origin on the trunk, it is important to preserve the
branch collar. This is a noticeable swelling where the branch joins
the trunk. Make your pruning cut to the outside of the branch collar
rather than making the cut flush with the trunk. The trick is not to
leave a large stub while not cutting into the branch collar.
If the limb is over 2 inches in diameter, be sure to use the
three-cut method to remove the branch to prevent tearing the bark
down the trunk of the tree when the limb falls. Make the first cut
up from the BOTTOM of the limb, 10 to 12 inches out from the trunk.
Make the second cut three or four inches out from the first cut,
down through the limb. As the limb starts to fall, the bark stops
tearing at the initial under cut. The third cut removes the
remaining stub while keeping the branch bark collar intact.
Do not use pruning paint or sealer of any kind. Trees and shrubs are
capable of healing over good pruning cuts, and those products can
interfere with that process.
Tree Bark Repair
If the storm damage
has already torn the bark down the side of a small tree, try to
clean up the ragged edges of the bark with a sharp knife. Ideally,
you want to excise the damaged bark in an elliptical (think
football!) shape around the wound, but trim as close to the wound as
possible to avoid damaging more bark.
Finally, you may not have to remove a broken branch entirely if you
can remove the damaged portion back to an outward facing side
branch. Always try to prune to side branches or buds that are
growing or pointing out from the tree to avoid having the branch
grow back into the center. This avoids having branches rub against
each other and keep the center of the tree open to air circulation
Suckering shrubs are the easiest to rejuvenate from this kind of
snow and ice damage. These shrubs generally have several to many
stems coming out of the ground. When you prune them – especially if
you prune them hard – they often respond by sending more stems
(suckers) up out of the ground. Vigorous plants with a suckering
growth habit can be taken to within several inches of the ground and
allowed to re-grow, which should remove any winter damage.
you will sacrifice this year’s blooms of those shrubs that bloom on
last year’s growth (“bloom on old wood”), it is worth it to recover
a strong, attractive framework of stems or branches. This is best
done sometime in March so the plant only has to produce a single
flush of growth. Pruning after the normal spring flush of growth
requires the plant to produce a second flush of growth, depleting
the shrubs’ carbohydrate reserves. Suckering shrubs include
bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), summersweet (Clethra
alnifolia), red twig dogwood (Cornus spp.), forsythia (Forsythia
spp.), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), elderberry (Sambucus
spp.), (Syringa spp.) and many others.
Other shrubs, such as your blue hollies, grow more like small trees
and you should follow the instructions above for pruning them.