Snap, crackle, pop! Trees outside your door may sound more like a breakfast cereal than the quiet soldiers that provide shelter and shade.
Recent storms gave them a coat of icy armor. The extra weight can break branches, and the falling ice and limbs can damage anything beneath them.
Temperatures are expected to peak in the 50s this week, which will melt the armor. But wintry weather is predicted to quickly return.
If a tree is healthy and has a great figure, it can usually handle the extra weight of winter snow and ice. Most limbs can hold at least 1/4 inch of ice and snow. But anything over 1/2 inch can be a branch breaker. Weaknesses in the tree's structure - such as multiple trunks, dead limbs, and big lateral branches - will show up once it's coated with ice. The ice also can get into dead spots or pockets in the tree and expand to cause damage.
If a tree has lost 75 percent of its crown - the upper branches and leaves - it isn't likely to survive, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. If the tree does survive, you may be fighting insects and bacteria as you nurse it back to health.
A tree with 50 to 75 percent damage can usually pull through, but a shattered crotch or stripped bark could reduce its chances. A tree with this much damage will likely be stunted for a few seasons until it regains its strength.
A tree suffering 50 percent damage or less has a good chance of survival without much trouble. The Forest Service says a tree with this much damage may grow even faster to quickly fill in its canopy.
To help a tree recover from ice and snow damage, prune affected areas. Any branches that are broken or dangling from the tree are top priorities. Gingko, linden, honey locust, and oak can be pruned now. Fruit trees can be pruned now, as well as grapevines and red, purple, and black raspberry bushes. But unless they have a hazardous limb, lilac, forsythia, dogwood, magnolia, and many other spring bloomers must be left alone until after they flower.
Starting with clean and sharp tools, prune the plant to keep its shape. Then, remove dead, broken, and insect-infested limbs. Next, look for branches that cross or point toward the center. Inward-growing branches may damage other parts of the plant and will receive less light in there. Look for competing leaders at the top of the tree. If there are two, remove one.
Snip off suckers and watershoots growing at the base of the trunk or the top of the branches. They detract from the clean structure of the tree or bush and use up some food and energy that could benefit the strong parts of the plant.
Ohio State University scientists don't recommend using a paint to cover wounds. A properly pruned tree will heal quickly. If the damage to your tree is too much for you to handle, don't hesitate to call in a pro to do it for you.