KC Gardens

When it comes to trees, choose wisely. Or one winter storm will prove your mistake

There are ways to prevent storms from damaging your trees, starting with the species you choose to how to prune it correctly.
There are ways to prevent storms from damaging your trees, starting with the species you choose to how to prune it correctly.

This big snowstorm’s aftermath of downed trees and broken limbs is becoming a distant memory.

Before we put it totally out of mind, let’s take a few minutes to learn from this event and the effect of heavy snow and ice on trees.

Avoid weak-wooded trees

We appreciate the shade and benefits of a big tree. To quickly get that large tree, many people purchase fast-growing species. But fast-growing trees usually have weaker wood, meaning they are more likely to snap in a storm.

While these trees provide quick shade, they are not species that will survive for the long haul. Often they break just when they reach the desired size, leaving you to start all over.

Weak-wooded species that failed in this storm included river birch, Lacebark elm, red maple, silver maple, silver/red maple crosses, ornamental pears, redbud and ash, to mention a few.

Ash and pear trees should never be planted in the Kansas City area. The other trees on the list should be planted with caution.

Avoid planting near power lines, structures or other locations where their breakage could harm people or property.

Trees that are medium- to slower-growing have stronger wood that can support more weight. These may not reach maturity as rapidly but are more likely to stand, outliving the need for speed.

Slower-growing trees are more resistant to rot and decay. If a branch does break, the trees should remain stable for an extended period of time.

Prevent weak joints

Many trees that did split and break did so at junctions that are prone to failure. Many limbs failed at the crotch or branch angle.

Branch angles that are very narrow structurally are not reliable. As the wood forms during growth, cells do not properly develop or grow together, creating what is known as included wood.

Basically, it appears that wood tissue is connected to the adjoining branch. Instead, it is connected by bark, which has no structural strength. The result is limb failure. Remove narrow “V” shaped crotches while the tree is young to prevent future failures.

Unfortunately, we often ignore young trees, allowing these narrow crotches or double leaders to develop. Young trees, like children, need discipline and guidance. Without it, sooner or later they fail. Preventative pruning helps remove these branch angles while the limbs are smaller. The tree can heal more rapidly and develop a structure that can tolerate a storm.

Call in a trained arborist to spot and correct these weak branch unions early and you’ll save time and money later.

No perfect tree

We all want that perfect tree. You know the one. It has spring flowers, fall color, no mess and is fast growing.

But there is no such thing as a perfect tree.

When planting a new tree, look beyond the visual aspects that may only last for a week or two each year. Instead make your selection based more on resistance to disease and insects, right size for the location and, most importantly, survival during a storm.

While a tree may seem perfect at the moment, it only takes one event to reduce it to a pile of rubble.

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.

Related stories from Kansas City Star