The coldest air to blow through South Texas since 1989 left us a tableau of ice-covered trees looking like there could be no recovery. Major limbs have been broken, ornamentals trees bent to the ground, shrubs crushed and bark stripped or gouged by the ice. But what at first glance may look like mortal wounds to your trees are not necessarily fatal. Trees have an amazing ability to make a comeback.

A healthy mature shade tree can recover even when several major limbs are severely damaged. If at least 50-percent of your tree’s crown is still intact your tree will most likely survive. The best thing for you to do is cut away the damaged branches that are still attached to the tree but don’t try to prune away the foliage. Missing branches may cause your trees to look unbalanced or naked but you’ll be surprised at how fast the wounds will close, grow new foliage and return to their natural beauty.

Younger trees and smaller ornamentals have a remarkable ability to sustain significant damage and still recover quickly if the leader, or main upright stem, is intact and the structure for future branching remains. With these smaller trees remove the broken branches and let the tree close over the wounds and recover by itself.

With both the larger mature trees and your young ornamentals clean up the torn bark right away by cutting it back to a point where the bark has solid contact with the trunk. This will minimize the risk of decay, helps the wound close faster and eliminates hiding places for insects.

Don’t top your damaged trees. It is important to leave the undamaged foliage in place. Even the odd and unbalanced foliage brings your trees the nourishment it needs for regrowth.

And don’t try to use spring fertilizer to jump start new growth.  Keep an eye on your tree. In many cases damaged trees, because of a loss of significant leaf area, will not have the capacity to benefit from fertilizers or other nutrient applications. Trust your tree and allow it to recover on its own.

Written by Marc Hess