KC Gardens

Do your snow-damaged trees need pruning? Here’s how to be safe and do it right

Rarely does Kansas City get a snow event that is not wind driven. However, last weekend’s snowfall was quiet and beautiful. Unfortunately, the weight of the snow collecting on tree limbs resulted in a lot of damage.

Now is the time to make repairs to storm-damaged trees. Before I get to the process, I want to make a personal statement: use caution.

Trimming trees is dangerous work, even when you think the cut is simple. Two friends were injured last year making what they thought would be easy cuts. One suffered a concussion; the other family friend died from head wounds suffered while pruning.

If your project involves unsafe placement of a ladder or overhead work, think twice and call a professional.

Check for power lines

The first step is to inspect the area to ensure there are no downed power lines or other hazards. If so, call the utility company. Leave limbs that are touching over-hanging power lines to the professionals. Better to be safe than sorry.

After determining that the area is safe, clear all downed limbs from the work area to avoid tripping and injury.

The second step is to determine if the tree is salvageable or should be removed. Except for a very few cases with this storm, most trees will recover. Trees that have broken, cracked or splintered damaged to the main trunk or structure may not recover.

Also, not all trees should be saved. Weak, unhealthy or old trees that are at the end of their lifespan can pose a threat to property.

When in doubt, contact a professional arborist or your local extension office for assistance.

How to make cuts

Remove side branches and support limbs that are damaged. Be brave and make the cut. Rarely does a branch that has a crack or split recover. Usually, it rots over time or fails in the next storm.

The ideal way to repair storm damage is to remove the damaged limb completely, pruning the damaged limb back to the next lower crotch, branch angle or main trunk. Do not cut mid-limb and leave a stubby branch. The goal is to have a clean, smooth cut removing all jagged or torn wood.

Once this branch is removed, there will be a gap in the tree. The good news is that given a few years, the tree usually fills in and looks good with no long-term damage.

The proper way to make a cut on a larger limb is a three-step process. These steps reduce the weight of the damaged limb and allow a clean cut without ripping the healthy bark below. It also helps prevent the heavy limb from kicking up as it starts to fall away.

The first cut is the all-important undercut. About a foot from where the final cut is to be made, cut into the limb from the underside, only cutting partly into the limb, about one third of the way. This is the bark relief cut.

The second cut will be made on the top side of the branch, about an inch outward from the first cut. As you cut, the weight of the limb will snap off at the point of the first undercut.

Lastly, make your final cut near the crotch following the ridge of bark that is called the branch collar. Avoid cutting too closely into the collar or too far away leaving a stub.

Remember to be safe — wear personal protective equipment like safety glasses, hearing protection, hard hat and sturdy shoes. And, again, don’t be afraid to call for help.

The bill for a professional may seem high, but it will be the best money spent to prevent life-threatening injuries, or worse — funeral expenses.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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