How to tell if your frozen or damaged trees can be saved

Photo from StormPins user ki4uum of frozen citrus tree in Green Cove Springs over Christmas weekend.
Photo from StormPins user ki4uum of frozen citrus tree in Green Cove Springs over Christmas weekend. (Submitted)

The record freezing weather in the Houston area could take a toll on your trees. While you may have been able to cover up other shrubs or plants, it’s almost impossible to cover a tree from the cold. So, if you think your tree is frozen or damaged, what should you do?

First, you probably won’t be able to tell right now if your tree is damaged. Usually, the damaged areas will start showing up about two weeks after the freeze. As you wait to see what your trees will do, the Texas A&M Forest Service can help you determine if your trees are safe or salvageable. The Texas A&M Forest Service says there are a few questions to ask yourself to help determine if your storm-damaged tree can be saved.

Before the freeze, was your tree healthy and thriving? If the tree is basically healthy and it did not suffer any structural damage, it should generally recover from any frost damage.

Are any major limbs broken? In general, the larger the broken or dead limb is, the harder it will be to recover from storm damage. If it looks like the majority of the tree limb branches are damaged, the tree may not survive.

Are at least 50 percent of the tree’s branches and leaves still intact? A tree with less than half of its branches dead or broken may not be able to recover for another season.

Does my tree have significant bark loss? If you notice bark starts falling off of the tree in the next few weeks, this could be a sign of major damage. There are several things you can try if you want to help the tree survive.

Here are a few other questions to ask about frozen tree damage.

What you should do if you notice damage to your trees

If the damage seems minor, you can prune damaged branches and repair torn bark. Young trees can sustain quite a bit of damage and recover. No rush on this. Experts say a good rule of thumb is to wait eight weeks after the storm to see what branches re-sprout and which branches are dead.

If you are unsure of what to do with your tree, don’t try to repair the tree yourself. Large limbs and broken branches can be dangerous for someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.

If you can, remove any small broken branches. Don’t use a chainsaw unless you know how to use it.

Repair torn bark. Use a knife or chisel to smooth out the edges of the bark where a piece may have broken away. This will eliminate hiding places for insects and help protect the fragile layer under the bark.

Resist the urge to over prune. The Texas A&M Forest Service says you should remove dead and broken branches using the correct tools. Don’t leave branch stubs or strip out inner foliage or the top of the tree.

A large number of your trees and plants that look terrible right now could survive and make a comeback. If you need professional help, there are many professional Arborists in our area who can help. Use this tool to find an arborist near you.

KPRC 2 chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley has put together another really helpful article about saving plants after a freeze. You can read it here.

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